Alita: Battle Angel review

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL

Director : Robert Rodriguez
Cast : Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Keean Johnson, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Eiza González, Michelle Rodriguez, Lana Condor, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Idara Victor
Genre : Science Fiction/Action
Run Time : 2 h 2 mins
Opens : 5 February 2019
Rating : PG13

           James Cameron has long spoken of adapting Yukito Kushiro’s manga Battle Angel Alita aka Gunnm to the big screen. After developing the project through the 90s and 2000s, he turned his attention to the Avatar movies, passing the directorial baton to Robert Rodriguez. This is the result.

It is the year 2563. Dr Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz), a kindly scientist living in the post-apocalyptic Iron City, comes across a discarded robot core in a trash heap. He attaches the core to an artificial body he has built, reviving the cyborg girl. Ido dubs her ‘Alita’ (Rosa Salazar). Alita has no memory of her previous life and adjusts to her newfound existence in Ido’s care. She meets and falls for Hugo (Keean Johnson), who introduces her to the sport of motorball. Alita aspires to enter a professional motorball tournament, but Ido tries to dissuade her because it’s a lethal sport.

Chiren (Jennifer Connelly), Ido’s ex-wife, is now working with the shady and powerful Vector (Mahershala Ali), who has made his fortune in motorball. Vector sets his sights on Alita, sending cybernetically-enhanced bounty hunters including Zapan (Ed Skrein), Grewishka (Jackie Earle Haley) and Nyssiana (Eiza González) after her. Alita gradually recalls her past as a soldier in a catastrophic war 300 years ago, reconciling this past with her current existence as powerful forces pursue her.

Alita: Battle Angel might have Cameron on board as producer and co-writer to lend it pedigree, it winds up a disappointment. The film boasts some good cyberpunk design elements and eye-catching visual effects from vendor WETA, but the familiar story structure and character types make it seem like something that has sat on a shelf for 20 years. Cyberpunk is very much an 80s-90s concept – while there still are creative and compelling cyberpunk works, we’ve already begun looking on cyberpunk futures the way we look at The Jetsons-style 50s futurism.

          Alita plays the young adult novel-style ‘chosen girl’ trope painfully straight and falls back on tried and tested sci-fi movie conventions. There’s a floating metropolis where the elites live, while everyone else leads a hardscrabble existence in a post-apocalyptic city. Bionic bounty hunters roam the streets as militaristic drones keep order. With its light body horror, the film sometimes approaches the off-kilter twistedness of the source material but is never brave enough to embrace it. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, and a sense of going through the motions pervades Alita. There’s a dynamism to the action sequences but a limpness to everything else.

“I’m starting to feel like I wasn’t very important,” Alita sighs to Hugo. “Just an insignificant girl thrown out with the rest of the garbage.” Naturally, Alita winds up being the most significant girl. The character is portrayed via performance capture by Rosa Salazar. Alita’s enlarged anime-esque eyes deliberately contribute to an uncanny valley quality, reminding the viewer that she’s different from everyone else. The character is a blend of giggly innocence and formidable combat prowess, with Salazar switching fluidly between the modes. Salazar’s performance is one of the most worthwhile aspects of the film.

It’s always nice to see Christoph Waltz in a non-creepy role, and as Dr Ido, he is a serviceably likeable Gepetto-esque figure. There just isn’t enough depth in the material for the relationship between Ido and Alita for audiences to care very much about it.

Jennifer Connelly is mostly flat as a character who could’ve been interesting because of her conflicted nature. Fellow Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali is wasted as a generic villain who pulls the strings behind the scenes. There is a surprise element to the Vector character that differentiates him from other similar villains, but it just isn’t enough to make him memorable.

Keean Johnson makes for a boring love interest. Much of the film’s cheesiness is derived from its romantic subplot, which becomes a driving force for Alita. We don’t know what Alita sees in Hugo. Even given some moral ambiguity, Hugo is patently dull. It sounds mean, but the best way to describe the character is ‘lame’. There’s nothing passionate or transporting about the romance, which feels like it belongs in an early-2000s Disney Channel Original Movie.

The various cyborg ‘hunter warriors’ Alita must fight are various shades or cartoony and while they might approach menacing, never seem like a legitimate threat. This is in part because of how Alita seems to be physically stronger and faster than anyone she faces.

Alita: Battle Angel isn’t a complete loss: Rosa Salazar gives it her all, and the realisation of the ‘Panzer Kunst’ fighting style and the kinetic motorball sequences are exciting and entertaining to watch. The film was shot in native 3D and looks great in that format. It’s just a shame that this is a largely flavourless version of this story, saddled with awkward dialogue and melodrama.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Advertisements

Bumblebee review

BUMBLEBEE

Director : Travis Knight
Cast : Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Ortiz, Jason Drucker, Pamela Adlon, Stephen Schneider, Peter Cullen, Angela Bassett, Justin Theroux
Genre : Action/Adventure
Run Time : 113 mins
Opens : 20 December 2018
Rating : PG13

Bumblebee-poster          The last Transformers movie gave us King Arthur, Transformers fighting Nazis, a secret order entrusted with guarding the Transformers’ history on earth, and Sir Anthony Hopkins. In addition to the usual hyperactive clanging action sequences, there was so much plot it was wont to make one’s head spin. This prequel/spinoff dials things back a notch, leaning heavily on nostalgia and steering the franchise away from the cacophony which has characterised it.

Bumblebee is the story of a girl and her car. The girl: Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld), a sullen teenager coping with the death of her father. Charlie’s mother Sally (Pamela Adlon) has remarried, and while Charlie’s brother Otis (Jason Drucker) has taken to their stepfather Ron (Stephen Schneider) well, Charlie has not warmed to him. The car: a Volkswagen Beetle whom Charlie christens Bumblebee, who is secretly an Autobot from the planet Cybertron in disguise. The Autobots are locked in a vicious war with the Decepticons, and Autobot leader Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) has sent Bumblebee to earth, to scope out the planet as a possible refuge for the Autobots.

Bumblebee-Hailee-Steinfeld-Bumblebee-3

The Decepticons Shatter (Angela Bassett) and Dropkick (Justin Theroux) track Bumblebee down to earth, and trick government agents Jack Burns (John Cena) and Dr Powell (John Ortiz) into assisting them in hunting Bumblebee. Charlie and Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), the neighbour who has a crush on her, find themselves caught in a high-stakes clash between the secretive agency Sector 7 and the Transformers. The bond between Charlie and Bumblebee undergoes a trial by fire, with the Autobot facing serious jeopardy from the humans and Decepticons alike.

Bumblebee-Blitzwing

The live-action Transformers movies, with a possible exception of the first one in 2007, have been varying degrees of bad. Most of the blame has been placed on Michael Bay, who has shown contempt for the source material and its fans. Bumblebee shows the potential of the franchise when it’s placed in the hands of someone who cares about the source material, with Travis Knight taking the reins. Knight is the president of stop-motion animation studio Laika, having directed Kubo and the Two Strings.

