xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage Review

The first xXx came out back in 2002. I vaguely remember it; explosions, stunts and Vin Diesel in a fantastic fur coat. I know even less about the sequel xXx: State of The Union, save for that Xander Cage (Vin Diesel’s character) had apparently been killed off so instead Ice Cube was brought in to fill the gap. Now, fifteen years after he first starred in the role, Vin Diesel comes back for more extreme stunts.

xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage stars Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Tony Jaa, Deepika Padukone, Ruby Rose and Samuel L. Jackson and is directed by D.J. Caruso. The film follows extreme sports star Xander Cage (Diesel) as he is brought out of the retirement by the CIA to stop a rogue faction from destroying the world.

I’ve given the most blandest of synopsis I can because this a film without a story. Oh sure, there is a lot of nonsense about crashing satellites and covert-government types, all interchangeable and doesn’t do much apart from set up to some crazy stunts. And really, I’m okay with that. So many films nowadays take themselves too seriously, it’s good now and again for a film that just leans right into the madness and has some fun to it.

Vin Diesel does his usual grumble-mumble and cute one-liners, no different from the fifty other Vin Diesel roles he has. It’s the newcomers that are the most interesting characters. Ruby Rose gets to show off her action chops while flipping the table of what an “action heroine” should be, Donnie Yen get’s to kick ass in his style but has an actual backstory and motivations, Deepika Padukone is a freedom fighter who is conflicted over how to achieve liberty, this is all cool stuff in an industry that just labels characters as “the Asian One”, “The Girl” and “The Other Girl.” Granted, the other actors; Tony Jaa, Rory McCann, Kris Wu and Michael Bisping don’t have much to them apart from a name and a one-line backstory, but it’s still an improvement over Hollywood.

The other major point I want to show off is how diverse the cast is. It’s cool to see these big actors from Chinese, Thai and Indian cinema get some major roles and screen time in an American blockbuster.

I was drawn to xXx 3 because I was promised action, and damn if it isn’t filled to brim with stunts. While there is noticeable instances of green screen, most of the action seems to be done for real. Even with the use of handheld cam, the action is bone-crunching and visceral. This is why you get Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa in; these guys know how to fight, how to pull off stunts and make it look good. The plot enables these top notch performers to just let loose, with Jaa having an excellent parkour-infused chase on a freeway, while Yen get’s to show off his martial arts in a six-on-one fight in the finale. The finale ratchets up the ridiculous to eleven, with zero-gravity plane rides and robot boxing gloves, but is it still filmed relatively well, not obscuring any of the over-the-top action.

The film has downsides. I’ve talked about the plot, it has so many holes and loops that there is no point trying to figure out how and why things happen. This is one of those “plot armour” situations, just go with it. The film does start pretty slow with at least an hour before it becomes a full-on action fest, with only minor action sequences to tide us over. Also, near the beginning of the film there are so many navel shots and full-body pans, it’s just tasteless. Refreshingly the main female characters aren’t sexualised in any way, but there is still a romance sub-plot that comes out of nowhere.

In the end, I left xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage with a huge grin on my face. For those looking for some good action and fun characters, but zero plot, this is one for you. I wouldn’t mind seeing this one again.

Score: 7/10 Over-the-top fun for the action fans.

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The Magnificent Seven Review

I guess Westerns are back. With the surprise hits of Slow West and Salvation back in 2015, and the utterly amazing Bone Tomahawk earlier this year, Westerns are getting both commercial and critical acclaim (let’s just all forget The Lone Ranger, yeah?) And now for one of the most high-profile Westerns ever created, now remade.

The Magnificent Seven stars Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Martin Sensmeier and is directed by Antoine Fuqua, The story follows a bounty hunter (Washington) who wrangles up a posse to protect a town from a dastardly industrialist (Peter Sarsgaard).

The director, Antoine Fuqua, is the man behind films such as Training Day, Tear of The Sun and The Equalizer. Gritty “guy movies” about competent bad-asses who give and receive gruelling punishments while also being actually good films rather than silly pabulum like the Taken sequels or anything by the director Luc Besson. And with The Magnificent Seven, he’s continuing his trend of macho-action blockbusters without much fail.

The actors are well cast. Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt are doing roles they could do in their sleep, smaller roles for veteran actors such as Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio and a breakout action female role for Haley Bennet. The best though are Byung-hun Lee as assassin Billy and Martin Sensmeier as Red Harvest, a Comanche warrior. Both are relative newcomers (Lee is a star in Asia but not Hollywood) but they are perfect in their roles as ultra-capable killers and are seemingly born to be action stars. Look out for these two later on in Hollywood.

