Category: Film (page 1 of 3)

Never Hike Alone – A Friday The 13th Fan Film

Friday The 13th is one of the biggest franchises in horror film history.  Hockey mask wearing killer Jason Vorhees is a well known pop culture figure. After 12 films of varying quality, a rather abysmal attempt at rebooting the franchise in 2009, a proposed but dropped TV series, an announcement that there’s no new film on the horizon and the surprise development of Friday The 13th The Game, which despite the involvement of various people associated with the franchise, turned out to be rather underwhelming,  things weren’t exactly looking good for fans of the franchise.

Then fan film Never Hike Alone appeared.

Never Hike Alone is an upcoming Friday The 13th fan film partially funded via Kickstarter. Produced, written and directed by Vincente DiSanti. Drew Leighty stars as Kyle a hiker and video blogger who unwittingly stumbles upon the long abandoned site of Camp Crystal Lake and finds out that those stories about Jason aren’t just camp fire tales for scaring kids. It’s no exaggeration to say that Never Hike Alone is the best thing to happen to Friday The 13th in years. Why? Because it does something that the franchise desperately needs to do if it has any future, it makes it relevant for a modern audience. As much as watching dim witted teenagers getting slowly picked off one by one is part of the franchise’s charm at this point it’s not enough to just do the same thing over and over.

There have been attempts to do something a bit different before. Jason X, the 10th film in the franchise, was essentially ‘Jason in space’ and did a good job of splicing Friday The 13th with a sci-fi B-movie and it looks like it had a far higher budget than it actually did. Another example being Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood which features Jason (played by Kane Hodder for the first time who would go on to play the character is several other entries in the franchise) , now trapped at the bottom of Crystal Lake chained to a rock, being accidentally freed by a girl who is struggling to control her newly discovered telekinetic powers.

These entries in the franchise show that even long running franchises can still do interesting things if the creative team behind them have the will to create something a bit different rather than just ticking the boxes, Never Hike Alone is very much another manifestation of this. There’s a genius to the simplicity of Never Hike Alone’s approach, repurposing Jason, a relentless, seemingly unstoppable, spirit of vengeance as a force of nature in a tense man vs nature scenario.  Never Hike Alone ,like Predator Dark Ages, is another example of fans making a fan film that has better ideas than official films of the same franchise.

Watch the trailer below.

Wonder Woman

After 75 years Diana of Themyscira aka Wonder Woman has finally made it on to the big screen.

Whilst there have been 9 Batman films and 9 Superman films to date, if you wanted to see a superhero film based on a DC character that isn’t a guy, well then you’re stuck with Catwoman and Supergirl (if you’re a Marvel fan well then you’re stuck with Elektra). That a Wonder Woman films exists at all is reason to rejoice in itself but that it’s been directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins, is a big deal in an industry still rife with sexism.

This latest film in the DC Universe works so well because aside from scenes that book end the film this is removed from everything that’s gone before, which is good, because everything that’s gone before was overwrought, flawed and underwhelming at best.

After several divisive films mainly featuring characters seen numerous times before it’s not exaggerating to say that Patty Jenkins, Gal Gadot and Chris Pine (amongst others) have pretty much just saved the entire DC cinematic universe with this film. Saying DC and Warner Bros were pretty desperate for a film with a real buzz about it, along with being a critical and financial success, is probably an understatement. They’ve been playing catch up with Marvel Studios ever since the lacklustre Man of Steel.

The hidden paradise island of Themyscira is where young Diana Prince (Lilly Aspell ) lives among the Amazons with her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright). Flash forward and Diana (Gal Gadot) has grown into a fearsome warrior in her own right. Diana’s world and the paradise of Themyscira is soon thrown into disarray by the arrival of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American soldier whose plane crashes just offshore of Themyscira.

The most immediate thing is Themyscira looks amazing and leaves you wanting to spend more time in the world of the Amazons, even the background characters look amazing. The Amazons were made up from a selection of real life athletes.

After her brief but stark introduction to mankind Diana decides to help Steve Trevor on his mission to help the war effort, she’s also got her own motive. Diana thinks Ares, the god of war and the mythical enemy of the Amazons, is responsible for the war and ventures out from Themyscira to vanquish him.   So whilst Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and Dr Maru (Elena Anaya) might be the antagonists, there’s actually two stories playing out simultaneously, Trevor and Diana tackling the Germans for the war effort, and Diana trying to track down Ares.

For all the chatter about Gal Gadot’s casting as Diana being a bad move, there’s one thing that becomes immediately clear, Gal Gadot is great as Wonder Woman. Really great. Great in a Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman will undoubtedly be to girls what Christopher Reeves’ Superman was to boys kind of way.

Wonder Woman is undeniably a box office smash and is currently at 92% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, compare that to the 27% that Dawn of Justice has, or the 25% that Suicide Squad has, or Man of Steel at a somewhat better 55% .

It’s impossible to talk about Wonder Woman without talking about the context the film finds itself in though. One cinema’s ‘women only’ screenings proved incredibly popular ,selling out, but also provoking a backlash from those that thought it was somehow an affront to them. Wonder Woman is for the girls and the women out there who have been waiting, for decades in some cases, for this film. Disregarding the importance of this film ‘because girls have loads of historical figures as role models’ is seriously underestimating the power and influence of pop culture and representations within pop culture.  Things don’t happen in a vacuum.

One of the early impressive scenes shows to great effect how efficient the Amazons are as warriors as Themyscira finds itself under attack by soldiers that have tracked Steve Trevor. This is action executed in a visceral, engaging and visually impressive manner. Importantly though it’s Diana’s first introduction to the reality of war after many years of training just hearing stories. People get hurt, people die. This really highlights what makes Wonder Woman work where many other superhero films really haven’t, there’s a real sense of stakes to everything that happens. Things matter.

Wonder Woman utilises one of the most horrific times in recent human history, World War 1, to really give a sense of grounding and purpose to Diana. This isn’t a film where casualties are rendered in the abstract or where things are happening in conveniently evacuated or abandoned areas. The human cost of the war is there to see and for Diana, who grew up in a sheltered paradise, it’s a profound shock.

The BIG SCENE of Wonder Woman which is already the subject of much deserved praise is when upon arriving at the trenches of No Mans Land with Steve Trevor and his ragtag group of soldiers ,who are basically DC’s take on the Howling Commandos, Diana becomes determined to help a woman whose village has been overrun at the other side of No Mans Land. Ignoring Trevor’s protests she climbs from the trench and walks out into No Mans Land drawing the enemy fire and enabling the troops to rush the Germans. It’s incredibly powerful stuff. This whole scene could easily be a sequence of panels from a Wonder Woman comic come to life, it really sells the idea of what being superhero is about in a way that even Marvel Studios has struggled to do.

The depiction and use of Diana’s powers and abilities is handled really well too, with a less is more approach that still makes Diana seem worthy of the title of  Wonder Woman.

A film which is aimed at a young audience but has a story which centres around the horror of war and mankind’s inhumanity to each other is a pretty bold move, but even with this in mind it still comes across as a far lighter, more enjoyable and less oppressively grim film than Dawn of Justice for example.