Bumblebee-Hailee-Steinfeld-2

Bumblebee is still very much a studio product, taking full advantage of its 1987 setting to bombard audiences with nostalgia. There’s a prominently-placed can of Tab, lots of 80s music including “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” and “Never Gonna Give You Up”, Bumblebee watching The Breakfast Club on VHS, a reference to Heathers, and the designs of the Transformers are heavily inspired by their G1 incarnations. While these touches can come off as pandering, Bumblebee cuts through it with an emotional through-line, placing an emphasis on ‘heart-ware’ over hardware.

Bumblebee-Bumblebee-battle-mode

Putting an animation director in charge means that there is more attention to movement and geometry, and the action sequences are much easier to follow than those in preceding Transformers movies. The scope of the film is more intimate, set mostly in a seaside Northern California town, a welcome respite from the often-meaningless globe-trotting that was a hallmark of the earlier live-action movies.

Bumblebee-Hailee-Steinfeld-1.jpg

Hailee Steinfeld’s Charlie is a character we’ve many times before and seems to intentionally hark back to 80s coming-of-age movies. She’s withdrawn, yearning to make an emotional connection after suffering a personal loss, must fend off preening bullies, and possesses a special skill which you can bet will come in handy later in the movie. However, Steinfeld imbues Charlie with enough liveliness and personality to make her seem more than a bundle of familiar tropes. She sells the relationship between Charlie and Bumblebee, even if a good portion of the movie is Charlie yelling as something horrible happens to Bumblebee.

Bumblebee-Bumblebee-sitting-in-house

The character animation on Bumblebee is very endearing. As a VW Beetle, he comes off as rounder and softer than as a Camaro. Bay’s rejection of Bumblebee’s original form as a Beetle was indicative of his approach – to him, a Beetle just didn’t look cool or badass, but Bumblebee doesn’t need to look cool and badass – he needs to look friendly and approachable. This Bumblebee is also a competent warrior, but the best bits of the film are when he’s a fish out of water, learning to acclimate to life on earth and building his friendship with Charlie. It seems like elements of his back-story from the earlier films, including that he fought in World War II alongside the allies, have been jettisoned.

Bumblebee-John-Cena-John-Ortiz

John Cena plays the stock ‘Inspector Javert’ type – not necessarily a bad guy, but it’s his job to hunt down the good guys, so he performs the role of an antagonist. Cena shines in the few moments when the character can be funny; it’s clear that comedy is his true calling. John Ortiz’s excitable scientist character Powell is the closest this movie gets to the cringe-inducing comedy stylings of Michael Bay, but the character only makes a brief appearance.

Bumblebee-Jorge-Lendeborg-Jr-Hailee-Steinfeld

Charlie’s mum, stepdad and brother are very much an 80s sitcom family, and that works within the framework of the film. Jorge Lendeborg Jr. is the shy love interest, but the film takes its time in developing the relationship between Memo and Charlie.

Bumblebee-Dropkick-Shatter            It’s always a delight to hear Peter Cullen’s sonorous, commanding tones as Optimus Prime, and Angela Bassett makes for a suitably formidable villain as the voice of Shatter.

Bumblebee-Bumblebee-and-Hailee-Steinfeld-garage

Bumblebee doesn’t put an especially original spin on the time-tested “a kid and their X” formula, but this feels much, much closer to what a live-action Transformers movie should be. Viewed on its own, it’s good, but in comparison to the earlier Michael Bay-directed films, it’s great.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Aquaman review

AQUAMAN

Director : James Wan
Cast : Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Nicole Kidman, Temuera Morrison, Randall Park, Djimon Hounsou, Michael Beach
Genre : Comics/Action/Adventure
Run Time : 143 mins
Opens : 13 December 2018
Rating : PG13

The DC Extended Universe goes full fathom five and beyond then some with Aquaman, telling the story of the man who would be king of Atlantis.

Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) is a child of two worlds: his mother is Atlantean Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), and his father is human lighthouse keeper Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison). Taking on the superhero mantle of Aquaman, Arthur was instrumental in defeating Steppenwolf during the events of Justice League. Now, Princess Mera (Amber Heard) of the Xebel Kingdom has come calling, bringing news that Arthur’s Atlantean half-brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson) is threatening war against the surface world.

While Arthur is initially reluctant to travel to Atlantis, circumstances force him to follow Mera to the undersea kingdom. There, he confronts Orm, challenging him for the throne. Arthur is sent by Vulko (Willem Dafoe), the Atlantean vizier who has secretly trained Arthur to eventually take on Orm, on a quest to recover the Trident of King Atlan (Graham McTavish), the legendary first ruler of Atlantis. In addition to Orm, treacherous pirate David Kane/Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) stands in Arthur’s way, employing cutting-edge weaponry against Arthur. Arthur must prove himself the one true king of Atlantis, embarking on an extraordinary adventure.

Let’s talk about the concept of “silliness”. Movies based on comic books sometimes exhibit a fear of coming off as silly. After all, the worst comic book movies, films like Batman and Robin and Catwoman, are often decried as silly. As a result, some comic book movies overcompensate, becoming dour and self-serious in the process. Aquaman is silly, but through sheer willpower, the movie transcends silliness and achieves awesomeness. It’s a superhuman feat, but with director James Wan steering the ship, Aquaman accomplishes this.

This is a rip-roaring, old-fashioned adventure, filled with spectacular visual effects, fluidly-choreographed fight sequences and awe-inspiring locales. The movie draws heavily on myth, and is about a man named Arthur who, in reaching his destiny as king, overcomes insurmountable odds and faces a series of tests. By its nature, there are similarities to Thor and Black Panther, but Aquaman complements its familiar story beats with sheer visual imagination.

From the get-go, this was going to be a mind-boggling logistical challenge. How does one make a movie that takes place largely underwater, and have actors float about delivering dialogue without it looking – there’s that word again – silly? Aquaman works overtime to earn audience’s suspension of disbelief, and from the production design by Bill Brzeski to the visual effects furnished by pretty much every major VFX vendor, there’s a lot to take in. The movie acknowledges that there still might be some audiences who will be unconvinced and greet certain scenes with laughter, so it’s a good thing that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. There’s a giant octopus that plays the drums. There’s just the right sprinkle of self-awareness that complements the grandiosity and scale of the adventure. While on the surface, the film doesn’t quite have the emotional gravity of some other comic movies, its world-building and characters inspire investment.

While some viewers might complain about the extent of CGI used, Aquaman somehow avoids the feeling that its set-pieces have been vomited onscreen by a render farm. The design of many of the creatures is very Ray Harryhausen-esque, and even in the most synthetic sequences, Wan retains a sense of tactility and is an expert at drawing the eye.