The action is explosive and bloody, but Fuqua is a master at capturing the gunfights, which play out more like opera or music, with a great rhythm to the hits and bullets. The sound design is good, you can feel the weight behind the bullets, instead of just sound effects. The first skirmish is split evenly, with each character showing off their abilities. This where the previously mentioned Lee and Sensmeier shine, with their respective weapons of knives and bows. The second and final fight takes up the last half an hour and while it make become a little repetitive after a while, the final five minutes, when our heroes are beaten down and battered, is a high point of emotion-driven action.

There are also tense standoffs, in saloons and deserted streets near the beginning, and again, they are shot very well. You can feel the rhythm of the shots building up, as the film draw close to a shootout. It’s not a slow-burn tension of say, Anthropoid. It’s much more geared towards a popcorn entertainment, but it’s still created well.

The story is a little clichéd, with nothing really standing out or subverting trends in scriptwriting. The scriptwriter is Nic Pizzolatto, the creator behind True Detective. Despite that excellently written former work, M7 comes nowhere close to it. There aren’t many stand-out lines and the plot points feel like 101 scriptwriting. There are obligatory break-up/make-up sections and back-stories to characters that feel tacked on/aren’t explored. One of the main characters has a personal connection to the villain, and if we had learnt about it earlier it could have injected the third act with some human drama about sacrificing innocents for revenge. But no, it’s done away with in a few lines, sloppily added in just because it was on a generic story checklist.

In the end, The Magnificent Seven is a well-done popcorn earner. The little generic traits and standard story conventions are easy to point out, but the action and the actors are what make it a highlight. It doesn’t stand with Seven Samurai (the story M7 was based on) but it probably stand there with the original.

Score: 7/10 Not magnificent, but solid entertainment.

Anthropoid Review

Thank the film reels that summer is over. I must be sounding like a stuck record, but I’m genuinely happy that I don’t have to sit through any rubbish blockbusters or jokeless comedies for a while. Now the films will be Oscarbait, so even if some will be asinine art installations, we will get some absolute gems as compensation. And now, the opening act.

Anthropoid stars Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan, Toby Jones and Charlotte Le Bon and is directed by Sean Ellis. The story follows the true story of two Czech Resistance members (Murphy and Dornan) during the Second World War, as they attempt to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, the “Butcher Of Prague”.

The set-up of the film really intrigued me. So many war films seem to only focus on the European Theatre of WW2, and then restricting that down to D-Day and onwards. There are so many other battles, such as the attacks in Asia or Eastern Europe that many films don’t focus on (That’s why I intensely liked The Railway Man for focussing on the former). The Czech Resistance is an unexplored time period, so it would bring something fresh to the film.

The actors are excellent in their roles. Jamie Dornan, who is probably most known for his leading role in Fifty Shades Of Grey shows that he isn’t just a set of abs, with a character that is in the position of never being in a combat zone, and having to come to terms with the knowledge he may have to kill to survive. Cillian Murphy does his usual vacated role, a man who is a little too into being able to murder anyone who gets in his way. Both actors, as well as the rest of the cast sport Czech accents, which while sometimes are a little hard to understand, fit into the world and give it a nice sense of believability. This is heightened by the occupying Nazi’s all speaking German, so we, just like the main characters, are lost when talking to the occupiers.

The film is mainly the planning of the assassination attempt and the aftermath, with the assassination mainly being, at most, five minutes of the film. For those wanting an action-heavy WW2 film, this is not it. The film relies more on the tense atmosphere, the sneaking around, passing slips of paper under the cover of darkness knowing any moment the army might crash through the door. It’s excellent at creating that environment, knowing when to release or heighten the tension. The assassination scene is a highlight of the film, with an almost montage effect, splitting between the various members of the hit squad, waiting for their time to strike.

The film is lent more to the slow-build crowd, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t action segments. The assassination sequence, as well as the finale, are great recent example of how to do shaky camera well. Grenades are going off, gunfire is peppering the scenery, and the camera conveys it without being obnoxious. The final fight hits a watermark of emotion-driven drama, as we realise the limited ammunition the characters have and the unending waves of Nazi troops camped outside their safe house. It’s similar to films like Calvary or 300 (without the weird goatmen), where you realise that our protagonists might not make it out of the story in one piece.