Wonder Woman is definitely a superhero film, and definitely one of the better ones, it’s also the story of Steve Trevor and Diana Prince. One of the other things that this film highlights is how poorly relationships fare in other superhero films where girlfriends generally exist to be put in peril as a motivation for their superhero partners. Whilst a big part of the film’s narrative is building the relationship between Steve Trevor ,the soldier, and Diana Prince, the Amazonian, it gives both characters plenty to do. Both characters have their own arcs and nothing ever seems cheap or unearned.

There’s some great humour too, especially a scene with the pair on a boat headed to London and with Diana being perplexed at Steve’s gentlemanly decision to not sleep next to her.

Whilst Wonder Woman is definitely the best offering in the DC cinematic universe by far, like most superhero films it stumbles a little in its third act. This contrast is made more prominent by everything that went before being so good. Things aren’t as bad as the messy third acts of the previous DC films but there’s definitely an awkward contrast between fighting German soldiers to save people and the fight with Ares at the end.

 

Alien Covenant

After the Covenant, a colony ship with a cargo of 2,000 people in cryosleep and a cache of frozen embryos bound for a distant planet, encounters a solar flare the crew are awoken by ship synthetic Walter (Michael Fassbender) as part of an emergency protocol to deal with the damage. Shortly afterwards the ship stumbles upon a signal from a nearby habitable Earth like planet. Despite the protestations of Daniels (Katherine Waterson), this films Ripley character more on her later, Oram (Billy Crudup) ,acting ships captain and out of his depth after the ships captain was burned alive due to a cryopod failure, decides the Covenant should go investigate the newly discovered planet as a potential colony site.

Whilst Ridley Scott’s Alien was an atmospheric sci-fi horror venture, followed by James Cameron’s sci-fi action opus Aliens, this latest entry in the Alien franchise is a brooding gothic drama with some crudely bolted on Aliens action.

Alien Covenant is a profoundly frustrating affair. It might be called Alien Covenant but it’s undeniably a Prometheus sequel. Whilst Ridley Scott might be able to frame a good shot, things look pretty great throughout, the script from John Logan and Dante Harper is insultingly dumb in places. The crew of the Covenant actually make the crew of the Prometheus seem really intelligent. Which is saying something.

Prometheus was a distinctly flawed attempt to explain the origins of the ship (and the xenomorph) first encountered by the crew of the Nostromo on LV-426 in the original Alien film. One of the best parts of that film was the mystery of it and Prometheus (and Alien Covenant) demonstrate the danger of pulling back the curtain.

Prometheus introduced the Engineers, a race of giant humanoids that apparently created the human race, along with a deadly pathogen kept on the planet the crew of the Prometheus find. They are also the owners of that strangely shaped ship found by the crew of the Nostromo. Prometheus ended with the severely damaged synthetic David (Michael Fassbender) and last survivor of the Prometheus scientist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) heading out into the stars to find the Engineers homeworld looking for answers.

Anyone expecting any of those answers here will only be disappointed.

One of the most laughable aspects of Alien Covenant is that none of the events that happen would’ve happened if the crew of the Covenant actually remembered to wear space suits when going to explore a planet they have only just discovered. That a crew of people so spectacularly dumb are actually in charge of a colony ship, one with a cargo of 2,000 people in cryosleep, says something about how easy it must be to get a job as crew on a space ship with the responsibility of establishing a new colony for humanity.

This is just part of why Alien Covenant is so maddening and frustrating.

Another big part is these characters are utterly forgettable and also pretty unbelievable as actual people, that whole ‘truckers in space’ dialogue thing that worked so well in Ridley Scott’s Alien? There’s not really any of  that here.

There are three characters in this film that are in anyway interesting and two of them are played by the same actor. Michael Fassbender is, unsurprisingly, great playing the synthetic David (last seen in Prometheus) and Walter the synthetic who is part of the Covenant’s crew. The other character worth caring about is Danny McBride’s Tennessee, the stetson wearing, grizzled and rebellious member of the Covenant’s crew.

The landing squad from the Covenant soon find out to their horror that their new Eden is anything but as they discover David, stranded on the planet for a decade, has been busy playing god and wants to share his creations. David also reveals, after initially saying it was accident, that upon arrival at the planet, apparently the Engineers home world, he killed them all with the deadly pathogen last seen in Prometheus. The Engineers calcified bodies, frozen screaming out in anguish, now litter the area around where he lives.

Whilst this definitely sets a tone, it also means that the Engineers were only living in that one place on the planet that David now resides. Otherwise they would have undoubtedly retaliated in the years before the Covenant shows up. But in order for the first Alien film to happen there has to be an Engineer ship on LV-426 for the crew of the Nostromo to find, and it has to (in theory) have an Engineer on it in order for the ‘space jockey’ to be found along with the eggs.  Unless David is the ‘space jockey’ but that would mean he was somehow infected by a facehugger, which doesn’t really make sense since he’s synthetic not organic.  A parasite can’t survive without a host to feed off.

Fassbender basically carries this film, the interaction between David and Walter, an upgraded newer model of synthetic, is the best thing about this rather sorry mess.

Those questions you have about the Engineers, who are they, why did they create humanity, why did they create the deadly pathogen, why are their ships such a weird shape? Yeah, you’re not getting those answers here. The Engineers are it seems just a footnote in this story which establishes David as a Victor Frankenstein figure who created the xenomorph after years of experimenting with the pathogen on different organisms, and apparently just waiting for some humans to respond to his signal so he could have one of his facehuggers infect them and give birth to the first xenomorph. Which is exactly what happens.

That it happens in such a laughable way is just par for the course here, Oram, having just been given a guided tour of David’s creepy laboratory full of specimens he’s created with the Engineers pathogen, helpfully sticks his dumb face over an alien egg as it hatches.

The only thing resembling answers here are the indications that David decided to infect the crew of the Prometheus on his own, Walter makes a point of saying later models were changed because they were too human.  As David says at one point “Idle hands are the Devil’s play thing”.

If you’re thinking ‘What about the alien queen how does that fit in here?’ Good question. I have no idea.  Alien Covenant basically throws everything regarding the xenomorph as featured in Aliens into a woodchipper.

The worst thing about this venture is that Alien Covenant could’ve been considerably better with some competent writing. Having a team of people who fly through space for a living visiting a newly discovered planet who bring weapons in case they face a hostile threat, but don’t have intelligence to think there could be anything harmful in the atmosphere is appallingly sloppy writing. Profound stupidity is a major plot device here, the kind of thing you’d expect in a slasher horror film but without the sense of macabre fun. Unlike in Alien, where the crew are slowly killed by a vicious killing machine unlike anything they’ve ever seen whilst trapped in a claustrophobic environment, or Aliens, where the marines are killed because their superiors underestimate the threat they’re facing, here pretty much everyone dies due to their own stupidity because that’s what the plot demands.

The worst part is this happens in a film which is also trying to be intelligent whilst philosophising about the meaning of existence.  There’s a sense that this film really wants to be seen as intelligent science fiction like Arrival  but it really isn’t.