Jason Momoa delivers a stellar turn, expanding upon the glimpses into Arthur’s character we saw in Justice League. This is a hero who can be a bit of a boorish lout, but for all his life, he’s been fighting an identity crisis, feeling like he belongs neither to the sea or the land. It’s something that children of mixed heritage can readily relate to – everyone’s calling him “half-breed” or epithets of the like, but this perceived weakness is what sets Arthur apart. The character has moments when he’s child-like and joyous, moments when he’s a mighty hero, and moments when he’s a bit of an idiot, and it comes together to form a compelling lead character.

Aquaman-Jason-Momoa-Amber-Heard-3-big

While Amber Heard has the tendency to come off as stiff in some films, but as Mera, she is a lively presence. Not letting a patently obvious wig stand in her way, Heard’s defiant princess character is integral to the story. There a is a bit of a Romancing the Stone-esque vibe to the bickering romance set against an adventure movie backdrop, but the relationship develops satisfyingly. When the pair gets to stop and smell the roses in Sicily, it’s cheesy as all get-out, but also a delight.

This reviewer was afraid that two major villains would clutter the movie, but Aquaman allocates the villainy appropriately. Orm is by nature a generic tyrant king character, but Patrick Wilson has as much fun as he can with the role.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II makes for an intense Black Manta – the character was what this reviewer was most looking forward to in this movie, and Abdul-Mateen’s portrayal doesn’t disappoint.

The romance between Atlanna and Tom Curry is cheesy, but like everything else in this movie that’s cheesy, it works. The forbidden romance is given a mythic, poetic quality, with Kidman and Morrison being the ideal casting for the characters. Lundgren and Dafoe both put in satisfying supporting turns. Dolph Lundgren sporting a red beard astride a seahorse monster is not something that should work, but it does. There’s also a vocal cameo from a distinguished English actress, as a Lovecraftian mega-monster.

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian gave this film a negative review. The comments section for that review are filled with commenters immensely pleased with themselves that they dislike comic book movies and are therefore so very grown up. A fear of appearing childish is, in its own way, a childish thing. Aquaman’s embrace of the inherent silliness in its source material and its irrepressible sense of wonderment and adventure propel it into becoming perhaps the best comic book movie of the year, and one of this reviewer’s favourite films he’s seen all year.

RATING: 5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Robin Hood (2018) review

ROBIN HOOD

Director : Otto Bathurst
Cast : Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Eve Hewson, Ben Mendelsohn, Tim Minchin, Jamie Dornan, F. Murray Abraham, Paul Anderson
Genre : Action/Adventure
Run Time : 116 mins
Opens : 29 November 2018
Rating : PG13

Robin Hood may steal from the rich to give to the poor, but he’s given Hollywood quite a lot since movies first existed. From Douglas Fairbanks to Errol Flynn, from Kevin Costner to Russell Crowe and from Cary Elwes to an anthropomorphic fox, this new trip through Sherwood Forest has Taron Egerton of Kingsman fame wielding the bow and arrow.

Lord Robin of Loxley (Taraon Egerton) is in love with Marian (Eve Hewson), a woman of a much lower social status. Their romance is rudely interrupted when Robin is drafted to fight in Arabia in the Third Crusades. While at war, Robin meets the Moor Yahya/John (Jamie Foxx), who is on the opposing side but who admires Robin’s principles and sees potential in the young nobleman-turned-soldier.

Robin returns to England to find the people being taxed to the breaking point by the treacherous Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn). Under John’s guidance, Robin forges himself into a vigilante called the Hood, who steals from the Sheriff’s coffers and who eventually inspires a revolution. Alongside Marian, Will Scarlet (Jamie Dornan) and Friar Tuck (Tim Minchin), Robin leads the townspeople of Nottinghamshire in an uprising against the Sheriff and the Cardinal (F. Murray Abraham).

Because Robin Hood has been a mainstay of western popular culture for centuries, every time a new movie or TV version is announced, the first reaction is wont to be “do we really need this?” In a bid to prove its relevance, this new Robin Hood movie must set itself apart, aesthetically and otherwise, from its forbears. As a result, we get plenty of anachronistic costumes and an overtly political story – this version casts Robin as a soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder who leads proletariat protesters in a clash on the streets against what are essentially medieval riot police. There is quite a lot here to inspire an eye roll or two, but surprisingly, this Robin Hood is not altogether charmless and is reasonably entertaining.

The film begins with a voiceover that might as well go “this isn’t your grandfather’s Robin Hood”. Visual cues appear to be taken from the Arrow TV show (which is a little funny since the DC Comics character Green Arrow was directly inspired by Robin Hood), Assassins Creed and Game of Thrones. The action sequences are sufficiently propulsive and engaging, and the brutality does push the PG-13 rating a little. Despite the historically inaccurate costumes, the film doesn’t look cheap thanks to location filming in Croatia, Hungary, France and Morocco.

Taron Egerton pushes his Robin just an inch away from the stock boring hero type. The back-story given to Robin is familiar but mildly affecting, and this version plays up Robin’s status as an elite himself. Robin breaks bread with the upper crust by day and fights for the little guy by night, a little like the Scarlet Pimpernel, Zorro or Batman. Egerton brings the right amount of endearing boyishness and hunky physicality to the part.

Jamie Foxx’s Little John is one of the story’s big departures from traditional tellings of the Robin Hood myth. It’s a serious turn for the actor and the character suffers some real losses within minutes of his introduction. There’s something vaguely inspiring in seeing Robin and John put aside their obvious differences to fight the oppressors, even if the seeing the beginnings of the merry men isn’t as thrilling as the filmmakers imagine it to be.

Maid Marian is often side-lined in Robin Hood stories, and while there is an attempt to give the character some agency, she still doesn’t get a whole lot to do. As played by Eve Hewson, Marian is kind of a community organiser who feeds the poor and rallies the people, and she winds up being instrumental in the revolution. The love triangle between Robin, Marian and Jamie Dornan’s Will Scarlet adds minimal dramatic tension and is one of the cheesier parts of the film.

Ben Mendelsohn has carved out a niche in Hollywood as the go-to guy for middle management supervillain roles, and the Sheriff of Nottingham falls right into that niche. It’s nothing we haven’t seen him done before, but it’s still some of the best bits of the movie. Mendelsohn alternates between sneering and screaming in a way that’s reminiscent of Gary Oldman’s many memorable villain roles, and it is a joy to hear the Sheriff of Nottingham go “they’re taking my money! KILL THEM!”

Tim Minchin adds a dash of Python-esque comic relief as Friar Tuck. This is clearly not the best use of Minchin’s myriad talents (the man composed the Matilda musical), but his presence in the movie does help keep things from being too self-serious.