The one part I wasn’t invested in however, was a small romance plot near the beginning. To solidify their cover stories, Murphy and Dornan start to date two Czech girls, allowing them to walk around Prague without the Nazi’s questioning them. The romance plot is not fleshed out, with Dornan and Murphy seemingly falling in love in mere minutes. The romance is meant to grow over a few months, but the time scale in the film makes it seem much sooner. It’s probably to fit the film under two hours, but it bugged me a little.

With Anthropoid, Oscar Season is off to a flying start. This is one to see, just so you can be smug to all your friends when it gets nominated.

Score: 9/10 A tense and stark reminder of the sacrifices of war.

Hell Or High Water Review

Sicario was one of the highlights of last year. A dark, twisting film about an extra-legal team from the FBI trying to shut down the drug cartels in Mexico. So when writer of Sicario, Taylor Sheridan, name came up in the pre-release buzz around Hell Or High Water, my interested picked up. Are we in for another grim treat?

Hell Or High Water stars Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham and is directed by David Mackenzie. The film follows a pair of bank-robbing brothers (Pine and Foster) who after several daring heists are chased by a determined aging Texas Ranger (Bridges).

The three leads are tremendous, a sure reason to go see Hell or Water. Just like other great suspense heist films such as Heat, we see both sides of the law, seeing their wins and losses, with us rooting for both cop and criminal. Jeff Bridges does his usual “too old for this” schtick. He even says that this is his last case (an all too common trope), but he is still an interesting character. Chris Pine and Ben Foster work well together as brothers Toby and Tanner, they have a good back-and-forth, whether it be during the getaway or back home on the ranch. Pine sheds his usual douchy persona and brings a layered character, trying to provide for his family doing something that might get him killed. Ben Foster starts off as the wackier older brother, but thankfully adds more nuance to his performance rather than the played out lunatic bank-robber formula. All three sport Texan accents, which sometimes are hard to understand.

While the film is supposed to be in West Texas, it was actually filmed in New Mexico. Even so, the scenery is beautiful. Much like Sicario before it, Hell Or High Water has may long. wide shots of the never-ending landscapes and stunning setting suns. The film also makes use of the urban environments, little one-street towns and retro diners, leaving a sense of places that simply got lost in time. It gives both a feeling of modern day but also timelessness. If you swapped out the 4x4s for horses and the automatic rifles for revolvers, you would have yourself an old-fashioned Western.

The film is over 100 minutes, but none of it felt like it was dragging or padding out the run-time. The extended bank sequences, using long sweeping takes rather than conventional editing keep the excitement up as the brothers go from bank-to-bank. The film also masters the art of the “ticking-time-bomb”, having something dangerous (in this case a bank robbery) in the background, while the other characters are talking with each other, oblivious to what is happening behind them. These dual approaches to the story keep it moving rather than the slower methods or predictability of previous heist films. The plot might become apparent to more savvy watchers, but the story behind why the brothers are bank-robbing will keep you invested until the finale, with raging gun battles and car chases suiting the more action-oriented fans.

The action is rather sporadic, but it is explosive and brutal. Guns are used more for intimidation, but when bullets start flying they leave blood and brains splattered. It isn’t glorified, again, similar to Sicario, it’s more sickening than fun.

The film is completed by country music, blaring both out of the radio and as part of the soundtrack, created by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. While country may not be to my taste, it fits the film’s setting perfectly, once again creating that atmosphere of young and old merging together.

I was holding Hell Or High Water to a high standard with the list of names attached, but it easily delivered. With tense and dramatic heist sequences, beautiful scenery and supreme acting from the three leads, this is one to go and see.

Score: 9/10 They don’t make many like this anymore.

Jason Bourne Review

This has been one of the films I’ve been waiting for. In a year of unnecessary sequels, we finally get to one that I have a small amount of interest in seeing. And with the last film in the series, The Bourne Legacy, being rather dull, it’s back to series greats Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass to give us a return to form. This is Jason Bourne.

Jason Bourne stars Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel, Riz Ahmed and Tommy Lee Jones and is directed by Paul Greengrass. Set several years after The Bourne Ultimatum, the new film follows Jason Bourne (Damon) as he is roped back into conspiracies involving new CIA programmes.