The third act is as predictable as it is underwhelming as it basically recycles beats from Aliens badly, but the worst part is you don’t care because the majority of these characters are ciphers, there’s no sense of stakes or dramatic tension   Another thing  the xenomorph only works when its utilised and shot properly, as seen in Alien and Aliens, which have entirely different approaches that both work brilliantly. Monster movie 101, less is more, a creepy thing hiding in the shadows is far more effective atmospherically than something in plain sight. This is especially true from a visual effects perspective. This film is seemingly entirely reliant on digital effects work for the xenomorphs and everything else and it really shows. The shift away from practical effects really, really stands out  and makes me realise that a man in a suit shot the right way still looks better than what’s on offer here.

Oh and one final point, Daniels is Alien Covenant’s Ripley, only without any of the qualities or characterisation that made Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley so memorable. Carrying a gun and shooting at a xenomorph does not make a character interesting,  if there’s no work done on building a character before that point then I have no interest in whether they live or die. There’s some weak attempt at portraying Daniels overcoming adversity after her partner the captain dies at the beginning and she ‘pulls herself together’ by the end but, like so much else here, it’s the bare minimum.   One of the things that really stands out though is how the default for the Ripley character seems to be casting a white actor. I find it really kind of mind boggling that Alien vs Predator, Paul Andersen’s somewhat unfairly maligned spin off (I think it works pretty well as a polished B movie) is thus far the only film to actually cast someone who isn’t white in the Ripley role – Sanaa Lathan is Alexa in Alien Vs Predator. Viewed through the prism of racial optics that’s pretty appalling really, especially when the usual bullshit excuse ‘POC aren’t marketable’ is irrelevant when a film’s cast is largely unknown and not really used in the marketing anyway.

Alien Covenant is basically just the latest in an unfathomable number of films that connect the dots as to why that Engineer ship was on LV-426 and why it had Alien eggs on it, there will inevitably be another Alien/Prometheus film to continue this saga but will anybody really care??

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The Void

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Whilst on a routine patrol officer Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole) stumbles upon an injured man (Evan Stern) staggering down a empty road. Carter rushes the injured man to a nearby rural hospital overseen by Dr. Richard Powell (Kenneth Welsh) and a small staff. Then Carter finds himself caught up in a mind shattering nightmare.

The Void from writer/director duo Jeremy Gillespie and Steve Kostanski, who crowdfunded the film’s special effects (more on that in a moment) but not it’s actual funding, is clearly inspired by 80’s films. John Carpenter’s The Thing and Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond especially. Other touch points include Clive Barker’s Lord of Illusions and John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness which appeared in the mid 90’s.

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Like Carpenter’s ‘Mouth of Madness The Void conveys the mind rending cosmic horror of Lovecraft, despite not being a direct adaptation of his work. Carter is the everyman character who finds himself trapped in an escalating situation which makes him question everything he sees and knows.

There’s an old adage of ‘show don’t tell’ and that runs through proceedings here. There’s very little in the way of exposition establishing anything. A brutal prologue sets the tone for things to come. Imagery, atmosphere and a refreshingly old school approach to special effects is a major part of The Void. Digital special effects might be the norm now but practical effects have an enduring appeal (even decades later Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion effects work like cinematic magic).  The plot might be a little incoherent and the characters a little generic but Gillespie and Kostanski are in their element when it comes to visuals, which are a feast of blood and body horror that’s like David Cronenberg dialled up to 11.

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Justice League Trailer

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The first trailer for the upcoming Justice League film is here and first impressions are that director Zack Snyder hasn’t learned anything from his previous divisive entries in the DC cinematic universe.

Whilst there’s definitely an initial thrill to be had when seeing the characters on screen for the first time, especially those that are gracing the big screen for the first time like Jason Momoa’s Aquaman and Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, this is quickly replaced by the realisation that this is seemingly yet another venture into the murky, dark and shadowy world of the Snyderverse, a place where the sun rarely shines, colours are distinctly muted at best and it’s hard to tell what’s going on.

This shouldn’t be confused with the Fincherverse, which whilst somewhat similar doesn’t feature superheroes, unless you’re one of those people that worships Tyler Durden.

To say DC and Warner Bros have a lot riding on Justice League is a distinct understatement, their entire cinematic universe output to date has been leading to Justice League. This is further compounded by their desperate attempt to catch up with rivals Marvel who are so far ahead of them they can barely see them on the horizon.

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There’s definitely some good stuff here, I can see Jason Momoa’s Aquaman stealing the film, but the visual aesthetic seems really at odds with antics of the premier team of superheroes from one of the biggest publishers in American comics. The thing that really stands out is how the character moments seem really good, “What are your superpowers again?” asks Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen for Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne to respond “I’m Rich”. There’s a sense (and a hope) that the writing might actually be better and have more warmth and humour to it but the actual glimpses of characters using their powers to fight whatever they’re fighting seem like a dingy depressing cartoon of digital FX nonsense, much like the climax of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

This shouldn’t be in anyway surprising because why fix something when the box office tells you it isn’t broken, for all the arguments they caused and the mixed critical responses for both Man of Steel and Batman V Superman Dawn Of Justice definitely brought in the big money.

One of the things that does stand out pretty badly is Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, who seems like he could be in a cutscene from a PS3 game.  There’s definitely a sense that Cyborg would’ve looked far better as a digitally enhanced prosthetic suit rather than what seems to be  a digital suit mapped onto Fisher’s body.

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I should emphasise that Dawn of Justice really was pretty awful, the only good thing about it was introducing Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman from director Patty Jenkins, set for release in June, looks like the best cinematic offering based on a DC character in years. The difference in aesthetic between Wonder Woman’s latest trailer and this one is quite staggering really.

There’s still little in the way of exactly how the Justice League film will work because it has a lot of pieces to move around, with the Justice League themselves and several other characters in the mix like Amber Heard’s Mera, Connie Nielsen’s Queen Hippolyta, Amy Adams’ Lois Lane and more besides.

One of the things which will really impact on whether Justice League lives up to its potential is how it utilises its numerous characters, if it ends up being just a case of Batman or Superman saving the day then that will be a massive disservice to the other characters.

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Suicide Squad

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After the turgid mess that was Dawn of Justice, the last offering from DC/Warner which was widely divisive, Suicide Squad couldn’t fail to be better but is seemingly no less divisive. This film has been subject to an unavoidable marketing campaign and the now standard endless amount of opinion articles pulling it apart and putting it back together again even before the film had even been released in cinemas. After being unsurprisingly torn to shreds by critics (which it should be said are proven time and time again to have pretty much zero influence on Box Office, Exhibit A the Transformers franchise) resulting in a 26% percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes   someone somewhere apparently outraged at such hubris (although it may have been a joke)  started a petition to get Rotten Tomatoes taken down, despite the fact it’s actually owned by Warner Bros, the studio bankrolling Suicide Squad, because internet.

Suicide Squad from David Ayer ,the man behind Training Day and Fury, could’ve been a hard edged tour de force, a take on Robert Aldritch’s The Dirty Dozen with super villains. Conceptually it’s a no brainer – in a world of metahumans Government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) assembles a deniable and expendable black ops team. A team made up of unhinged  deadly  villains to go on deadly missions no one else can deal with and coerced into service by the threat of immediate death by explosive implants and the promise of time off their sentences for services rendered.