2018’s Robin Hood deserves some – maybe most –  but not all, of the cynicism it has been expectedly greeted with. We’ve seen studios try and fail at turning public domain characters into a comic book movie-esque franchise and Robin Hood’s sequel-begging is a little embarrassing, but in all its attempts to be ‘hip’ and relevant, this movie isn’t as entirely annoying as it could’ve been.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Venom review

VENOM

Director : Ruben Fleischer
Cast : Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Reid Scott, Jenny Slate, Scott Haze
Genre : Comics/Action/Sci-fi
Run Time : 112 mins
Opens : 4 October 2018
Rating : PG13

Tom Hardy is his own worst enemy and maybe also his own best friend in this Marvel Comics adaptation. Hardy plays Eddie Brock, a journalist engaged to successful lawyer Anne Weying (Michelle Williams). Brock has trained his sights on Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), an industrialist and inventor who has privately funded space exploration missions. As the head of the Life Foundation, Drake portrays himself as a benevolent force for good, but Brock suspects that Drake is secretly conducting unethical, illegal activities which have resulted in civilian deaths.

A Life Foundation spacecraft crashes on earth, and its cargo, an alien life form, escapes. This is a symbiote, which needs to bond to a host to survive. When Dr Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate), a scientist working for the Life Foundation, approaches Brock as a whistle-blower, Brock investigates and another symbiote bonds to him. This is the entity known as Venom, which manifests as a voice in Brock’s head and takes over his body, giving him enhanced strength and healing and causes him to emanate tendrils. Brock must make sense of this new unwelcome guest while uncovering the extent of Drake’s misdeeds, eventually learning to coexist with Venom and use his newfound abilities to his advantage.

There have been multiple attempts at a Venom movie, including one in the late 90s that was reportedly slated to star Dolph Lundgren, and another attempt that would have taken place within the continuity of the Amazing Spider-Man movies. Then of course there was the iteration played by Topher Grace in Spider-Man 3, which left many fans unsatisfied.

Venom was created by Todd McFarlane and David Michelinie, and is arguably Spider-Man’s best-known, most visually striking nemesis. The character’s origin directly involves Spider-Man – in the comics, the symbiote is a discarded alien suit worn by the web-slinging hero. As such, a Venom movie that is completely removed from Spider-Man feels like a tricky prospect. This reviewer had to remind himself that at least the symbiote’s host is still called “Eddie Brock”, unlike the Catwoman movie which starred a character named Patience Phillips, who was nothing like the Catwoman of the comics, Selina Kyle.

Venom-symbiote-Tom-Hardy-1

The film’s somewhat tormented production process has led to an odd beast. Venom is tonally weird. One would be forgiven for expecting a dark, disturbing movie – after all, the title character is a slimy alien parasite with pointy teeth and a long, icky tongue. However, what Venom most resembles is a buddy comedy. The symbiote seems characterised as the friend who’s a bad influence, pushing Eddie to do things he would rather not do. The symbiote is an obvious metaphor for the darkness deep within a person being brought to the surface, so it is somewhat baffling that the film does practically nothing with this concept.

The action sequences are moderately entertaining but not especially memorable. There’s a motorcycle chase and a sequence in which Venom takes on an entire SWAT team in a smoke-filled apartment building lobby, but any time the full-on creature takes over the action, things feel distinctly synthetic. The climactic fight is a battle between one thing made of CGI and another thing made of CGI, set against a mostly CGI backdrop.

Then, there is the PG-13 rating. A movie doesn’t have to be R-rated to be good, it doesn’t even have to be R-rated to be effectively disturbing. However, this is a movie in which the title character bites people’s heads off and impales his enemies through the torso. It’s a bit difficult to sell the viciousness when it must happen off-screen or obscured while something else is going on. That said, this movie could’ve been R-rated and still turned out limp.

Hardy is perfectly watchable in the role and tries to make something interesting out of the material. He ends up performing quite a bit of physical comedy, which seems out of place, but which he commits to. There is the sense that Hardy could have brought so much more to the table had the script allowed him to dig into the inherently unsettling nature of the bond between the Venom symbiote and its human host, but it seems the film is more interested in back-and-forth banter.

Michelle Williams is wasted as a character who isn’t too much more than the designated girlfriend, even though there is a nice nod to her character in the comics. Riz Ahmed plays a ruthless Elon Musk-type, who is at once a cartoony villain while also bland and barely menacing. Jenny Slate’s mousey scientist who might just be the one to bring the villain down seems like she might be interesting, but similarly gets little to do. While some comic book movies suffer from far too many characters, there are almost too few interesting characters at all in Venom.

The casual viewer might find Venom a passable diversion, but anyone who is particularly attached to the comics will be sorely dissatisfied. The film attempts to translate the character’s sarcasm to the screen, but lacks the acid-drenched wickedness which must accompany said sarcasm. The result is a relatively safe movie about a character who should always feel at least a little dangerous. Director Ruben Fleischer’s best film remains Zombieland, so perhaps comedy is where he should focus his efforts. There is a goofiness to Venom that is strongly reminiscent of comic book movies made when the filmmakers making them hadn’t fully figured things out yet: a bit of Spawn here, a bit of the 2002 Hulk movie there.

Stick around for a mid-credits tag which hints as sequel – as mediocre as this outing is, we’d be darned if we didn’t want to see a sequel make good on what this scene promises. There’s also a sneak peek at a forthcoming movie at the very end of the credits.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

 

The Predator movie review

THE PREDATOR

Director : Shane Black
Cast : Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown, Keagan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Augusto Aguilera, Yvonne Strahovski, Jake Busey
Genre : Action/Sci-fi
Run Time : 107 mins
Opens : 13 September 2018
Rating : M18

The-Predator-posterHunting season has come around again: in the fourth instalment in the mainline series of Predator films, the galaxy’s deadliest killers have returned to earth to stalk their prey.

Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) is a former Army Ranger-turned mercenary who had a run-in with the alien species nicknamed ‘the Predator’ while on assignment in Mexico. Quinn salvages the Predator’s helmet and wrist gauntlet, which wind up in the hands of his young son Rory (Jacob Tremblay), unbeknownst to his mother Emily (Yvonne Strahovski). Rory has high-functioning autism, and decodes the Predator’s language, unwittingly summoning more Predators to earth.

The-Predator-Alfie-Allen-Keagan-Michael-Key-Thomas-Jane-Augusto-Aguilera-Boyd-Holbrook-Trevante-Rhodes

The authorities refuse to believe Quinn’s account, sending him to jail. Quinn is put on a bus with several other misfit veterans, including former Marine Nebraska Williams (Trevante Rhodes), Coyle (Keagan-Michael Key), Baxley (Thomas Jane), former Marine Lynch (Alfie Allen) and former Blackhawk helicopter pilot Nettles (Augusto Aguilera). The oddball bunch is waylaid when a Predator gets loose. Quinn and his new dysfunctional unit team up with biologist Casey Brackett (Olivia Munn). They must not only evade the Predators and ensure Rory’s safety, but also outrun government agent Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown), head of the shadowy Stargazer operation.