I was really looking forward to Jason Bourne. The first three films I would say are some of the best action films to come out of 2000s and it’s made a lot of changes in how action films are created nowadays. But all throughout the film I couldn’t escape the fact that I just wasn’t interested with what was happening on-screen.

I’ll start with what I did like. The cast is a great ensemble, and certain actors (like Tommy Lee Jones as the Director of the CIA) fit straight into the world of Bourne. Vincent Cassel, who plays a CIA asset who has history with Bourne, is another character who again, fits right into the setting of secret assassins and conspiracies. But the standout is Alicia Vikander as CIA agent Heather Lee. Vikander plays her very ambiguously, with several layers of intrigue and menace, ready to do what is necessary to rise to the top of the Agency.

Sadly, that’s really all that’s either new or good in Jason Bourne. The fight scenes are one of my biggest gripes. While the originals were known for their quick cuts, at least they were clear. They would cut to a wide shot, allowing you to see the choreography. You could tell who was hitting who, you understand the geography of the fight. Here, that’s gone out the window. The final fight scene is ridiculously close-up, meaning you have no clue what is actually going on. The rest of the action is quite generic; a motorcycle chase here, a punch-up there, a big smashing-everything-up finale, it’s all rather dull in a series known for fantastical set pieces. I clocked out during the final ten minutes, I was just so disinterested.

The story is another low point of the film. Damon and Greengrass said they would return unless the script was good, but this one feels like a lacklustre one to return for. A lot of it feels like a retread of the earlier films, with several points ripped from one to the other. The main driving force of Bourne in this movie is something that was already explored in Ultimatum and the new stuff feels like a bit of ret-con of character motivations in earlier films. I won’t spoil anything, but one of the main revelations of this films had me shaking my head in the cinema, it was a vain attempt to make the continuity of the franchise seem rich and deep, when it fact it strips Bourne of much of his character arc of the original trilogy. There are some new ideas, which while timely, aren’t as fleshed out as they could be, leaving a couple questions unanswered.

In the end, Jason Bourne really let me down. It might be a tiny bit better than Legacy before it, but it get’s nowhere near the heights of the original series.

Score: 5/10 A low return of a once great franchise.

Now you’ve read my thoughts on Jason Bourne, why not check out my review of the rest of the series?

The Legend Of Tarzan Review

After a slew of uneventful, boring and drab summer blockbusters, (all three sum up Independence Day 2), we have to wait a few more weeks until we get some actually great movies (Jason Bourne and Finding Dory respectively). So let’s review a film from last week that I finally got round to watching, The Legend of Tarzan.

The Legend Of Tarzan stars Alexander Skarsgård, Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson and is directed by David Yates. Based of the characters created by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the film follows Tarzan (Skarsgård) who after living in London for several years is lured back to The Congo by a conspiracy been orchestrated by Captain Leon Rom (Waltz).

The Legend Of Tarzan is the perfect example of a B movie. Nobody was really asking for a new Tarzan film, he had his time from the silent era all the way into the 1960s. But there is just something about it, it has a little bit of Indiana Jones sense of adventure, of exotic locations and scheming villains that I couldn’t help but enjoy it.

The acting is a rather mixed bag. While physically Skarsgård is a perfect Tarzan (the guy is huge, you totally believe he could be swinging around on vines) he doesn’t display too much emotion. He hasn’t much chemistry with Margot Robbie (this movie’s Jane) who is a charisma machine in whatever role she plays. Samuel L. Jackson is doing a less foul-mouthed version of one of his Tarantino characters, while Christoph Waltz’s Leon Rom is like a live-action version of Dick Dastardly. All of them are sadly let down by a weak script and some bizarre moments of comedy. A running joke by Jackson about monkey testicles seems really odd since it’s delivered in a scene where Tarzan is being beaten down by gorillas. It’s just an odd placement and destroys the tense mood.

The film tries to tie the mythical story of Tarzan to the true events in the Congo at the time, which also seems jarring. Jackson and Waltz’s characters are actual people, so it’s odd to see them mixing with the superhero acrobatics of Tarzan. Add in the real-life atrocities that Waltz’s character committed and it gets really quite uncomfortable.

Tarzan’s mythic quality could have explained away any other combatant. Tarzan is the books fought dinosaurs and Nazis. Who wouldn’t pay to see that, Ape Man fights Nazis? Waltz is already is costume as Belloq from Raiders Of the Lost Ark and there are several scenes where he seems to just replicating that character. Who cares if it’s historically inaccurate, this is a film about a man who climbs on trees and swings on vines, were pretty far from anything realistic at this point.