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Only it doesn’t really live up to The Dirty Dozen idea. I expect this is likely due to Ayer being caught in the vice like grip of a studio still desperately playing catch up with their competitor rather than concentrating on actually making good films.  A studio that is still utterly clueless when it comes to tone having just delivered a dark dirge of a film featuring one of the most optimistic hopeful characters in the history comics superheroes. Paradoxically they’re now delivering a much lighter film, shot through with a variety of recognisable songs, centred on a cast made up of mentally unhinged villains, which really makes no sense at all but somehow it works.

According to various sources David Ayer’s film suffered from reshoots after test screenings, and numerous scenes were left on the cutting room floor. This combined with a scattershot editing approach that re-ordered scenes and the narrative. According to Ayer the original cut ran at around 3 hours, the theatrical cut is just over 2 hours. That’s a pretty big difference. Some have said that Suicide Squad seems like it’s been thrown into a woodchipper the resulting film being incoherently messy but, and it likely seems like false praise, this is the best of the recent cinematic offerings set in DC’s world, not amazing , but definitely not the absolute car crash many are calling it.

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The internal logic of the films premise doesn’t really work in the context that Waller lays it out . The idea that the Suicide Squad , a team which is largely made up of characters which don’t actually have powers, would be a match for  General Zod for example , is a bit ridiculous but then the comic the film is based on suffers from much the same problem.

Interestingly Suicide Squad seems to subvert the action film norm, namely the women here are generally kicking ass and the men are mainly in the thrall of their emotions. Viola Davis as Amanda Waller utterly nails it and reveals herself to be one of the coldest most villainous characters in the whole film which is interesting. Meanwhile Cara Delevingne’s June Moone/Enchantress is the most powerful character to feature in a DC film yet, she’s integral to the film and gets some pretty cool visuals even if somewhat predictably things descend into CGI overload by the conclusion. Which is seemingly a standard for comic book superhero films by this point and doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon.

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The main problem Suicide Squad suffers from is having to introduce so many characters in one film, which is really a catch 22 situation, either spend half the running time on introductory scenes setting up characters with backstories and thereby leaving no room for any actual story or plot  or just omit half of the introductions to make way for the story even though half the characters haven’t been fleshed out and this film kind of does both .

So the likes of Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang is basically just there for a few comedic beats that don’t really work, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje seems a little wasted as Killer Croc, a character who barely gets any lines at all and is seemingly just there to look menacing (which he does so kudos for the prosthetic approach) and there’s Karen Fukuhara’s Katana who is basically there to balance out the cast a little more, appearing out of nowhere some way into the proceedings for no real reason but she definitely seems like a cool character.

Will Smith’s Deadshot is as charismatic as expected veering more into anti-hero rather than being an outright villainous sociopath and he takes centre stage (along with Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn) whilst butting heads with Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag who is playing scout leader to the squad.  One of the real surprises is Jay Hernandez as El Diablo who gets some of the best scenes in the film and goes from “who’s he?” obscurity to actually being a major part of the story.

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Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, a character widely derided for being there for no reason other than being a sexy lamp, actually impresses with her quirky unhinged mannerisms and one of the best comic to screen portrayals in a DC film yet. Her character has been singled out by many as being masturbatory fodder for horny teenagers because no woman would ever willingly wear such an outfit. Turns out Harley’s outfit was one of several potential looks and this one was actually decided by Robbie herself and costume designer Kate Hawley based on a photo of Blondie singer Debbie Harry in the 70’s and also inspired by the characters look in the more recent Suicide Squad comic. One of the key traits of Harley’s character is not really caring about what people think, which seems to have gone over a lot of people’s heads when it comes to her outfit, especially the scene where she picks it out.

Robbie’s dynamic with Jared Leto’s Joker, a wild eyed blinged out Mobster, actually works well largely omitting the inherently abusive element of their relationship rather than glorifying it and making them seem more like a real couple, albeit a twisted one. One of the things that seems to be confusing people is the Joker, and equally Batman, not being major characters in this film, despite it being pretty obvious that they aren’t supposed to be because this isn’t their story or their film. They feature mainly in flashbacks because this is a film set in a shared universe and this establishes that fact and it works brilliantly.

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One of the best scenes in the whole film is in the third act when the weary group end up basically giving Flag the finger and going into a bar and just talking over drinks and it’s a glimpse into how this film could’ve been a lot better because it’s a moment that slows everything down and goes for real  characterisation which adds a lot to most of the characters and makes you wish it didn’t come so late.

There are a lot of darker themes that could’ve featured in Suicide Squad, Rick Flag and Deadshot essentially being the same despite Flag’s moral grandstanding, Killer Croc essentially becoming a monster because that’s what people expected him to be , etc, but they’re never really explored. This is reminiscent of Dawn of Justice which basically dodged all the darker themes. There’s a sense that this film could’ve had much harder edges in line with Ayer’s previous work but they’ve probaly been sanded off by the studio .

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X-Men Apocalypse

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X-Men Apocalypse is the sixth X-Men film or technically the eighth or ninth if you include the Wolverine films and Deadpool. This is also the fourth film from director Bryan Singer whose initial X-Men film played a big part in the resurgence of the superhero comics based film.

The previous film Days of Future Past despite making some pretty big changes to the story it was based on was still on the whole a pretty good entry in the series, with the bonus of having the older versions of key characters meet their younger selves and resetting the timeline for further films. The big problem with the X-Men films as whole though is they generally seem to be aimed at people who aren’t familiar with the source material whilst at the same time incorporating elements clearly aimed at fans of said source material, it’s a confusing approach.

Things start off well with an excellent opening sequence in ancient Egypt showing En Sabbuh Nur aka Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) being worshipped like a pharoah before being entombed alive after some of his subjects betray him. The prologue features a rowsing atmospheric choral score which establishes a great sense of momentum as Apocalypse’s betrayers plan unfolds, everything about this is great, the setting, the atmosphere, the costumes, the framing, the four horsemen themselves,  it’s a shame that after such an impressive start things are rather underwhelming at best.

The young Scott Summers aka Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) has his own quick origin story of sorts before meeting the young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) at Xavier’s school. The two meeting for the first time is handled well and Sheridan and Turner do a good job with what they are given. One of the things that X-Men: Apocalypse does a good job of is establishing Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters as an actual place. Xavier’s school seems like a university with its own campus and Scott, Jean, and friends going off campus on an adventure is a rare moment of the X-Men films catching some of the spirit of the comics rather than the life is pain aesthetic that has persisted through the X-Men films. Future films would benefit massively from actually spending some time at the school.

Meanwhile Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is now living incognito in Poland with a wife and child working in a smelting plant and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) has disappeared after the events of the last film despite becoming a folk hero of sorts for mutant kind. Mystique discovers Angel ( Ben Hardy) and Kurt Wagner aka Nightcrawler (Kodi Smitt-Mcphee) cage fighting in Berlin rescuing the latter and organising his safe transport to Xavier. Smitt-Mcphee is definitely one of the best new additions to the cast of characters, his awkward fish out of water manner is endearing.

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Xavier tracks down Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne) (who had her memories wiped remember) and she introduces him to the idea of mutants being worshipped like deities, especially in the ancient world. Whilst this is going on the newly awakened Apocalypse is set on cleansing the world recruiting Angel, Ororo Monroe (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and Magneto to be his horsemen although aside from Magneto there’s very little indication as to why he chooses them.