The-Predator-slamming-guy

The Predator franchise has often had difficulty getting up and running. The original 1987 film is regarded well, while Predator 2 and the spin-off Predators have more or less gained cult movie status. With Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, the Alien franchise has gotten somewhat high-falutin’ with its philosophical musings. The Predator films have tended to embrace their B-movie roots, something which director and co-writer Shane Black keeps alive in this one.

Black was there from the beginning, having played Hawkins in the first film. He previously worked with co-writer Fred Dekker on Monster Squad. As is typical of Black’s work, there is an undercurrent of smartass-ness running through The Predator, with everyone quipping back and forth. At the same time, there’s a welcome scrappiness to the movie, which seems the right scale and doesn’t become as bloated or as production-line as it could’ve been.

The-Predator-Predator-unmasked

The Predator possesses a nervous energy about it, apt for a film in which the protagonists are being hunted. It is sometimes difficult to discern what’s going on in the action sequences, but there are several inventive chases and fights. Special effects suit designers Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis of Amalgamated Dynamics Inc have worked on previous incarnations of the Predator, and there’s a welcome tactility to the creature that balances out the other parts of the film that rely more heavily on digital visual effects work.

The-Predator-Thomas-Jane-Keagan-Michael-Key-Boyd-Holbrook-Olivia-Munn

Dutch’s crew in the first film is one of the all-time great movie ensembles. Black puts an off-kilter spin on that by making the heroes of this film a collection of troubled, often-goofy outcasts. It’s as if the whole team has been Hawkins-ified, to varying degrees. They generate excellent chemistry, and the pairings of Holbrook and Rhodes, and Key and Jane yield results onscreen. There is the danger that the overall humorous tone might undercut the stakes, but there is enough grimness and gore to remind us of the mortal danger the characters are in.

The-Predator-Trevante-Rhodes-Olivia-Munn-Boyd-Holbrook

Boyd Holbrook has a laconic charm about him. While the Quinn character isn’t as charismatic as some of his cohorts, as the leader types in action movies are wont to be, Holbrook lends the part enough of a haunted quality and a devil-may-care vibe.

The-Predator-Jacob-Tremblay

The inclusion of a child with high-functioning autism is one of the film’s few concessions to schmaltziness. Jacob Tremblay of Room and Wonder fame does a fine job portraying a sensitive, gifted child, who is key to the fight against the Predators because of his ability to decipher their language. It’s a plot point that is handled with surprising finesse.

The-Predator-Olivia-Munn-1-small

Olivia Munn throws herself into the scientist role but can’t help but come off as the weak link. Maybe it’s just this reviewer, but she has a tendency to come off as unlikeable and isn’t quite convincing as either a biologist who has cracked the Predators’ genetic code or as a gun-toting badass.

Sterling K. Brown has a healthy amount of fun with his untrustworthy G-man character, while Keagan-Michael Key works overtime to steal the show, succeeding on many occasions. Jake Busey makes a cameo as Sean Keyes, the son of Peter Keyes, the character played by his father Gary in Predator 2.

The-Predator-Ultimate-Predator

The Predator has been described by other critics as “messy”, and while this reviewer will corroborate that, its messiness is not necessarily a bad thing – at least until the third act, which was hastily reshot after poor test screening results. There are moments when it feels like the story’s foundation is a little too flimsy to support some of the ideas at play, and there are also times when the wink-and-nod fanboy appeal gets in the way of the action and violence working on a visceral level. Its ending blatantly, clumsily begs for a sequel, but there’s enough in this instalment for long-time Predator fans and newcomers to the franchise to appreciate, if they can get on Black’s wavelength.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

The Meg review

THE MEG

Director : Jon Turteltaub
Cast : Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose, Winston Chao, Cliff Curtis, Page Kennedy, Jessica McNamee, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Robert Taylor, Sophia Cai, Masi Oka
Genre : Action/Thriller/Sci-fi
Run Time : 113 mins
Opens : 9 August 2018
Rating : PG-13

In 2013, Discovery Channel aired Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives as part of its Shark Week line-up. The pseudo-documentary was presented as fact, and the number of people who were initially convinced showed that at least some of us secretly want to believe that somewhere in the depths lurks a Carcharocles megalodon.

In The Meg, Jason Statham faces off with the deadly living fossil. Statham plays former rescue diver Jonas Taylor, whose claims of witnessing a sea monster attacking a nuclear submarine went disbelieved. Five years after that incident, Jonas is called on by his friend Mac (Cliff Curtis), who works aboard the research facility Mana One.

An expedition sent by the Mana One is in danger – the three-person crew of the submersible Origin are trapped 11 000 metres below the surface, threatened by a giant ancient shark. This confirms Jonas’ story, and he reluctantly undertakes the mission. Among the trapped are his ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee). Suyin (Li Bingbing), daughter of Dr Minway Zhang (Winston Chao), insists she can conduct the rescue herself. Meanwhile, billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson) worries that the emergence of the Megalodon could jeopardise his expensive investment. As the Meg rises from the depths to threaten swimmers at the beach resort hotspot Sanya in Hainan, China, Jonas and the Mana One crew must stop the Meg’s reign of terror.

The Meg is based on Steve Alten’s best-selling 1997 novel Meg, and a film has been in various stages of development since the book was published. There’s an unavoidable amount of stupidity inherent in the material – after all, there is no shortage of cheaply-made TV movies with similar premises. If you’re in need of a laugh, look up clips of 2002’s Shark Attack 3: Megalodon, starring a hapless John Barrowman.

The Meg is like one of those movies with an exponentially larger budget, and there is some pleasure to be derived from that. Several sequences are impressively staged, and the visual effects work is generally strong. Director Jon Turteltaub attempts to keep things largely tongue-in-cheek, while also going for genuine thrills and stakes. He is only fitfully successful – the film begins feeling like it might take things somewhat seriously, then dives headlong into the ludicrous as it reaches its conclusion.

The film has high production values and boasts behind-the-scenes talent like Lord of the Rings production designer Grant Major and Clint Eastwood’s regular cinematographer Tom Stern. To raise the estimated $150 budget, the film must pander to Chinese audiences, and pander it does. It’s hard to discern how much of the silliness is intentional, and how much is a by-product of tailoring the film to the (perceived) tastes of international filmgoers.

Statham plays the lead role, an indistinct roguish action hero trying to outswim a tragic incident in his past. Turteltaub noted that this is a Jason Statham movie without the requisite gunfights and car chases, and on that level, he technically is doing something different. Statham has just enough leading man charm for audiences to kinda-sorta go along with the sheer ridiculousness, at least for the first act or so.

Statham is not particularly known for his acting chops and is regularly out-acted by the leading ladies in his films. Luckily for him, that is not the case here. Li Bingbing is uniformly stiff throughout the film, unable to carry any of the emotional moments or the action beats. While Winston Chao fares a little better as her character’s father, the would-be moving scenes between the father-daughter duo fall extremely flat.

