Friday 31 March 2017

Review: Logan

Year: 2017
Director: James Mangold
Screenplay: James Mangold, Scott Frank, Michael Green
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant, Dafne Keen.

Synopsis is here:

I cannot say I loved Logan, although I do admire it. The superhero movie that’s making grown men cry has gained many apostles, but I’m just not a devout follower. I fear part of this may be down to how I feel about The Wolverine character as a whole. There’s also the issue of how we finally got to a Wolverine film that’s actually interested in the character. If the other films had done their jobs fully, I could feel myself having more resonance with myself. For that, we could blame some poor choices on Fox’s part. Getting James Mangold to take the mantle a little earlier could have helped amongst other things.

Logan’s stripped down, 90’s road movie aesthetic is actually quite appealing after the overtly slick, all spectacle approach of X-men: Apocalypse. Marigold’s intention to make something that is clearly set within the world, yet not of the same style is the approach that has been deeply needed in the growing hemogenic realm of the “superhero movie” sub-genre. The irreverence of Deadpool and the cynical nature of Logan are steps in the right direction. Not just a refreshing change of pace but a change of focus. By sliming the stakes and adding finality to proceedings Logan doesn’t feel like yet another piece to a needlessly complicated puzzle. It finds a solid reason for a viewer to care about what’s on screen. We might not see everything reset itself two years down the line. Even though as I say this, words about the future of these characters have already been hyped.

For now, Logan appears to be a somewhat fitting conclusion to an awkward spin-off series. It plays with meta well and doesn’t feel the need to aim towards humour to keep things interesting. It’s also generally quite upsetting. Death follows our characters throughout this movie. Unlike the shallow lip service paid to the likes of Ironman 3 (2013), there’s a true feeling that regret weighs heavily on Weapon X. That everything he touches simply makes things worse. A tragic sequence during the second half of the movie is particularly despairing for this very reason. When Logan lets his guard down. There’s a good chance that innocent people could get hurt.

The film is a rather crowning achievement for its main star; Hugh Jackman. After 17 years of inhabiting this character, Jackman’s performances have always remained relatively consistent even if the film’s stories and plots have not. In Logan, Jackman infuses his character with far more bitterness and resentment than before, but also more pathos. Some of the films more compelling scenes come from the now fraught relationship that is held with Logan's former mentor; Charles Xavier (an on-form Patrick Stewart). Again, seeing the tension displayed here is as frustrating as it is entertaining. There’s a dull ache that resides in scenes in which they talk about what could have been. It’s painful not only because of the strength of the performances, but because there’s always the slight feeling that it’s a meta nod to the incoherency of the X-men film series itself.

The big question for some is whether Logan is better than The Dark Knight (2008). Not in my eyes. While it’s easier now to see flaws with Nolan’s comic book hero works, I still find The Dark Knight a better-paced blockbuster, featuring a stronger antagonist and set pieces which stick in the mind long after the film finishes. In terms of personal taste, I also found Logan’s cynicism harder to contend with. It’s a film in which death weighs heavy on the shoulders and even the outcome of secondary characters is tough going. One can’t help but think that some of the plaudits are simply because we see more bloodshed. If that is the case, it is somewhat troubling as Logan never truly feels cathartic.
Let it be said, however, that Logan is one of the more notable Superhero movies of this cycle as it dares to be different. The film’s finality is a shot in the arm for the superhero genre in general. The film’s grim tone, may not be for everyone, but this third and possibly final entry in the wolverine series does well to remind the audience that the stakes don’t always have to be saving the world. They can be about saving one soul.

Review: Kong: Skull Island

Year: 2017
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Screenplay: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, Terry Notary, John C. Reilly.

Synopsis is here:

“Everything here is something” - Marge Simpson Ep15 – Season 13 - Blame it on Lisa

King Kong has been refurbed three times before Kong: Skull Island. That’s not counting his 60’s Japanese stints. Before this iteration, audiences were given at least a 20+ year period before the great ape roared back into screens once more. The fact that Kong: Skull Island has taken 12 years to reach audiences only reminds us of just how rapid the acceleration of reimagining/rebooting/rehashing cinematic brands has become. Yes, it is still over a decade but the gap is remarkably smaller, particularly when we consider studios churning films of anything that may rouse even a passing notion of nostalgia. While I don’t wish to turn this review into a rant about “original” stories, it is important to note that the high volume of going back to the well should hopefully mean bringing a fresher angle to the material. Kong: Skull Island decides that while harking on past success is the only thing. People like giant apes. You get giant apes.

Kong: Skull Island is a far more kinetic beast than Peter Jackson’s more romanticised project. This is straight up B-Movie thrills. No dilly dallying. We get to see Kong from the get go. There’s no mystery here. Spectacle is key. This is a Kong for cinematic universe goers. We know what to expect, so it just needs to be confirmed. Does Kong go rampant? Check. Is nearly everything these poor humans touch actually a beasty designed to kill them? Check. Are the human characters not worth a dime because giant apes? Double check. Skull Island merrily fills the frame with known character actors and unceremoniously stomps them out the picture, without a care in the world. We’re here to see Kong smash and indeed he does.

There is a distinct feeling of hollowness about the whole thing. We expect a film about a gigantic ape to have a bobbins plot, but there isn’t much to really grasp on. Oddball crew find a strange island. There’s a massive monkey on it. The film hangs the Vietnam war and Nixon over itself as window dressing, but all the Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now references seem to be shallow lip service to an audience that wouldn’t be interested in Samuel L Jackson going mental over a huge ape. The films disposable cast is well picked and they’re a little more fun to watch than the dour performances that appear in the recent Godzilla (2014) remake. However, as the film isn’t really interested in their plight, it’s still hard to be really invested in anything that happens. The action is tight and well-constructed and there a general knock around fun that comes from some of the set pieces, but it is all empty calories. While it’s vaguely amusing to see people not even able to sit down on anything without said seat trying to eat them, nothing really lingers in the mind, nor feels worth watching again. Something I do get from previous incarnations.

A brief but obvious spoiler hints at a larger universe filled with ancient creatures, but I find myself asking why. The answer is as clear as day, but the films are quite weak. At least Kong: Skull Island acknowledges that it's a B-movie. It seems pointless to tie all these films up this time around, but now that the Marvel cinematic universe dictate the market trend, we now have to realise that everything here is something.