Adventure

Logan (2017)

17 years after he first snikted onto the screen, Hugh Jackman is hanging up the mutton chops in the final chapter of the complicated life of James Howlett aka The Wolverine aka Logan.

Directed by The Wolverine’s James Mangold, we’re a stone’s throw away into the future and mutants are all but wiped out. The once disgruntled anti-hero, Wolverine, is now the embittered, alcoholic limo driver Logan (Hugh Jackman). He spends his nights driving and his days taking care of fellow X-man, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Charles, suffering from a form of dementia, is prone to seizures disable him and those within the vicinity. It’s never fully explained how bad these seizures can get – Mangold chooses to keep these details close to his chest – but Logan keeps the former professor in a fallen water tower for the protection of himself and others. Logan’s only other friend is Caliban (Stephen Merchant), an albino superhero whose mutants appears are tracking other mutants and grumbling it would seem.

Into their lap falls Laura (Dafne Keen), a 12 mutant on the run from evil surgeon Zander Rice (Richard E Grant) and his Head of Security, Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). Laura is a pint sized enigma who, we learn early on, has similar mutant powers wrapped up in a hell of a lot rage. When Laura’s carer is found dead, Logan, with encouragement from Xavier, reluctantly agrees to take the young mutant across the border to safety whilst pursed Rice. In other X-Men movies this would be a cinch, but, in the same way Chuck’s mind is failing him, Logan’s regenerative powers are diminishing; it even hurts him to unleash the claws that made him The Wolverine.

This the archetypal superhero movie stripped of the bombastic nature of its predecessors. The citizens of New York can rest easy knowing that Logan won’t be pushing over buildings to fend off Rice’s cronies. If Logan would have his way, he’d keep his head down for as long as it takes him to raise enough money to take him and Chuck away from it all. But, now there’s Laura. The fire that reignites perhaps not the hero in Logan but, at least, the humanity in him.

It’s the kind of introspection cried out for in the genre. When its fans demand for grown up material, this is presumably where their fingers point. Characters before explosions. Dialogue before showboating. Sadly, for me, although it shoots for a lean and mean plot devoid of the dressings of ‘lesser’ superhero movies, Logan feels like a flabby feral scream into the superhero abyss. Its own self-importance sadly detracts from makes it work; What makes it stands out is also what sinks it.

It is so remarkably po-faced that its constant misery can sometimes feel like a parody. This is particularly clear when it tries to have its cake and eat it with a third act that dispenses with the subtlety and descends into Jackman growling – metaphorically and literally – in a showdown which clangs around noisily until someone says stop.

There is nothing wrong with a comic book movie for adults that wish to shake off the shackles of a family friendly certification. The recent Deadpool manages get the balance just right – anal jokes aside – for example. However, it feels at times that Logan is simply a PG-13 movie template with added swearing, CGI blood and – sigh – even a gratuitous boob shot. Yes, Deadpool has the same issues, but it was an R-rated comic fitting snugly into an adult film. Logan is a flipping square peg trying to squeeze into an f***ing round hole. It’s first series Torchwood.

And it is a shame because Logan does have some strong points. A Logan who refuses to run into battle is a great concept, which had previously been tackled in Mark Millar’s Old Man Logan (which would sadly lay the ground work for the nauseating Wanted comic book series). Let’s be honest, Jackman will always be Wolverine. Even when the character is rebooted 10 years from now, we’ll all shake our heads and agree that no one could replace the bloke from New South Wales. He can play this character in his sleep (Hi Wolverine: Origins) and It’d be petulant of me to say that he doesn’t get to play around with it a bit more here. Logan is a stark contrast to the cage fighter we saw back in 2000; He’s broken, he’s disenfranchised and maybe secretly he really does want something or someone to save him.

And whilst Xavier’s traumatic seizures are admittedly nothing more than Hollywood Alzheimer’s – in that it’s largely forgotten about till it services the plot – watching a great and good man reduced to a faded shadow of himself is heart-breaking. It reminds one of Ian McKellan in Mr Holmes, which saw the aged sleuth having to scribble the names of those he should know on his cuffs. Stewart brings his usual gravitas to a role that could have descended into parody years ago.

Deene as Laura is a staggering force of nature to watch, managing to stalk the screen whilst maintaining a semblance of childlike innocence. And some scenes she shares with Jackman show a spark of humour that managed not to be smothered by Logan’s furrowed brow. Equally, Merchant gives a surprisingly straight(ish) performance to Caliban before, unfortunately, being relegated to position of convenient plot device.