The film’s supporting characters are all thinly-drawn stock types, as one would expect from a movie of this genre. Ruby Rose plays a cool Ruby Rose-type, Rainn Wilson plays a Rainn Wilson-type (but rich), you get the idea. Page Kennedy is meant to provide comic relief, but not many of the jokes land.

Sophia Cai plays Meiying, Suyin’s daughter. She’s a precocious moppet who cracks wise and is meant to activate everyone’s protective instincts, but the character is written and acted in a largely annoying manner. Despite the film’s best efforts, imperilling Meiying won’t draw too much of a reaction from the audience, because it’s hard to care about most of the characters here.

The Meg’s CGI shark may be technically impressive, and we appreciate that the visual effects supervisor on a movie set in the ocean is named ‘Adrian De Wet’, but when it comes down to it, the titular beast is rarely convincing. There are sequences that generate a passable level of tension, but there are only so many times the movie can riff on the “barrels dragged across the surface” gag seen in Jaws.

There’s a degree of “you know what you’re getting” with The Meg: yes, it was always going to be silly, but how effectively the film leans into that silliness is up for debate. The Meg is paced briskly enough and serves up several entertaining sequences, but compared to some of this summer’s sharper, more satisfying offerings, there’s more bark than bite.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Mega Bites: interview with The Meg actor Masi Oka

For inSing

MEGA BITES
Masi Oka talks being hunted by an ancient killer shark in The Meg

By Jedd Jong

Even in 2018, there are still corners of the world’s oceans that remain unexplored, and while it might seem implausible, it is tantalising and terrifying to imagine that hiding in one of those corners might be something like the Carcharocles megalodon. Scientists estimate that this fearsome ancestor of the Great White Shark stalked the seas between 23 to 2.6 million years ago and could grow up to 18 metres in length.

In the sci-fi action thriller The Meg, based on the best-selling 1997 novel by Steve Alten, a Megalodon rears its toothy head. the titular shark terrorises our heroes, led by Jason Statham as former deep-sea rescue diver Jonas Taylor.

Jonas had a traumatic run-in with the creature five years earlier, but nobody believed him then. Jonas’ ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee) is the pilot of the submersible Mana-One Origin, which is trapped in the Marianas Trench and effectively held hostage by the Meg. Jonas is hired by oceanographer Dr Zhang (Winston Chao) to lead the rescue effort, despite the insistence of Zhang’s daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing) that she can spearhead the rescue herself. The other crew members stuck alongside Lori in the tiny capsule are ‘the Wall’ (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) and Toshi (Masi Oka).

inSing spoke exclusively to Oka about his work on the film. Audiences might be most familiar with the actor from his role as Hiro Nakamura on the TV series Heroes and Heroes Reborn. A man of many talents, Oka started out in Hollywood as a visual effects artist at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), working on films such as the Star Wars prequels. His diverse CV also includes a stint as an English, Spanish, and Japanese translator at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.

Photo credit: Lisa O’Connor for AFP/Getty Images

Oka has recently taken on projects as a producer, including the Netflix film Death Note. He is a cultural envoy to the U.S. Embassy, endeavouring to bridge the gap between Japan and Hollywood in the realms of arts and business. His acting roles in film and on TV also include Hawaii Five-0, Get Smart, Punk’d, Jobs and Austin Powers in Goldmember.

Oka told us what it was like working on the submersible set, how his behind-the-scenes expertise informs his acting when working on a visual effects-heavy film like this one, the camaraderie between the cast and crew, and how the nature of the co-production between American and Chinese studios influenced the final product.

INSING: Hi Masi, thanks for talking with us. Please tell us about your character Toshi.

MASI OKA: He is a Japanese co-pilot for the Mana-One submersible. We are the first expedition to go 11 000 metres under the ocean’s surface, and we also have a fateful run-in with an enormous creature, later revealed to be an ancient species of shark long thought to be extinct. He’s an overall fun tech guy, very smart, but also very goofy and loves to joke around.

Is Toshi very much like the screen persona your fans know you to have?

I think there’s a piece of me in it. Any character I play, whether it’s on TV or on film, I always approach it with a part of me, by exaggerating a part of me.

Were you a fan of the books by Steve Alten before you got the job?

To be honest with you, I hadn’t read any of Steve Alten’s books before getting the job, I didn’t know what The Meg was. When you get the opportunity to work with Jon Turteltaub, who did National Treasure and who’s such a great director, that was very inspiring. There’s such an international cast, and ensemble cast, and to be able to create a new Jaws for a new generation, was just something I couldn’t pass up. It’s a great opportunity.

This movie has a really eclectic cast. Which of the actors do you share most of your scenes with, and what was the vibe like on set?

I shared most of my scenes with Dari and Jessica McNamee. We’re the three pilots of the Mana-One submersible. The vibe on set was so fun, it was amazing. Jon Turteltaub took us out for dinner, he took care of the cast and everyone, and we felt like a family. It was like being at summer camp with friends and family. There was a camaraderie, we were collaborative, and we were just goofing around – sometimes goofing around too much. We improvised a lot on set, hopefully you see that in the DVD extras.

Was it harder for Jon to wrangle the shark or you guys?

It’s probably harder to wrangle us. At least with the shark, he just has to press some buttons. It was just a fun atmosphere. Jon is very self-deprecating, he’s an amazing leader.

You worked as a digital effects artist at ILM. From your perspective having been in the industry, what can audiences expect spectacle-wise from The Meg?

It’s amazing, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It’s an over-the-top thrill ride with action, humour and fun. It’s a family movie that the whole family can enjoy. This shark, you’ve never seen anything like it before. I think the CG artists did an amazing job creating this. I had to imagine what it was going to look like on set because it hadn’t been created yet, but it really exceeded my imagination in terms of the sheer size and epicness of it, and the fear factor.

What have you learned from working both behind the scenes and in front of the camera?

I’ve learned a lot in terms of the process that goes into creating these things. Many times, actors don’t understand that us standing in one place and standing two centimetres to the right – there’s a reason for that. Those two centimetres help the post-production folks to save not only money, but hours and hours of work and headaches. Being a visual effects supervisor, having worked behind the scenes, it gives you an appreciation of everyone’s work. Also, it helps me communicate. When people tell me “we’re going to do some comps and roto you out here,” I don’t have to have that explained to me. To be able to communicate with people and speak people’s languages allows the set to be more efficient, and gives everyone mutual respect for each other’s work.

Yeah, that’s something you hear from actors who talk about working with directors who are actors themselves, they understand the craft from that perspective.

Exactly. It goes both ways – to understand both ways is really important.

It’s no secret that, unfortunately, there are more bad movies about sharks than there are good ones. What makes The Meg a good shark movie?