Fassbender as always does a great job, so good you don’t really realise how predictable his arc is here and seeing him play off against MacAvoy’s Xavier is always good. The pair have definitely inherited the roles from Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan.  Magneto having a wife called Magda who is white rather than Romani is a bit of a slap in the face for comics fans though, especially when Anya doesn’t even feature at all. This an example of the writers distinctly half arsed approach to actually incorporating elements from the comics.

Although it is a waste of Fassbender that Magneto spends a good chunk of the running time basically sidelined whilst everything is happening and less said about Apocalypse’s field trip to Auschwitz the better.

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The X-Men films have always seemed like they were a little ashamed of the fact they were based on comics (notoriously avoiding “silly” comics accurate costumes in favour of  “serious” black leather outfits despite the importance of colour in X-Men). So it’s a little awkward that this film embraces some of its comic roots but in rather ill thought out or lack lustre ways. There’s Lana Condor looking great as a Jubilee that could’ve leapt off the page of an X-Men comic but she gets more to do in an, admittedly great, viral video promoting Xavier’s school   than in this film.  Much was said about Olivia Munn playing new character Psylocke who actually is wearing a comics accurate costume, problem being Psylocke has maybe 3 lines of dialogue in the whole film, and her costume makes no sense at all in the actual context of the events of the film when there’s a scene of Apocalypse creating armour/costumes for his horsemen but he apparently skips Psylocke because reasons.

Alexandra Shipp’s Ororo too looks like she could be straight out of the comics and fares a little better than Munn but is still a barely sketched out character at best, one of her best character moments is seeing her use her powers to help her and her band of pick pockets survive on the streets of Cairo.  As for Ben Hardy’s Angel he’s equally given short shrift, getting scant few lines his character basically being summed up in a cage fighting scene with Smitt-Mcphee’s Nightcrawler .

Other scenes are aimed squarely at comics fans like Wolverine’s cameo, which was kind of ruined by marketing and then further dampened by some laughable telegraphing, despite this it’s still one of the best scenes in the film even if the importance of it will likely go over the casual viewers head.

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One of the major problems though is Apocalypse himself, the film makes a confusing stab at explaining his myriad powers which include bordering on omnipotent displays of telepathy, telekinesis and matter manipulation amongst others. This isn’t the Apocalypse of the comics but rather a body hopping mutant who “collects” mutant powers by transferring his consciousness from body to body using Celestial technology (something which is never explained or referenced, probably for the better all things considered) also making him effectively immortal. This makes zero sense according to the X-Men films own world mythology though because mutations are genetic, so switching from one body to another wouldn’t allow Apocalypse to collect powers but rather inherit the power of that specific body, in theory.

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Isaac himself actually does a pretty good job of portraying Apocalypse as an ancient being so powerful he’s callously indifferent to the lives of regular people he sees as weak and worthless.  Although he never comes across as the megalomaniacal nightmare inducing tyrant that many know from the 90’s cartoon and the fan favourite Age of Apocalypse comics event. Here Apocalypse seems far more dialled down, this Apocalypse doesn’t stare at his defeated horseman saying “You are not fit! You are not worthy!”  Some of the demonstrations of his powers are the right kind of awe inspiring, although they do leave you wondering why he would even need his four horsemen and also his grander displays are oddly less effecting.  The look of Apocalypse was something that gathered a lot of buzz and most of it not good, whilst I think they definitely could’ve done a better more comics accurate job (especially given people with nowhere near the funds this film had like Cinema Makeup School pulled it off for this great viral video a few years back).  This is undoubtedly another side effect of the film’s love hate relationship with the source material.

A scene revolving around Apocalypse and Xavier having a psychic war was a pretty good workaround for having Apocalypse change size, which is another example of why X-Men Apocalypse is so frustrating because it gets some stuff right but so much wrong, but there’s no Apocalypse changing one of his arms into a cannon or shield or any other examples of his mastery over his own body despite his other displays of power which is a massive disservice to the character and the fans of the character really.

Further problems manifest in Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique who seems to be phoning it in, as though Lawrence could not care less about being in this film.  This is a problem because Mystique is a major player in the film. Mystique becoming the reluctant hero of the the last few X-Men films and the X-Men’s leader here has always come across as a bit odd as far as storytelling goes. The character is far more suited to being a villain or an anti-hero as seen in the earlier X-Men films with Rebecca Romijin’s take on the character. There’s a sense that the writing is built around Lawrence becoming one of the biggest actors in film since her first portrayal of Mystique in 2011’s X-Men First Class, rather than because it was the story that needed telling.

X-Men: Apocalypse suffers from a big problem of having too many characters with some of them being there for no real reason, Evan Peters’ Quicksilver is basically there to do a redux of his scene from Days of Future Past, only this time it’s not as impressive visually  and it really smacks of the writers not really knowing what else to do with the character, as though there’s no other way they can incorporate him using his ways in a meaningful way.

Peters is a great actor if he’s actually given something to work with but Quicksilver seems very one note here and there’s very little reason to care about the shoehorned  subplot about him meeting his father Magneto.

Another major problem is Apocalypse’s plan to cleanse the Earth never really seems to have any stakes. There’s very little done to demonstrate people other than the X-Men will be affected. The death toll for this film likely goes into the millions but none of that is shown. Early scenes show Cairo as being full of bustling streets whilst later Apocalypse decimates Cairo to create a pyramid but there’s no indication at all of the human cost anywhere.

One of the good touches is Apocalypse creating statues of himself and his four horsemen in the pyramid, it’s a brilliant display of Apocalypse’s raging megalomania.

There’s an over reliance on some generally pretty poor CG FX work akin to a substandard disaster film as the film culminates in a profoundly anti-climatic showdown between the X-Men and Apocalypse, and a major plot point hinges on Nightcrawler being able to navigate his way around a humungous pyramid he’s never been in before in a very short space of time.

There’s a distinct irony in one of the best on screen portrayals of an X-Men character to date is in a film that isn’t called X-Men. On the back of Captain America: Civil War and Deadpool, two distinctly different but incredibly lucrative but more importantly well crafted films based on similar material X-Men: Apocalypse seems profoundly lacking.

The most frustrating aspect of this latest X-Men film is there’s clearly some stuff in there aimed squarely at fans of the comic, so somebody’s actually being paying attention, but equally some of it is basically a slap in the face for the very same fans and there’s an inherent feeling of deja vu to pretty much everything, this is concerning since the ending heavily implies that the Phoenix Force might feature in the next inevitable X-Men film.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

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Batman and Superman being in the same film should be amazing, it’s Batman and Superman in the same film. As much as I could say that really isn’t everyone sick of seeing these characters on the big screen, or how both of them are basically testaments to how corporations fuck over creators of the things that make them money, it’s something I never actually expected to see. Ever. A bit like imagining there would be a big budget Hollywood blockbuster featuring The Avengers when you were a kid in the 80’s reading your older brothers comics.

Whilst it should be amazing , I can’t emphasise enough how much it really isn’t.

Dawn of Justice is an overwrought, narratively scattered, over long and turgid affair with occasional impressive scenes. One of the few good things about this film is it’s not quite as abysmal as Man of Steel but that’s not really great praise.