Yes, wade through the nonsense and there is some good to be found. Ultimately though, this just doesn’t feel like a fitting end to a much loved character. Yes, it’s a brave ending but it didn’t eke out as much emotion from me as it probably wants. I do hope that Logan is the final chapter. Not because I’m feeling vindictive but because to follow on from this feels like it will cheapen what Jackman and director have presented. Just because Logan isn’t for me doesn’t mean I want it diluted for others.

In a world where the MCU is becoming less and less brave in their creative decisions, here’s hoping they’ll take a page from this and Try something new in their delivery. But please, stay away from the supposed ‘adult’ tone.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

In what feels like seven decades in the making, two of DC’s mightiest heroes go toe to toe in an all-out no holds barred smack down. This, we’re assured by Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor several times, will be the gladiatorial fight of the century. Is it though?

Don’t let the action figures and pint sized pyjamas on sale in Kmart fool you. Batman v Superman is not a kid’s film. Nor is it even a family film. This cinematic interpretation is aimed squarely at the adults who want, nay demand, that their childhood obsessions grow up with them. This is translated into a cinematic universe where Batman tackles paedophiles and sex traffickers by branding them with a hot bat symbol, where Superman’s deeds in Man of Steel resulted in the deaths of thousands and Lex Luthor waxes lyrical about the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father and sends jars of urine to his enemies before blowing them up. This is a DC comic filtered through the lens of a bad fan fiction. This not a universe I want to live in.

It may be an old fashioned way of thinking, but superhero movies need to show their heroes being, well, super. In Batman v Superman – a title bout that doesn’t happen till around the two-hour mark – both of our heroes are rarely seen doing anything remotely so.

As Bruce Wayne/Batman, Ben Affleck is in danger of tripping over his brow due to how furrowed it is. He lives in a modern condo down river from a desolate Wayne Manor. He spends his nights with literally faceless women and having violent visions about Henry Cavill’s Superman. Having seen the blue tighted one effectively turn Metropolis to dust two years previously, the playboy millionaire is concerned for the welfare of America at the hands of aliens. In a sense, he’s the Donald Trump of superheroes.

Meanwhile, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) struggles with his work life balance as the media slowly becomes obsessed with Superman and the untold damage his heroics have caused over the years. Would it have hurt the film to have a simple scene of Clark enjoying being a superhero? Evidently so. If you enjoyed moody space Jesus in Man of Steel, you’re going to get a kick out of watching him crying in the aftermath of a terrorist attack.

Perhaps the brightest spot in the whole murky affair – and director Zack Snyder has really gone out of his way to drain this comic book movie of most hues – is Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Though even then, it’s hard not to feel her appearance would have had more effect had it not been spread thinly across every trailer in the last six months.

Later this year, Marvel will throw their own one on one into the cinema with Captain America: Civil War. It’s important to mention this, because with ten films down, Marvel has earned the right to have Captain America and Iron Man square off. This only the second film of the DC Cinematic Universe, and quite frankly everyone needs to be given time to breathe and think about what they really want to do. Sony’s aborted Amazing Spider-Man trilogy shows that trying to capture the same lightening as Marvel is going to be hard. DC can pull it off if they stop trying to rush everything and overstuff the film; spending close to three hours throwing everything at the screen in the hopes that something sticks.

There are several cameos, and (so. many.) dream sequences, that obviously hint at future adventures, which is fine. However, when a certain Justice League member turns up from the future to warn Batman about the past, and who is never referred to again for the rest of the film, its evident that DC comics doesn’t care for the casual viewer. They want the fans. They want the fan’s money. It’s marketing at it’s most cynical.

Overlong, dull and pretentious, Batman v Superman is the superhero movie that dyes its hair black, plays Lana Del Rey songs repeatedly and refuses to call Mum’s new lover Dad no matter how much Steve insists.

Contract Killers (2015)

In a town where no one smiles that much and it’s perpetually night, a contract killer, Marshall (James Treven-Brown) finds himself being hunted by one of the world’s finest assassins, Lee-Seng (Rob Young). To top off his already bad day, his boss has been killed leading him to go on the run with said boss’s niece. Sometimes a guy can’t get an even break.

If you’ve seen the trailer, don’t let the modest budget fool you. Whilst not wholly successful, this is a film with big ideas. Contract Killers is a time capsule. A love letter to the mid-nineties action movies, such as The Rock and Face/Off, that won everyone over and kept Nicholas Cage out of the taxman’s pocket. Director Mathew John Pearson heads up a John Wood charged gauntlet of kung fu, gun-porn and blood. ‘Fuck you, and fuck the law!’ Marshall cries without a hint of irony.

What’s perhaps truly surprising is that the whole thing was filmed in Wellington, New Zealand. And whilst the acting is a mixed bag – Marshall’s accent notably slips on one than one occasion – and the story is as slim as a blade of grass, it’s the stunts that will have you sticking around.