I’m actually happy there’s been a lot of bad shark movies, so The Meg can blow them out of the water. The amount of resources that went into creating this is amazing. We have a great director, an international global cast – the CG, the acting, it’s still grounded, it’s based on reality, it feels like the stakes are real. We want to have people scared, but also laughing, crying, maybe even angry at times, and then scared again. People go through a huge range of emotions, and that also makes The Meg something in the class of its own, compared to other shark movies which jump the shark.

This film has been in development hell, or development hell’s aquarium, if you will, for a while. What do you think were the challenges the production team faced in bringing this book to the big screen?

I think Warner Bros really believed in the film. It took time to make sure we did the film justice. That means we had to have the right budget to create the special effects, the technology. There’s a lot of reasons why things go through development hell, but I’m really glad Warner Bros. persisted and found the right creatives and the resources to make this. It took a while. Nothing’s easy when it comes to moviemaking. That’s a credit to everyone that Warner Bros, Steve and the producers continued pushing forward.

Jason Statham is one of the actors who’s pretty close to the action heroes of the 80s and 90s. What was your impression of him?

Absolutely. Jason’s a wonderful actor, he’s very generous and very charismatic. He’s definitely a lot larger than life, but he’s really just humble and a generous guy. When he gets on the screen, he is that persona – he’s everything you expect of an action hero and he encompasses all the qualities of an action hero.

The Meg very much plays on our Thalassaphobia, the fear of what might be lurking in the ocean. Do you have that fear?

Yeah, I definitely do have that fear. I’m also afraid of dark places, small spaces [laughs]…I’m glad that I’m playing a character. If this were me in real life, I would not be able to do what Toshi’s doing.

Movies like The Meg are sometimes described as “B-movies with an A-movie budget” – do you like that characterisation of the movie?

Not really – I think it’s a strange thing to say something’s a B-movie when the production quality is super-high. We don’t take ourselves seriously, but we’re definitely not campy. There are campy movies out there, but this is a real film, it is a creature film but it is grounded and has real stakes. People will go on an emotional ride. It’s an A-movie with A-production value.

That’s a difficult balance, making a genre movie that people are emotionally invested in.

Yeah, it has to do with Jon’s direction, the way that shots are laid out, music, acting, it all comes really well together, a nice blend of humour and emotional stakes.

In the movie, the characters who were originally Japanese in the book are replaced with characters who are Chinese, but who serve similar functions as the original characters. How do you think this change affects the story, or if does at all?

I think we got a bigger budget because of that, with the Chinese studio. I’m glad that they kept at least one character, my character Toshi, Japanese. In fact, that’s what the Chinese producers said, they wanted to improve on Japanese and Chinese relationships through film, which I love. I’m always trying to use entertainment to bridge cultures. I’m really grateful for that.

It sounds like The Meg has a really big thrill ride element to it, and I love theme park rides. If you could design a theme park ride based on The Meg, what would it be?

Oh wow! If I could design a theme park ride based on The Meg…wow. They should definitely be in that submersible and get plopped down into water. It’s hard to say anything without giving a lot away. It might be more of an escape room – you’re in a submersible and you know the Meg is approaching in 30 minutes, and you need to find a way out of there.

What are some of your favourite creature features besides Jaws which you mentioned earlier, and how do you think The Meg measures up?

My other favourite is probably Godzilla. Being Japanese, I grew up on manga and anime and iconic monster movies. The Meg is completely different – the technology is different, we don’t have suit actors or maquettes. It’s a 75-foot shark that’s completely CGI. It’s definitely in a class of its own.

Finally, if you could bring one prehistoric animal back from extinction, could be a dinosaur or anything else, what would it be?

A prehistoric creature? What would it be…hmm…you know, dinosaurs are great, probably a Brontosaurus because they don’t seem to be too dangerous. One of my favourite anime movies is the first Doraemon film, Nobita’s Dinosaur. Nobita befriends a [Plesiosaurus] named Piisuke. Jurassic Park kinda ruined it for me, but the one prehistoric creature I would want to resurrect would be that. It would be my bodyguard. Meg 2 can be the dinosaur.

You’re commanding the dinosaur into battle against the Meg.

Exactly. You’d need a dinosaur who can actually swim.

The Meg opens in Singapore on 9 August 2018 

Skyscraper movie review

SKYSCRAPER

Director : Rawson Marshall Thurber
Cast : Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Roland Møller, McKenna Roberts, Noah Cottrell, Noah Taylor, Byron Mann, Pablo Schreiber, Hannah Quinlivan, Adrian Holmes
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 103 mins
Opens : 12 July 2018
Rating : PG-13

The Rock gets acquainted with glass and steel in this action thriller set in – you guessed it – a skyscraper.

Dwayne Johnson plays Will Sawyer, a former FBI Hostage Rescue Team leader who lost his leg during a mission gone wrong, and who now works as a building security assessor. Will’s family, including his wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and twins Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and Henry (Noah Cottrell), are flown out to Hong Kong for his new assignment. The upper floors of the tallest building in the world, the Pearl, are about to open for business, pending Will’s assessment. The Pearl stands almost 1.07 km tall, dwarfing Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. Will and his family are the guests of the Pearl’s billionaire owner, Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han), and they are the building’s first residents.

Naturally, things don’t go according to plan. Will finds himself on the run from the authorities as the building is broken into and set on fire. A team of dangerous mercenaries led by Kores Botha (Roland Møller) has infiltrated the Pearl and disabled its security and fire safety systems. Sarah, Georgia and Henry are trapped in the building, and Will must get to them before it’s too late. Botha will stop at nothing at nothing to get what he wants from Zhao, and a man who wants to save his family it’s all that’s standing in his way.

This summer movie season, Skyscraper is the only major tentpole studio release that is not a sequel. That said, it is the furthest thing from original possible – not to belabour the point, but this movie might as well be called ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Die Hard’. There already exists a Die Hard knockoff named Skyscraper, starring the late Anna-Nicole Smith.

Skyscraper feels out of place amidst the giant franchise entries that have dominated and will continue to dominate the box office this summer, but that is key to its charm. It feels like a movie straight out of the 90s in a very welcome way. That’s due in part to the well-worn premise, but also to its star being the closest thing we have to the larger-than-life action heroes of the 80s and 90s.

This reviewer did not enjoy director Rawson Marshall Thurber’s previous Johnson-starring film, the buddy comedy Central Intelligence. As such, it’s surprising just how well Skyscraper is directed. The script, also written by Thurber, seems to have been reconstituted from a “just add water” action movie premix. However, the film moves with great finesse and Thurber leads audiences from one edge-of-your-seat action set-piece straight on to the next, generating breathless thrills despite the overwhelming silliness of the whole affair. Veteran production designer Jim Bissell gets to show off with the gleaming futurism of the Pearl – there’s even a high tech maze of mirrors of sorts.