Whilst anyone with internet access has probably gathered that Dawn of Justice hasn’t been that well received critically, I seriously doubt it’s the result of hive mind thinking which Alex Proyas ,director of the widely maligned Box Office bomb  Gods of Egypt, ranted about in a Facebook post that rapidly went viral. Anyone with any interest in film will already know that critics have very little impact on box office, if they did Transformers wouldn’t be such a lucrative franchise, so regardless you can rest assured Dawn of Justice will likely be setting Box Office records.

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One of the things that becomes rapidly apparent is Zack Snyder might be good at visual storytelling, but when it comes to storytelling with any actual depth or emotional weight he’s evidently pretty clueless. Poor Henry Cavil is lumbered with another script (by writers David Goyer and Chris Terrio) which hamstrings him with awful dialogue as Clark Kent/Superman whilst demonstrating the emotional range of a block of granite. Cavil definitely looks the part and I’m sure he’s a good actor but there’s no charisma here or emotion or development to anything he does. This is especially true of his relationship with Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams). A character who exists to be a plot device on legs, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter who is so lacking in perception that she doesn’t even realise how her relationship to Superman could be used to his disadvantage.

Cavil’s Superman is so seemingly detached from everything he’s reminiscent of the omnipotent Doctor Manhattan in Watchmen, another film by Snyder which despite its flaws is distinctly better than this one.  Anyone expecting Dawn of Justice to explore ideas like  people worshipping Superman like a god  or people’s xenophobia because he’s an alien will be disappointed, these are potential narrative streams that are merely hinted at and soon forgotten.

Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne/Batman meanwhile is scarred by being caught in the destruction of Metropolis in a scene which goes back to the events of Man of Steel. Witnessing a Wayne Tech building, full of people, being destroyed and various other carnage has a profound effect on him. Flash forward and this has made him become angry and festering with contempt for Superman and the damage he is capable of wreaking on the innocent. Another reason for Wayne’s brooding state is the death of his sidekick at the hands of The Joker, but it’s only referenced in a single line of dialogue and the odd shot of the former sidekick’s suit in the Batcave, so I won’t be that surprised if people don’t pick up on this. Whilst Cavil’s Superman is emotionally blank Affleck’s Batman is sullen and angry for the whole affair, it’s just his default state.

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Affleck’s Wayne isn’t the wealthy playboy often associated with Batman he’s just as sullen out of the cowl as he is in it, occasionally turning up to parties so he can hold a drink and look world weary like a Vietnam vet in a dive bar but in an expensive suit, that’s when he’s not falling asleep at the Batcomputer having nightmares.

This is a gloomy and dark affair, an omnipresent fog seems to hang over the proceedings with no respite. Brevity and humour is in distinct short supply here aside from a line from Superman’s Mum which brilliantly sums up how being a parent of a superhero must be like (seriously this is one of the best lines in the whole film) and a scene shown in the trailer where Batman and Superman assume the other knows who Wonder Woman is. These stand out like a lighthouse in a fog bank in this grim dark world of pain and anguish. Having a grim or dark tone isn’t necessarily bad if you have the writing and development to actually make it engrossing (like Children of Men or How I Live Now) but this is distinctly lacking in both so it just becomes another reason to not really be that invested in what’s happening.

Which is one of the confusing things about Dawn of Justice, it’s meant to be an intro to the DC wider cinematic universe but if this is the introduction to a shared world then does that mean that the upcoming Wonder Woman, Aqua Man and Justice League films are going to be equally dark and grim in tone?

Whilst cramming a lot into its overstuffed 150 minutes, including a CIA coverup, a chunk of Kryptonite being discovered, an alien spaceship, the body of Michael Shannon’s General Zod, a few nods to the post 9/11 world, a senate committee questioning whether Superman is above the law, some espionage and the introduction of several members of the Justice League amongst other things, very little of this is interesting. Things just kind of happen in a haphazard manner before moving onto something else.  This scattershot approach to editing means there’s very little actual forward momentum to anything.

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Dawn of Justice does have some good stuff , it’s just scattered throughout like shiny jewels in landfill.

Affleck’s Batman might be unengaging but the action scenes he features in are really well executed, whether it’s a nightmarish dream sequence which is one of the highlights, a high speed chase in the Batmobile or storming a warehouse full of criminal scum in what plays out like a live action scene from Rocksteady’s Arkham games. There’s no denying that Snyder can do a kinetic action scene really well it’s just that there’s a lot to slog through to actually get to them. Another point being this more brutal and dangerous Batman is at least a change from previous incarnations of the character, even if Batman non chalantly killing bad guys with high calibre weaponry seems a little weird.  Batman being more aggressive isn’t in itself a problem, although they could’ve established why Batman is so intense a little better instead of making him seem Frank Castle without the motivation .

One of the most grating things about Dawn of Justice though is Jesse Eisenberg’s Alexander Luthor or Lex Jr who really does seem to be channelling a jittering cokehead mixed with The Joker or maybe The Riddler,  I say The Joker because one scene around the third act is so reminiscent of The Joker in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke  it stood out like a signal flare to me. There seems to be very little actual reasoning behind Luthor’s actions other than bored rich kid doing things because he can, oh and having one of your major plot points revolve around a jar of piss is a classy touch it has to be said.

More than that though the plot ,such as it is, is riddled with things which make very little sense, here’s just two of them. The Wayne Tech building manager who waits for Bruce Wayne to call him to evacuate ,despite the fact that a good chunk of Metropolis has already been reduced to burning rubble right outside the buildings open plan windows right in front of him and all the Wayne Tech staff, another big problem is if Batman had succeeded in killing Superman (as Luthor intended) then Doomsday would’ve likely destroyed most of Metropolis due to only a battle weary Batman and Wonder Woman  left to take on the Kryptonian beast, so Luthor actually wants to destroy Metropolis?

Despite Dawn of Justice seeming like a Batman film that just happens to feature Superman, Gotham is never established as a place here. This lack of geography is bad to the point that it’s easy to forget that The Daily Planet ,where Lawrence Fishburne’s Perry White keeps wondering where Clark Kent is and getting annoyed with Adams’ Lois Lane, isn’t in the same city as  Batman who is taking out his issues on criminals. This lack of world geography is problematic since they’re trying to create a cinematic universe here, but everything seems to be happening in the same non descript city with conveniently uninhabited parts.

As for the actual fight between the two iconic characters, fans of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns will probably appreciate the various nods to bits cherry picked from that story but one of the main problems is the reason for the fight. Batman has pretty well established reasons for wanting to take out Superman and he has a distinctly different idealogy when it comes to dealing with criminals but Superman isn’t invested in the fight at all and there’s no clash of ideologies here, there’s no “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us” going on, even though they are apparently in different cities.  Because Cavil is so blank throughout and there’s so little time or thought invested in his character or his relationship with Lois (or anyone else for that matter) when they do start fighting there’s very little sense of stakes, it seems more like going through the motions, a clunky excercise in getting to the third act. This leads into another problem. The fight stops due to a rather ridiculous plot development, one that in context seems to be at odds with the reason why Batman is wanting to fight Superman in the first place – the death of hundreds if not thousands of innocents and preventing more of those deaths.  This then leads into the films final act and one of the films best assets.