And since Tarzan is a man of the jungle, he also is able to talk to the animals. Sadly, the CGI is rather low quality. At a time where you have Andy Serkis’ Apes movies and this year’s other jungle-dwelling feral story, The Jungle Book, you really need to step up your game up when it comes to animation.

Don’t be fooled though, there is some greatness to be found in The Legend Of Tarzan. For one, it looks great. While a lot of the film was shot on sound stages, some photography was done in Gabon, allowing for endless sweeping shots of the plains and mountains. And while done on stages, the sets are well designed and realised. Opar, the fabled diamond mine where Djimon Hounsou’s Mbonga and the leopard men live is a stunning set and contains two great action scenes, both at the beginning and end of the film. Costumes as well are on point. Hounsou’s previously mentioned Mbonga, who wears leopard print, claws and bones, as well as Waltz’s all white linen suit fit into that adventure story mould.

In the end, I enjoyed The Legend of Tarzan on purely a anachronistic level. It’s not mind-blowing or transcendent and a little bit long, but it’s a good popcorn flick.

Score: 7/10 B Movie adventure ridiculousness.

Alien Series Collection

Preface

The Alien franchise is known as one of the defining series in both science-fiction and horror. Being passed from director-to-director and catapulting many of the then unknown actors and actresses into the mainstream, it deserves it’s place in film history. So I decided to review all of it.

  • Prometheus
  • Alien
  • Aliens
  • Alien3
  • Alien: Resurrection

Review

Prometheus

The prequel set nearly 30 years before Alien, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron. While many (including I) first disliked this film, on a second viewing it grew in standing. The sets are beautiful, with Iceland and Spain being used for the endless landscape shots of planet LV-223. The built sets, such as the ship Prometheus and the gigantic head statue with the black vials are some standouts of recent set design. Noomi Rapace (from the original Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) is tremendous as Dr Elizabeth Shaw, especially since this is her first main actress role in an English-language film. Michael Fassbender as android David is another spectacular role for the actor, who is strangely charismatic and sinister simultaneously.

Harry Gregson-Williams’ score merges seamlessly with the awe of the world, highlighting certain scenes like David in the Orrey or the Space Jockey as being great points in the film. While it doesn’t answer many of its questions (much like Alien didn’t) it still stands as a singular film, and stands well.

Score: 8/10 A certain highlight that doesn’t get as much love as it should.

Alien

Released in 1979, with Scott directing and starring Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto. A massive group effort, with script writer Dan O’Bannon and designer H.R. Giger working with Scott to create a truly terrifying film. Giger’s design for the xenomorph, with it’s odd steampipe design is one of the most revered monsters in all of movies, and the chest-burster scene is a memorable and scary entrance. The set design, also done by Giger, especially the Space Jockey and Nest are impeccably created and totally deserved the Oscar they won.

The film is shot like Jaws, very few open shots of the monster. While it makes the film tense, it’s a bit of a let-down, especially because of the exquisite design. It’s slow paced and the final showdown feels rather anti-climactic, but apart from that, it’s rather well made.

Score: 7/10 Greatly influential and rather scary.

Aliens

James Cameron took over directing for the 1986 sequel, with Weaver returning, also starring Lance Henricksen, Michael Biehn and Bill Paxton, as well as Carrie Henn. Set 57 years after the first film, it sees Ripley return to the planet LV-426 from Alien, along with a platoon of colonial marines to exterminate the xenomorph menace once and for all.

The marines featured can be seen as creating the stock types for army grunts in all other war films (the black sergeant who loves cigars, the diminutive but badass girl, the comedy “wacky” tech nerd) and hopelessly misjudge the situation with a cocky attitude that quickly dissolves in the face of the perfect predator. Weaver builds off the rather lacklustre characterisation in the first film, working with Carrie Henn’s adorable Newt, who set’s a high bar for least annoying child actor ever.

Filled with expert set-pieces like the Powerloader fight, the tunnel escape and several raging gun-battles as well as some of the most quotable lines in cinema (there are so many, and most of them aren’t really suitable for a family friendly site like this). Aliens builds on the success of Alien by doubling the size and scope, moving from horror to action and moving up in score.

Score: 8/10 A fine sequel that is better than the original.