For that reason alone, the whole crew should applauded for putting together that evokes a period of action movie history that a lot of us hold dear to our hearts. Gather some likeminded friends round for a beer and reminisce about a time with John Travolta made good films.

 

Doctor Who: Deep Breath (2014)

Last year, the BBC graced upon us the opportunity to see Doctor Who on the big screen in lieu of a full length feature ever appearing. Last time it was all chins, old faces and Zygons for the show’s 50th anniversary and then last year, it was regenerations, steampunk and dinosaurs in the series 8 opening, Deep Breath.

Bursting onto our screens literally like a belch from a T-Rex, Deep Breath hit the ground running acting as a reboot, relaunch and continuation all in one feature length portion. The Doctor may look older, but the show appeared to have undergone a bit of a renaissance.

After the baddy stuffed, exposition overload that had been the previous Christmas special, showrunner Steven Moffatt wiped the table clean of all his timey wimey, Silence Will FALL, ‘I can’t go back for Amy. No, really I can’t. I’m not listening, lalalala’ bag of tricks, to focus on a lean plot that managed to sow the seeds for future plot lines in a manner reminiscent of the Davies era.

Ben Wheatley (A Field in England) took over directing duties, which certainly gave the whole thing a bit of oomph; a meaningless word and one which doesn’t do his work justice, but it’s done now. There were some glorious set pieces, from a T-Rex on fire, Peter Capaldi riding a horse through London in his jim-jams and, let us not forget, the spine-tingling and tense scene of Clara holding her breath. It doesn’t sound much on paper, but revisiting the scene still gives chills.

Having been painted into a corner (in the nicest possible way) last season, Jenna Coleman had her role beefed up. Not that the Impossible Girl wasn’t beefy last year. She was just more beef flavoured. Oxo cubes; the role was the equivalent Oxo cubes. Yes, let’s stick with that.

This time around, relating it back to the Davies era, here was a companion ready to think on her feet and fend for herself. Admittedly, the opportunity arose because she was left with her backside in the breeze by a still-percolating Doctor. ‘We can’t risk both getting caught.’ The Doctor said, skirting ever so close to his time during The Twin Dilemma. Of course, as the series progressed, there would be further examples of her being left out to dry, but Clara managed to scrabble back her dignity and eventually became The Doctor. If only for a short time.

Speaking of the Doctor, Peter Capaldi has certainly become one of the more iconic interpretations. He’s rude, impertinent, insulting, confused, loving, unable to do hugs and prone to throwing people onto church steeples. In short: brilliant. If his previous incarnation could be seen as a midlife crisis wrapped in a new face and tweed, then here was a teenager in middle age clothing. Sensing that an old Doctor might put off the kids – sorry folks, we need to remember, this show is always about the kids first and foremost – time was taken to ease the nippers into this new fierce face. All of which was topped off by a cameo by Matt Smith lovingly telling Clara (i.e. us) that he is he, and he is he and we are altogether.

Let’s not forget the return of the Paternoster Gang, clockwork baddies and new potential baddy, Missy played by the always brilliant Michelle Gomez. Of course, we all know what happened to her. Or do we? Deep Breath was bursting with fun and was the perfect jumping on point for those who still hadn’t dabbled in Nu-Who over the last ten years.

Here’s to keeping our fingers crossed that the momentum can be kept up as the ninth season approaches.

Here’s hoping.

Deep breath everyone.

 

Ant-Man (2015)

In a world where we can (probably) download images of what Chris Evans ate for lunch during Captain America: Winter Soldier, it probably comes as no surprise that the pre-production problems of Ant-Man are well known. Kinetic director Edgar Wright (The World’s End) had been working on fleshing out the diminutive superhero since closing up shop on Spaced. Cut to 2011 and it’s announced that Wright will be working with Marvel to get Scott Lang out to the public. And then 2014 rocked by and the much-rumoured ‘creative differences’ between wright and Marvel comes to a head when Wright allegedly walks weeks before shooting, unhappy with certain changes. And just as suddenly, Peyton Reed was locked in to take the helm.

Taking into account the history, it wouldn’t have been surprising if the film turned out to be an omni-shambles of design by committee. Instead, Ant-Man manages to do something fresh with what is essentially the tired origin trope. Paul Rudd is Scott Lang, an electrical engineer and common thief. He roommates with three fellow ex-cons and has restricted access to his daughter. Scott wants to be straight, but is convinced to take one last job. Leading him to be taken under the wing of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who convinces Scott to work for him and steal a top-secret project from Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), Pym’s protégé who is wandering dangerously close to the dark side. To help Scott with his mission, Pym trains him to be Ant-Man; a diminutive superhero with all the force of a bullet.

Ant-Man is not your usual superhero movie, as the above shows. It’s more akin to a heist movie with Pym and Scott working together to develop and hone his skills as Ant-Man. Along the way, Pym struggles in his relationship with his daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly). Hope, infinitely more skilled than Scott, wants to don the Ant-Man suit herself and most of the conflict comes from her trying to understand why her father is so adamant not to allow her. These scenes are surprisingly effective, with the success coming from both actors treating the material truthfully and honestly whilst Rudd bounces around in the background providing the comic relief.

Rumours persist that Wright was unhappy with the rewrite of his and Joe Cornish’s script, wanting to keep his film at arm’s length from the juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. How much of that is true is unknown. However, there are numerous cameos storylines that carry on from Marvel’s properties, including a cameo from Iron Man 2. Unless you’re an avid Marvel fan, none of these will particularly affect your understanding of the narrative and all will have a good time.

Ant-Man’s real issues come from racial profiling that sees all minorities either wise-crackers or safecrackers. It’s not overly offensive, but it is a little problematic. In addition, Judy Greer is entirely wasted as Scott’s ex-wife. Even when her daughter is in danger during a climatic moment of the film, its both her ex and her new husband that do the protecting. If you’re going to use an actor from Arrested Development and Archer, we want more from her than scolding Scott and being scared.

That aside, with excellent effects, witty wordplay and charismatic screen presence by all those involved, Ant-Man manages to punch above it’s own weight. It’s not quite Guardians of the Galaxy, but it’s nowhere near as pedestrian as Thor 2. It’s another win for Marvel.

Trifecta of Horror: Wyrmwood (2015), VHS Viral (2014) and Drive Angry (2011)

Wyrmwood

Those looking for a Mad Max hit whilst they wait for Fury Road’s home release, could do themselves a massive favour by throwing their peepers in the direction of Wyrmwood. Directed by Kiah Roache-Turner, the film follows Barry and Brooke; siblings caught up in a zombie apocalypse. Brooke has been captured by a mysterious dancing doctor in a biohazard suit , whilst Barry hooks up with a bunch of blokes who have found a new use for zombie blood. Exhilarating, violent and with a decent splash of claret, action and horror fans will lap this up.

VHS Viral

After two solid entries in the franchise, Viral struggles to match the pace of its predecessors. Entries hardly engage, with one even giving up the the whole premise of being found footage. That’s never a good sign is it? Equally frustrating is the film’s desire to eat itself with a nonsensical segment wraparound that sees a man chasing after a haunted ice cream van. Pointless to the extreme, let’s hope things improve if there’s a fourth entry.

Drive Angry

Nicholas Cage stars in this 2011 supernatural road movie about a convict busting out Hell to rescue his granddaughter. Cage is that convict and along the way he’ll drink hard, enlist the help of Amber Heard, and kill seven men whilst having sex with a stripper. Yes, this overblown movie is transmitted directly from the brain of a teenage child, but by Christ, it’s a lot of fun.

Taken 3 (2015)

Liam Neeson is back as Bryan Mills in Taken 3 – infuriatingly written as Tak3n in some quarters – the second sequel to the surprise hit of 2008. The last entry, Taken 2, followed the idiom of it’s not broke, don’t fix it and essentially became a retread of the first albeit with more daughter, more Famke Janssen and added orienteering with grenades.

This time around Taken 3 turns out to actually be a large misnomer, with no one being taken, swiped, pilfered, shanghaied, kidnapped, shoplifted, disappeared or hijacked. Instead, our Irish hero finds himself on the run from the police when he is set up for the murder of his ex-wife (Famke Janssen in what is fair to say a small cameo). With his ex’s husband from the last two films – now being played by a sleazy Dougray Scott – pointing the finger of blame squarely at him, Bryan must find out who set him up and why. Hot on his heels is Inspector Dozler, played by Forest Whittaker, potentially the slowest detective to hit our screens since Inspector Clouseau.

Whilst the first two films had enough going for them to at least be recommendable to others, Taken 3 is by far one of the laziest sequels we’ve seen since The Hangover Part 3. Breaking from the formula to use a script that was very likely doing the rounds under another name, it suffers greatly from the plot, to the set pieces, to the huge gaping plot holes, to the overall performances of everyone involved. Throw in some retconning of the highest order and a distinct lack of actual action until gone the hour mark, and you are looking at poor night at the cinema, irony be damned.

The audience deserves better, but evidently no one making Taken 3 feels the same way. Here’s hoping T4ken is a long way away.