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Without doubt the major highlight of Dawn of Justice is Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. Her casting resulted in widespread disbelief, mocking, scorn and outright hatred across the internet, even more than Ben Affleck’s casting got so it’s great to see how good she is.

First introduced like a mysterious love interest for Bruce Wayne fairly early her appearance in the film’s final act, striking an iconic pose with her bracelets complete with screeching electric guitar soundtrack, suddenly brings a jolt of life into the previously gloomy proceedings. Gadot’s Wonder Woman despite being a glorified cameo features more life and warmth than Affleck and Cavil’s characters manage throughout.

The fight with Doomsday, which everyone knows about because it was in the trailer, is pretty much the CG overload you might expect but at least it isn’t as unengaging as Man of Steel’s God when will it end fight sequence with Superman and Zod.  This fight scene  features one of the best scenes in the whole film, Wonder Woman scrambling off the floor with a wild passionate grin before charging back into the fray. This scene utterly sells the character  and Gadot’s performance makes you want the Wonder Woman film to get here already.

Whilst Cavil and Affleck might bear the brunt for the negative responses to Dawn of Justice really they’re the wrong targets, they both suffer under the effect of the real targets – Zack Snyder for his cack handed direction and writers David Goyer and Chris Terrio for squandering the massive potential here.

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculair Children first trailer thoughts.

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The first trailer for Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is here and whilst acclaimed cult film director Tim Burton, the director of Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands and The Corpse Bride amongst others is a perfect fit for the film I can’t say I’m that enamoured by this first trailer.

The best selling books by Ransom Riggs have a some interesting ideas and characters, and they get pretty dark at times something which isn’t exactly inferred by the surprisingly bright colour palette here which seems to be selling it as a whimsical fantasy adventure.

The books tell the story of Jacob who sets out to find a mysterious orphanage on an isolated island after suffering horrific nightmares after  his grandfather Abraham (Terence Stamp), who used to tell him fantastical stories of the children in the orphanage he lived at, dies in the strangest of circumstances. Determined to prove to his father Franklin (Chris O’ Dowd) and his therapist Dr Golan (gender switched for the film and played by Allison Janey) that his Grandfather Abraham wasn’t a paranoid crazy type he sets off to find the orphanage his grandfather told him so many stories about.

Fans of the book will notice numerous changes in the trailer, one of the most notable being the roles of Emma (Ella Purnell) and Olive (Lauren McCrostie),who has also been aged up, have been switched along with Olive getting strange new powers, “Air is my peculiarity”. Emma is the one that initially befriends Jacob in the books and there’s also a reason for the two of them getting closer, which is a major part of the story throughout the books. Besides that though Emma is a bit of a feisty badass, who can not only wield flames as her peculiarity but also nearly very nearly kills Jacob on their first meeting mistaking him for someone, or rather something, else.

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The scene of Jacob holding onto the rope to stop Olive floating away whilst taken from a similar scene in the book has an entirely different message here, Olive is both older and Jacob’s love interest in the film and here he is holding her down, literally, with a rope.

Another major change is Bronwyn who is one of the most formidable of all the peculiars in the books possessing superhuman strength and a maternal protective instinct for the youngest of the peculiars, here she has been deaged and one of the youngest, which indicates they must have changed the story because Bronwyn features in several important events, especially the closing scenes of the first book.

Out of all the changes casting Eva Green as the bespectacled and restrained Miss Peregrine of the books is at least understandable given that the film needs a bankable name with a cast that consists mainly of  pretty much unknown child/teenage actors.

Whilst changes are often inevitable with any adaptation of a book to bring it to the big screen these changes do make me wonder exactly how much of the original story is going to be left and exactly how it’s going to play out.

 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Nearly two decades after the first of George Lucas’ widely reviled prequels there’s a new Star Wars film, something which for a long time just seemed like an impossibility until Disney bought Lucasfilm and with it the Star Wars franchise.

J.J Abrams was hired to attach some jump leads to the franchise much like he did for Star Trek back in 2009 and along with co-writer Lawrence Kasdan he does a distinctly better job than the last Star Wars films to grace the big screen. That though isn’t saying much and it should be noted that The Force Awakens is far from a great film. Whilst there are some things that work really well there are plenty that don’t which drag the film down.

There will be major spoilers so anyone who has yet to see The Force Awakens should probably stop reading if they’re concerned about that sort of thing.

Set three decades after the defeat of the Galactic Empire now there is a new threat The First Order which wants to dominate the galaxy. The Resistance lead by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and backed unofficially by The Republic are fighting against them. Meanwhile Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamil) has disappeared. The Resistance has sent a fighter pilot named Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) on a mission to try and track down the whereabouts of a map said to lead to Luke Skywalker’s location.

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One of the first things to note about The Force Awakens is that it is intentionally very similar to the first film in the franchise, 1977’s A New Hope, the plot centres around trying to destroy a new considerably bigger version of the Death Star called Star Killer. There are numerous scenes which are reminiscent to those seen in the first film. This is done in a knowing way though and Abrams is well aware that nostalgia is a big part of the appeal of the new Star Wars films.

So what does The Force Awakens get right?

One of the impressive feats Abrams has achieved is blending the new and the old in a way that doesn’t feel forced or grating. Whilst the story starts on the sand blasted planet of Jakku where Dameron , Rey (Daisy Riddle), Finn (John Boyega) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) are first introduced it doesn’t take long for familiar sights and faces to show up and when they do they are well utilised.

There are numerous nods to the original trilogy both visually and via dialogue which are well done and not just clunky fan service. When Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) first show up it’s slightly surreal. Ford despite his advancing years is flawless as the now older but still as rogueish Solo and his relationship with Chewbacca, that of a bickering married couple, is responsible for some of the films best comedic moments. This isn’t just shameless fan service either the pair are worked effectively into the narrative.

There’s definitely a sense of fun throughout too, with several scenes being played for humour, even if it’s a dark sense of humour. This is something which was distinctly missing in the prequels.

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One of the undeniable new stars though is new droid on the block BB-8 who has featured in the films trailers and is central to the films other major plot. BB-8 Dameron’s droid has part of a map to the location of Luke Skywalker (more on that later) and The First Order is desperate to capture the droid for the map before the droid can deliver it to The Resistance.

The new droid quickly becomes the faithful partner of scavenger Rey after Dameron is captured and follows her on her journey. Not only is BB-8 brought rather impressively and amusingly to life ,despite communicating via bleeps and sounds much like R2-D2, but there’s obviously been some thought put into how the droid would actually function in various environments and situations which makes the droid seem far more real and like an actual character. That this new droid can seamlessly fit in with iconic droids R2 D2 and C3PO is a testament to the design and approach to the new droid.

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Where The Force Awakens really excels though is in its action scenes, special FX, sound design and score. Unlike the vast majority of blockbuster films with their woefully unconvincing and bewildering digital mayhem everything here seems real. Everything seems to have mass and weight and environments feel and look real. Exactly how special FX should work in a film. This doesn’t just apply to how the film looks though. One of the most fundamentally important elements of Star Wars is sound. No other franchise is associated with sound quite like Star Wars. Nothing invokes a sense of nostalgic glee quite like the sound of a Tie Fighter tearing through the sky or the sound of a lightsabre being used in combat. Equally important though is composer John Williams who returns with another impressive score.

So where does it go wrong?

The Force Awakens is rife with narrative developments that are reliant on handwaving, pure coincidence or have no apparent explanation at all or the “it’s about space wizards with laser swords just go with it” explanation. The Force Awakens also features high profile characters that are woefully underused. There are clearly going to be some story elements that are left unexplained as this is the first film in a trilogy, like who Rey’s parents are amongst other things, but  hand waving, pure coincidence or events with no apparent explanation for the sake of plot advancement are just bad writing.

Luke Skywalker’s Lightsabre just happening to be in a box in the basement of Maz’s watering hole, a weird mix of Mos Eisley’s cantina and a castle, for some reason.  Maz  merely mentions the reason for it being there as being a story for another time . Luke’s lightsabre prompts a scattered and confusing flashback or forward for Rey which is a vague explanation for most of the unexplained events she is involved in.

Finn is a Stormtrooper that deserts from The First Order but there’s very little time devoted to showing why a Stormtrooper would just decide to desert from The First Order. Apparently this is because Stormtroopers are not clones but rather children kidnapped and put into service by The First Order.

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Finn, despite apparently only working in sanitation, nearly defeats Kylo Ren the film’s antagonist in a lightsabre duel.

Luke Skywalker disappeared after a young Ben Solo aka Kylo Ren ,now a high ranking figure in The First Order, slaughtered his fellow students after being seduced by The Dark Side. Despite disappearing because of the slaughter and leaving his friends behind there is a map to Luke’s exact location which The First Order and The Resistance are both wanting.

A major plot thread is the  map  to Luke Skywalker’s location, apparently the first Jedi Temple. R2 who has been in hibernation of sorts for an extended period after Luke’s disappearance “wakes up” at exactly the right moment to show Rey and the others the map to where Luke is. Apparently BB-8 says something to R2.

Captain Phasma turns off the shields for the Star Killer ultimately allowing The Resistance to destroy it after being threatened by Finn. Phasma already knows that Finn is not a killer and that is  apparently why he deserted from The First Order.

Dameron  after surviving the crash with Finn forgets all about the important mission he previously spent his time telling Finn about, showing up later with The Resistance .

As for wasted characters Maz Kanata ,voiced by Lupita Nyong’o, is the thousand year old alien owner of The Force Awakens version of the Mos Eisley cantina. Maz is this films version of Yoda, basically Yoda as an orange old lady with glasses only without any of the charm or relevance. This is one of the most grating callbacks to the original trilogy because you’re not going to upstage Yoda with a character who has pretty much the same physical appearance and pretty much no narrative relevance.

Maz only exists as a means for Rey to get Luke’s old lightsabre which is sequestered in her basement for some reason. There’s no indication at all as to whether Maz even survives the assault on her castle which is destroyed by The First Order. The important thing is you have no reason to care because the character is rendered irrelevant narratively and no longer serves any purpose.

There are numerous aliens featured in Maz’s castle anyone of these could’ve potentially been Maz but they decided to go with a design that is almost exactly the same as Yoda’s.

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Captain Phasma, Gwendoline Christie, is utterly wasted in a role that amounts to little more than a cameo. The intimidating leader of the Stormtroopers has only a few brief scenes. An early scene features Finn fighting a random Stormtrooper who calls him a traitor, this could’ve been Phasma and would’ve given the character some actual purpose and also given the pair some history to build from in the on-going narrative.

Some of the main narrative problems with The Force Awakens lie with Rey though. Daisy Riddle’s Rey is in essence a great character and it’s fitting that the first new Star Wars film features a female protagonist because they are in distinct short supply. The problems aren’t with Riddle’s portrayal either, she’s a capable actress. Rey is introduced as a scavenger scraping a living by selling parts salvaged from crashed ships. Rey is no damsel in distress either, quickly dealing with hoodlums attempting to steal her salvage at one point.

Max Landis recently uploaded a video explaining his problems with the character and Finn after coming underfire for apparently being sexist and a racist for commenting on the characters via social media.  His problems with the characters had nothing at all to do with the characters gender or race but the writing, this says a lot about fandoms inability and unwillingness to accept any criticism of what they are a fan of.

Rey gets the most handwaving of all, she can somehow pilot the Millenium Falcon despite never being on the ship before and also knows how to run the ship better than Han Solo does. Her life of being a scavenger and selling salvaged ship parts apparently explains this.

The real problem though is as the story unfolds there are never any stakes at all for Rey. Throughout the story she deals with every situation she finds herself in with ease, in fact the only time she makes a mistake it works in her favour. She is only really in any kind of peril once when she is subdued by Kylo Ren and kidnapped. Then Rey uses The Force to make a Stormtrooper release her when captured and then later,despite having never used a lightsabre before and not being trained by anyone in the ways of The Force, Rey manages to not only call Luke’s lightsabre to her hand but also bests Kylo Ren before an earthquake due to the planets imminent destruction seperates the two in the films third act.

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Kylo Ren is supposed to be amongst the best that The First Order has to offer, the leader of the Knights Of Ren, trained by Luke Skywalker in the ways of The Force and later the pupil of the mysterious Lord Snoke the supreme commander of The First Order. Yet he is easily bested by Rey who never for a moment seems to be in any actual danger and nearly bested by Finn too. This says a lot about how woefully inept The First Order really are if Kylo Ren is the best they have. The underlying theme of Star Wars is good ultimately triumphs over evil but there’s no actual pay off if there’s no actual struggle between the two. There’s no narrative weight if Rey can easily deal with any obstacle in her path as easily as she does in The Force Awakens.

Just because Kylo Ren was winged by Chewbacca’s bowcaster after killing Han Solo and Rey possibly had some sort of training from Luke or someone else that was blocked or removed from her memory that she is now remembering doesn’t excuse such sloppy writing.

Despite the massive success of The Force Awakens at the Box Office and having a female protagonist Disney have still unsurprisingly fumbled massively on the merchandising front by apparently not even featuring Rey, the main character of the film, in a lot of their merchandise. The hashtag #WheresRey soon becoming popular on Twitter.

Kylo Ren is himself though a rather underwhelming antagonist. He wears a mask for no real reason other than trying to be intimidating but is prone to temper tantrums which is played for laughs more than being intimidating. One of the film’s most amusing scenes is when two patrolling stormtroopers stop their patrol and do a 180 when they realise Kylo Ren is having a tantrum and hacking things to bits with his lightsabre.

The frustrating thing is The Force Awakens is shot really well. The lightsabre duel in the snow covered forest is atmospheric, Kylo Ren’s confrontation with Han Solo is shot really well, The Resistance fighters battling with Tie Fighters is shot really well. Visually The Force Awakens is for the most part excellent it’s just a shame about the writing.

The main problem with The Force Awakens is good storytelling will make everything that happens seem feasible and be engrossing if the world and its characters are well crafted and failing that it should be executed that well that an audience are sucked into the narrative so overlook any such shortcomings. Ideally it should be both. Just expecting an audience to overlook things under the assumption they will be explained in the next film is the kind of writing that works on TV, because TV is episodic, but also you don’t have to wait 18 months or longer for the next episode and hope it all makes sense.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens isn’t a terrible film but it’s by no means an amazing one either.

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