Alien3

Released in 1992, Alien3 once again stars Sigourney Weaver and introduces Charles Dance, Charles S. Dutton and Pete Postlethwaite and is directed by David Fincher (his first feature film). Set another 20 years after Aliens, the emergency pod from the Sulaco marine ship crashes onto a mining planet and penal colony Fury 161. An Alien egg crashes down with them, sending the mining site into disarray.

While Fincher is on record as saying he hates the film due to not being allowed full control over it, for a debut it’s rather well done. The dialogue and acting is sometimes over-the-top and comical (it seems all convicts in the future are cockneys) but the film features several excellent characters such as de facto leader of the prisoners Dillon (Dutton) whose constant quoting from religious scripture lends the film a nice sense of gravitas. The dark brown and grey colour palette becomes a bit dull and the CGI Alien is rather poorly merged within the film, but a fast-paced finale involving Ripley and the inmates trying to guide the Alien into the mining pit brings the ending up from a drab middle.

And the trilogy concludes by reinforcing the notion that runs throughout the entire series; the Alien always wins.

Score: 7/10 Give it a chance, it’s surprisingly alright.

Alien: Resurrection

You just can’t keep a girl down. Set two hundred years after her death at the end of Alien3 , the film follows the clone of Ellen Ripley who is brought back to life by Weyland Yutani to harvest an Alien foetus from her DNA. Featuring Ron Perlman, Winona Ryder, Brad Dourif and directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the film follows a set of mercenaries who after coming aboard the Weyland Yutani ship are attacked by Aliens.

This is seen as the worst Alien film in the franchise, but it still has some standout scenes. Brad Dourif as crazy scientist Dr Gediman, who gauges the Alien’s intellect through a series of tests is an impressive moment, showing how clever the super predator is. An underwater pursuit of the heroes by Aliens is another well-made scene and shows the Aliens working as a team to catch their prey. This film also features the Newborn, a xenomorph with human traits. While the human eyes look rather silly, the rest of the appearance, which looks like Slimer crossed with Skeletor, is rather disturbing and creepy.

The film feels rather like the first Alien, ordinary working people trying to make a living while facing off against an enemy too powerful for them to comprehend. But the switch from comedy to horror to action feels rather awkward, while Sigourney Weaver looks thoroughly bored again as Ripley, only there to pick up a check.

Score: 5/10 It’s ridiculous but has some superb scenes.

Gods Of Egypt Review

I’ve been waiting for Gods Of Egypt for a good couple of months now. Released in America back at the second half of February, it was commercially panned by critics. The director started calling film critics “deranged idiots” and “utterly worthless”. So naturally I wanted to see it, despite having to wait three more months before it came out in the UK.

Gods Of Egypt stars Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Brenton Thwaites, Gerard Butler and Courtney Eaton and is directed by Alex Proyas. The films follows god Horus (Coster-Waldau), as he must team up with the mortal Bek (Thwaites) to defeat the evil god Set from destroying Egypt.

I won’t deny I had fun in Gods Of Egypt. For maybe around five minutes overall, a little bit here and there, I liked it. Everyone is playing it up to the nines; metal CGI god-bird things are flying around smashing into each other and generally the film is unabashedly campy. I mean, quality actors like Chadwick Boseman, Rufus Sewell and Geoffrey Rush are in this. They must know it’s a ridiculous film but they are having fun with it. Thanks to Christopher Nolan, every big spectacle smash-fest thinks it has to be smart and broody. For that, I almost want to be lenient on Gods Of Egypt, it’s glorious in all its inept idiocy that I couldn’t help but enjoy myself for brief moments.

But please understand, it’s not good.

For all the exquisite cast, it really is poor acting. Geoffrey Rush looks like he’s about to fall asleep when delivering his lines. Chadwick Boseman is mincing around the place like Raul Julia and leading man Brenton Thwaties has only two emotions, earnest and REALLY, REALLY earnest. There is no chemistry between Horus and his bride Hathor (played by Elodie Yung) and nothing that can really get me invested in these characters or their struggles. That might be down to the script (written by the director Proyas), which are mostly just reused lines from every other blockbuster-budget movie that has ever graced cinemas.

I quite enjoyed some of the action scenes. Sure, it’s just big CGI messes smashing together, like a five year-old playing with their toys, but some were entertaining. A battle between Horus and two of Set’s lieutenants (riding giant Cobras) was fun while it lasted and the opening of the film, where Horus and Set face off, morphing into their metallic forms was enjoyable. Another point, when Bek must raid Set’s treasure room, which is filled with traps, was entertaining enough, even if it was over quite quickly.

My main problem with the film though was the extraordinary run-time. The film is over two hours, which is not acceptable for a film like this. There are several scenes that I could cut, where nothing is being added to the narrative or characters.

Some people have been calling this the worst film of the year. I don’t object to people called it bad, but the outlandish villainization of this one film is ridiculous. Sure, the film is rather simple-minded, loud and whitewashed or Orientalized (go read Edward Said), the script is messy, the characters are either wooden or pantomime and it drags on for way longer than it need to. All fair points, but several films that have come out of Hollywood have a few of the same problems. The Star Wars prequels, Avengers 2/ Civil War, Batman Vs. Superman, Peter Jackson’s King Kong, Angry Birds Jurassic Park 2-4, they all have at least one or two of these problems. Even the original Clash Of The Titans/Jason And The Argonauts that Gods of Egypt is referencing have them. Yes, Ray Harryhausen is legend and his work shines above criticism, but the other parts of his films are really quite bad (trust me, I’ve seen them both in the past week).

In summary, Gods Of Egypt is dumb. It doesn’t get a recommendation from me, but it’s definitely not the worst film of the year. Maybe one for lovers of spectacle and campy cheese, but for everyone else, it’s a no-go.

Score: 4/10 A so-so big-budget adventure with many faults.

Jason Bourne Collection Review

Preface

With the new film in the series, Jason Bourne coming out in the…Jason Bourne franchise, I thought it might be a good idea to go back to the series as a whole. The Bourne series’ influence on cinema in the post-2000 scene is massive, everything from Taken to XIII to Daniel Craig’s James Bond owes a debt to Bourne, and it’s still influencing cinema today. The films I will be reviewing are;

  • The Bourne Identity
  • The Bourne Supremacy
  • The Bourne Ultimatum
  • The Bourne Legacy

Review

The Bourne Identity

The start of the series, with Matt Damon in the title role and Doug Liman on directing duties. The film follows Jason Bourne (Damon) a spy for the CIA who is struck with amnesia and hunted by his old firm. We see the start of the themes and notes of the franchise here; the European setting, a sense of realism (distinguishing it from the most recent James Bond film at the time, Die Another Day) and the bone crunching mix of Jeet Kune Do and Filipino Kali for the fight scenes. And while there are moments of greatness peppered throughout (The bank/embassy evacuation, the Mini chase through the streets of Paris and the showdown with Clive Owen’s Professor) there is a hint of ropey-ness about it all. The fight scenes aren’t well shot and the sound effects are ripped straight from an Adam West Batman episode. The staircase ride, while it starts interesting, also has some video-gamey sound effects, poor CGI and sped-up footage. Apart from that, Chris Cooper is a great villain as Conklin and John Powell’s score is one of the most recognisible themes in all of cinema.

Score: 6/10 A Good start to an action series.

The Bourne Supremacy

Matt Damon returns as the superspy but the director’s chair has moved from Liman over to Paul Grengrass. The story continues two years on, when a shadowy Russian oligarch forces Bourne back into the CIAs spotlight. While this was never my favourite Bourne film, after going back to it, I look upon it more favorably. Greengrass’ signature hand-held shaky style is at it’s best here (and sadly imitated poorly by many other directors) conveying the brutality and speed of the hand-to-hand fight scenes. One fight, between Bourne and the last Treadstone assassin, Jarda, is a brilliant display of improvised weaponry. The hotel/ Neski segments have a nice Traditions Of The Trade feel and help fill in background to Treadstone. The main weak point is the story. Who is Gretkov (the oligarch) and why is he so interested in Bourne? Why does he have the Neski files? There is no clear point to why the main bad guy is setting up Bourne other than to make some money, which is quite poor character development.

Score: 8/10 If it wasn’t for the weak story, this would have been the best one.

The Bourne Ultimatum

The final chapter of the Matt Damon trilogy, with Paul Greengrass returning to direct. Set mere hours after the end of Supremacy, the film follows Bourne as he finally heads after the CIA to find out who he really is. This is the culmination of everything that was great about the first two while taking out the elements that didn’t work. The hand-to-hand combat is better than ever, with a beautiful set piece against a Capoeira-infused Blackbrair agent. The rest of the action set pieces are on par, with a great rooftop chase in Tangiers as well as a shootout in London Waterloo. The story is also leagues ahead of the tenuous link in Supremacy, with it linking back to Bourne as his origin rather than some half-baked scheme about stealing money from the second film.

Score: 9/10 The best of series so far.

The Bourne Legacy

With Matt Damon and Paul Grengrass both said they were not returning to the series, it fell to the previous three film’s screenwriter Tony Gilory to take the directing chair and Jeremy Renner as a new “Outcome” agent Aaron Cross to take hold of the Bourne franchise. Set during and after The Bourne Ultimatum, the film follows another agent, Aaron Cross, as the previous programs are shut down by government bureaucrat Eric Byer (played superbly by Edward Norton) to risk embarrassment of the CIA. Cross is the only survivor of his program, leading the CIA to hunt him down. While Jeremy Renner is good stand-in for Matt Damon in the action scenes, his manner is too cheerful. He’s always cracking jokes, which doesn’t really fit the character of a deadly assassin. His romance with Rachael Weisz seems token and the film ends flatly, obviously trying to set up a sequel that never came. Apart from one long-take of Cross in a shootout in a house and a nifty motorcycle trick near the end, the rest of the action is boring or ridiculous. The story isn’t engaging like the third film and it’s only the barest relation to the Bourne series that made anyone want to go see it.

Score: 4/10 Generic-o fist-punchy, gun-shooty (that means it’s bad).

Bastille Day Review

Just before the big summer blockbusters come out in cinemas, I decided it would be time to catch up on the backlog of films that I missed the first time around. Bastille Day had been I film I thought looked interesting, but it was slowly pushed back and back more by other, newer films. But I finally went and now the review.

Bastille Day stars Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Charlotte Le Bon and Kelly Reilly and is directed by James Watkins. After a bomb accidently stolen by a pick-pocket (Madden) goes off in the middle of Paris, Briar (Elba), a CIA operative has to find the real terrorists while Paris is on the verge of revolution.

After seeing the trailer for Bastille Day, I thought this might be Idris Elba’s audition for James Bond. Everyone and their dog seem to want him to play the part and this could have shown how he deals with action. Sadly the Bond film he’s imitating is Quantum Of Solace. Crunching sound effects accompany 0.6 second-long takes, tricking our brain into believing we are seeing fighting while all we’re seeing is bodies and fists flying about.

The rest of the action is pretty standard affair. While there is a really well done chase scene over the rooftops, similar to the Tangiers chase in The Bourne Ultimatum and a layered pick-pocketing sequence both at the beginning and in the middle of the film, there is not much else. There is a big gun battle at the end between Elba and the main bad guys, but none of it has much flair. It’s all been done better before.

Briar is a “loose cannon” operative, the kind of guy who sticks his gun in the mouth of an unarmed civilian, punches men off moving motorcycles and doesn’t use door handles, instead kicking every single one down. It’s more Jack Bauer than James Bond, but apart from his fascination with caving men’s skulls in, Elba doesn’t give him any other interesting personality traits, just a terrible American accent. He also sings over the end credits, make of that what you will.

Elba being a shell of character though might be down to the script. It switches from boring to unintentionally hilarious. Some story aspects are fun, Richard Madden’s pickpocket has some good lines as he warms to working with Elba, but most of its forgettable. But there are lines that we are meant to take serious, such as, “the hashtags are spilling over…follow the hashtags…send the final hashtag.” Why try to make believable characterisation when we could just talk about what’s trending on Twitter?

While the film is set in the French capital, it doesn’t use the setting to great effect. The opening of the film, a street party at Sacré Coeur and the finale at the French National Bank are good uses of the setting, the rest of the film is in back alleys and run-down apartments. Similar to last year’s The Gunman, it’s a sad waste of a good setting.

The film is full of these moments, brushing shoulders with ideas that have been done better before. There is a shadowy conspiracy in Bastille Day about government paramilitaries being involved with the destruction which would have been good…if White House Down hadn’t done it better back in 2013. Bastille Day also takes the politicising of White House Down and tries to do its own version of it. It’s trying to put some subtext into the story events but the rest of the film is too on-the-nose to successfully have a subtle thread running through it.

Bastille Day could have been, if not great, at least entertaining. It’s not as sharp as Bond or as gritty as Bourne, instead it’s trying to take what it can from everything else without making an identity of its own.

Score: 4/10 Painfully dull and lifeless.