What’s left to say about Johnson’s abilities as a leading man that hasn’t already been covered in countless other reviews? He’s not quite an everyman the way Bruce Willis’s John McClane started out, but he’s still got that disarming charm – Will quips about the magical properties of duct tape while stuck in the middle of a crisis. Will performs spectacular feats of implausibility, one after the other. The leap from a crane to the building has already been lampooned ever since it was made a central feature of the poster and has become a meme unto itself. Part of the joy of Skyscraper is accepting the ludicrousness and focusing on Johnson at the centre of said ludicrousness.

The script struggles to make Campbell’s Sarah more than the ‘designated wife’ so often seen in these movies, and mostly succeeds. Sarah is a Navy combat medic and can hold her own in some harrowing situations. There is a nigh-excessive degree of imperilling children in the film, but hey, these kids have the Rock as their dad. That’s a guarantee it’s going to work out all right.

Chin Han’s Zhao is perhaps a touch egotistical – you must be to build the tallest building in the world – and just might be hiding something. It’s the standard ‘rich guy you’re meant to suspect’ archetype and he does seem to enjoy strutting across the well-appointed penthouse set.

This movie’s villains were shipped in straight from Movie Bad Guys “R” Us. There are Euro-mercenaries sporting a variety of accents, led by Møller’s Kores Botha (what a great villain name). Then there are a bunch of local hires too, since this takes place in Hong Kong, including Hannah Quinlivan as a lethal leather-clad henchwoman. It’s all, to use that word again, quite ridiculous – but it’s never not entertaining.

Skyscraper genuinely reminds this reviewer of the action movies he enjoyed growing up. Sure, it’s stupid, but it’s hard to go too wrong with Johnson leading the charge. Surprisingly, it leans into its genre-ness more than Rampage, also starring Johnson, did earlier this year. As a Die Hard-style movie that could’ve easily gone straight-to-DVD but instead has a $125 million budget and stars the Rock, it works.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Ant-Man and the Wasp movie review

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP

Director : Peyton Reed
Cast : Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, Walton Goggins, Judy Greer, David Dastmalchian, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Bobby Cannavale,, Hannah John-Kamen, Abby Ryder Fortson, Randall Park, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Douglas
Genre : Action/Adventure/Science Fiction/Superhero
Run Time : 118 mins
Opens : 4 July 2018
Rating : PG

Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have had a bit of time to recover from the earth-shattering events of Avengers: Infinity War. Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) was noticeably missing from that film, and now we learn what he was up to while everyone else was tangling with Thanos.

After Scott made it back from the Quantum Realm at the end of the first Ant-Man film, Dr Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) believes that there’s a chance his wife Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), who was lost in the Quantum Realm decades ago, might still be alive. Together with his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), Pym tries to locate Janet and rescue her.

Meanwhile, Scott is under house arrest, after getting into big trouble during the events of Captain America: Civil War. Whilst evading FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) and trying to be a good dad to Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), Scott returns to superheroics. He now fights alongside Hope, who’s inherited the mantle of the Wasp from her mother. They must fend off black market tech dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) and the enigmatic Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), who can turn invisible and phase through solid objects. Scott can count on his ex-convict buddies Luis (Michael Peña), Dave (Tip “T.I.” Harris) and Kurt (David Dastmalchian) for help, though how much they actually help is up for debate.

We’ve all seen “fun” used as a descriptor for innumerable MCU movies. There’s no denying that Ant-Man and the Wasp is fun. It’s an unabashedly silly film packed with jokes and some inspired visual gags, and its tone is consistent with that of the first Ant-Man film. While something less intense is welcome in the wake of Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp is often in danger of feeling a touch inconsequential – especially given what an impact Black Panther made earlier this year.

On paper, there’s nothing too wrong with Ant-Man and the Wasp, and it ticks all the boxes. The mission to rescue Janet from the Quantum Realm is a great premise for the sequel and has considerable emotional drive, yet there are times when the film feels no more than perfunctory. The pacing is good, and the movie feels shorter than its 118 minutes, but it seems like it’s scurrying from Point A to Point B. Plenty of jokes land, but some of the humour is a little forced, and Luis and co. feel like they’ve been shoehorned in.

Where Ant-Man and the Wasp excels is in its set-pieces. The film makes inventive use of the mass-shifting conceit, and director Peyton Reed seems to have gotten bolder in staging said set-pieces. The choreography of how the titular heroes work in tandem is dazzling. There’s a kitchen fight in which Wasp dodges a meat mallet, and a car chase down San Francisco’s Lombard Street involving a shrinking van – this could be an homage to The Dead Pool, in which Dirty Harry is pursued through the streets of San Francisco by a radio-controlled toy car. It’s a great example of a comic book film creatively exploiting its characters’ abilities.

This film leans a little more into retro sci-fi with its Fantastic Voyage-esque micro submersible and more appearances from giant ants. Christophe Beck’s score also employs a bit more of a brassy big band sound, evoking spy-fi of yore.

Rudd’s everyman who’s fallen on the wrong side of the tracks continues to be endearing, and the film tries to give Scott some character growth, though there’s not too much to be had. The scenes that Scott shares with his daughter are on the right side of twee. Scott is the regular dude among geniuses, and Rudd plays off Lilly and Douglas well.

Lilly relishes the chance to partake in the superhero action this time around, and the Wasp’s abilities are impressively realised. Hope clearly knows what she’s doing, and there’s a precision to her fighting style and movements that Scott never quite possessed. Hope has been waiting her whole life for this and is in her element, and it’s gratifying to see her fulfil her destiny as the Wasp.

Douglas gets to be a little more active in this one than in the first Ant-Man film, but he’s still mostly there to be crotchety. The relationship between Pym and Janet is sufficiently established. By necessity, Michelle Pfeiffer doesn’t get to be in this one a lot, though it’s hard not to wish she had more screen time.

There’s half a good idea here with Ghost. The appearance and abilities of the character from the comics is used, but everything else about her is created for the film. Ghost is in a constant state of flux, confused and angry, and is a formidable opponent to our heroes. She’s no Thanos or Killmonger, but she’s an adequate villain for this film.

Walton Goggins plays a standard-issue Walton Goggins character, supremely untrustworthy and grinning as he goes after what he wants. Randall Park is funny as the dogged FBI agent who tries to keep Scott under his thumb, and hopefully he goes on to be a badass secret agent like the Jimmy Woo of the comics. Fishburne is reliable as Professor Bill Foster, who had a falling out with Pym when they were colleagues.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is a trifle, but it’s an entertaining, well-made trifle. Not every MCU movie needs to upend the status quo, and Ant-Man and the Wasp is quite comfortable being the silly thing it is. While the movie has welcome tricks up its sleeve with the further integration of mass-shifting into the action sequences, it can sometimes feel like we’re just watching the first one again.

Stick around for a mid-credits scene and a post-credits stinger.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong