Reviews of Ghostbusters, Suicide Squad, Midnight Special, Jason Bourne, Independence Day 2, Finding Dory, and Star Trek: Beyond await in our latest episode. Search your feelings, you know it to be true.
The reboot that caused a million obnoxious white male voices to suddenly cry out in terror and refuse to be silenced, despite all appeals to logic, sanity, or basic human decency. Looking beyond those charming organised hate parades, now it’s out we can now judge it on it’s own merits, and I don’t think I’ve ever been more relieved for a film to be enjoyable than this one.
As I’m sure you’ve heard, this Paul Feig directed outing runs through the basic plot from the apparently idolised 80’s original, although I must have missed that memo raising it to untouchable status – I’ve only ever remembered this as a reasonably amusing effects showcase, and surely the execrable second film did more to tarnish memories than this film ever could.
Here a now respectable physicist Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) takes issue with former research partner Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) when she re-issues a book they co-authored on the paranormal, ruining Erin’s chances for tenure and her reputation. There’s not much time for recriminations, however, as along with engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), they are called to investigate what turns out to be an actual haunting.
While this validation of their long-held beliefs gives them some cause for celebration, by the time subway attendant and soon to be fourth Ghostbuster Patty Tolan calls them to investigate an actual ghost train, it’s apparent that someone is creating and leaving gizmos that amplify the supernatural activity in key locations around Noo Yawk. That someone is a Rowan North (Neil Casey), a hotel janitor with an aptitude for para-physics and an apocalyptic mindset.
Once the team figure out what’s going on they’re able to stop Rowan’s plan, or so it seems, but it turns out that when Rowan is struck down he can become more powerful than they can possibly imagine, fulfilling his plan to open the portal between this worked and the nether realm and leading a spectral invasion, including taking over the body of the Ghostbuster’s beautiful but impossibly stupid secretary Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), so of course it’s again left to Erin and Co to stop this nonsense.
As mentioned, I find this to be an entirely acceptable film, and one that’s reasonably enjoyable, putting it firmly on level pegging with the original as far as I’m concerned. Sure, you lose out on Bill Murray, except for a shoehorned cameo that’s actually one of the low points of the film, but the ensemble is as strong as the original, all things considered. In many ways Wiig and McCarthy are shown up by McKinnon and Jones, who certainly show more energy.
By an admittedly tighter margin than I’d like, more jokes in the film land than don’t, so it passes my first and only criteria for a comedy to hit – is it funny? Yes, it’s funny. I’d hoped for a touch funnier, but this will do. I’ll take what I can get. Now that I’ve lavished, or at least lightly scattered, praise on this film I suppose I get to pass brief comment on that controversial trailer that started this internet idiot parade – at least half of what the haters said was true, it’s a terrible, terrible trailer than undersells the film greatly. Crucially, it’s funnier than the trailer makes out, for some reason taking the least amusing and most awkward bits of character interaction, and the special effects look better in the final film than as glimpsed in the trailer.
To unpack that a little more, what I mean is that in the context of the film, the ghosts have a very intentional stylistic look to them. That’s as shown in the trailer, but taken in isolation it does look a bit like the shonky CG offcut to was criticised for. When viewed as part of a film, the ascetic makes more sense. It still won’t be to some, perhaps many’s taste, but it’s bold and consistent, and I like it well enough.
That, however, is a side-track that’s not worth pursuing any further. The remake proves that it’s possible, were such proof ever required, which of course it is not, that a gender-reversed remake can work as well as the original. Perhaps some people would be better served re-assessing why they still hold the original in such high regard – for me both original and remake sit on the same level as somewhat above average effects comedy, and frankly, neither of them are as good as The Real Ghostbusters cartoon, so maybe watch a few episodes of that instead.
At any rate, Ghostbusters 2016 has defied expectations as a decent film, and frankly in this blockbuster season, I’ll take what small wins I can get.
As one of the few people willing to mount at least some defence of Batman vs Superman, I suppose I was looking forward to Suicide Squad more than most, although I think the early teaser trailers combined with Deadpool‘s then recent success had most convinced of the potential of the idea of the bad guys taking over the asylum and having a bit more fun that Zach Snyder allows any of his characters to have. However, the closer we’ve come to the release date, the more cloying and forced the marketing has become to the point that it was starting to turn me off from watching it.
As I have the bravery of a million lions, I nonetheless charged forth into a multiplex to bring you, dear listener, the truth, and the truth is… meh, it’s okay, I suppose.
ALL HAIL ME.
If you’ve somehow missed the saturation press for the film, this takes some of the DC universe’s most dangerous criminals and compels them, through threat of death via implanted explosive, to perform good, dangerous works in return for time off their sentences. Headed up by Joel Kinnaman’s Special Forces operative Rick Flag and Karen Fukuhara’s Katana, they wrangle uncannily accurate hitman Headshot (Will Smith), Joker’s violently insane squeeze Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), bank robbing thug Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), fire-wielding ex-gang leader trying to go straight Diablo (Jay Hernandez), and monstrous crocodile thing Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) in to their first mission, after a suitable period of exposition to introduce these folks and their abilities.
The mission winds up, in a sense, being to clear up their own mess. Puppet master Amanda Waller (Viola Davis)’s other member of the squad was intended to be an ancient mystical magical being of incredible power, the Enchantress, currently timesharing the body of June Moon (Cara Delevingne), awkwardly enough Rick Flag’s love interest. However their method of controlling her is soon thwarted, allowing the Enchantress to release her equally powerful brother to start ripping apart downtown Midway City, so it’s up to our dysfunctional team to somehow pull together and save the day.
Now, the first hour or so had gone a long way to putting my misgivings to one side. There’s a lot of energy to proceedings, and while the narrative structure for introducing the characters and their abilities is a little bit direct, shall we say, it’s quite effective, and the throwbacks to how they’ve been captured allows for a number of nice world-building cameos from the likes of The Flash, Batfleck and notable Jared Leto’s Joker. Crucially, the opening stretch has a great deal of the fun that the trailer promised present.
Then it abruptly vanishes, and doesn’t return, making for a very flat last half of the film. It turns from a vibrant, relatively light hearted given the context romp into a boring, dark, grindy slog. The main canon fodder enemy thrown the squad’s way are identikit minions, unfortunate citizens turned into featureless knobbly black annoyances that look abysmal and repetitive, and sadly Cara Delevingne’s not really up to the task of convincing as the film’s ultimate evil. Come to think of it, she’s not much better as the primary love interest either, leading to a finale that’s really tough to care about.
Which means we get to sing the same song that’s afflicted so many films of late, comic book adaptations in particular – too long, too many characters. For so many of these films I wish there was a director’s cut that removed half an hour rather than added it, and there’s a much tighter 90 minute version of Suicide Squad in here somewhere that’d be more enjoyable than this.
At least Suicide Squad makes some nod to this by largely ignoring some of the characters. Jai Courtney gets a few comic relief lines in to good effect, but plot wise he and Killer Croc could be removed with little impact. Likewise Leto’s Joker, who’s running a sub-plot to get Harley back that’s not focused on enough to be a significant part of the film, and ultimately could also be removed without touching the main story at all. I’m not altogether down on Leto’s portrayal, and indeed there’s potential for him to appear as a decent, interesting villain for Batman down the line, but his presence here is ultimately an extended cameo that doesn’t impact the central narrative at all and should really have been trimmed greatly. Even if that would mean seeing less of his wonderful goon squad including the guy in the panda suit.
For the rest of the cast, Kinnaman’s fine enough, although he’s got much better chemistry with Will Smith than Cara Delevingne. Smith carries a good deal of the film’s weight, and he shows a charisma that I’ve not seen from him in many of his more recent (and more serious) films. Perhaps unexpectedly Jay Hernandez comes across as the most impressive performer here, although I expect much of that comes from having the only character that develops in any real sense. Much as Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn should wind up being obnoxious, as due to the ‘fan favourite’ status she’s pushed into the centre of things even when some of the other characters are much better placed to solve the problem at hand, she more or less makes the character charming enough to keep the teeth-grinding to a minimum.
The major failing of the film is to an extent one of tone – there’s a solid argument for saying that it’s trying far too hard to be quirky in the first half of the film. That’s not my issue with it, though. It’s the complete fall off of quirkiness in the second half, which aside from the tonal whiplash just makes the film a flat lifeless, borderline boring experience for that time. Taken as a whole, I suppose it struggles its way up to mediocre based on the more entertaining early running, and I think it’s not quite as bad as the critical mauling suggests, but it’s also not one that I can recommend braving a cinema trip for at all. Unlike Batman vs Superman, there’s no attempts at asking any interesting questions about heroism. This was just intended as a fun romp, and on that basis it’s a much greater failure than Snyder’s film.
It’s not horrible, but I’d still be giving this one a miss.
The latest picture from director Jeff Nichols, who has built a loyal fanbase with indie movie favourites such as Take Shelter and Mud. Here he re-teams with Shelter‘s Michael Shannon for the tale of a father, Roy, who kidnaps his estranged son from a religious cult, the leader of which is the boy’s adoptive father. The boy in question, Alton (played by Jaeden Lieberher) is of interest to the cult as he possesses strange powers, and while these remain ill-defined throughout most of the movie they include decoding military satellite broadcasts, the information relays from which the cult use as the basis for an apocalyptic prophecy. As well as the duo of enforcers despatched by the religious nutters to reclaim the boy at any cost, Alton and his father have incurred the displeasure of the FBI, what with the government being not so enamoured of the notion that their secure data is somehow beeing seeded by a small child and a batty cult.
Joining the road trip is Roy’s childhood friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton), who has only recently rekindled his friendship with Shannon’s character, but nonetheless is devoted to the cause of helping Alton and Roy evade the authorities while escorting the boy to a location where apparently the nature of his powers will be revealed.
Midnight Special is a curious beast; at once individual and yet very much reminiscent of the kind of young adult adventure movies that we always protest they don’t really make any more. Having so far viewed none of Nichols’ previous works I cannot testify to how this, his first studio picture, relates in comparison of tone and style, but tone and style it certainly does have. Based solely on it’s director’s reputation I had expected Midnight Special to be densely plotted and thematically rich, and so the biggest surprise turns out to be that it is neither, coasting along as it does at a satisfyingly brisk pace almost entirely on atmosphere and suspense.
As an exploration of the father-son relationship Midnight Special is almost entirely redundant, other than highlighting the obvious devotion of Roy to his estranged boy and his willingness to do absolutely whatever is necessary to see him fulfil whatever his destiny turns out to be. Shannon is, predictably, excellent, and though he is perhaps working with less well defined of a character than we would like once again he manages to be just about the best thing in the movie. Young Jaeden Lieberher joins a long list of recent young discoveries who punch freakily above their age, and throughout the movie he consistently manages the admirable feat of keeping pace with Shannon. Joel Edgerton similarly manages minor alchemy in another presumably purposefully under-written role which he fleshes out admirably despite being given very little to work with.
Further support comes from Kirsten Dunst in a low-key but solid role as Alton’s mother Sarah, Sam Shepard as cult leader Calvin, and Adam “Emo Darth” Driver as Sevier, the FBI contractor whose specialist field appears to be psychic pre-teens. All of the supporting cast give uniformly strong performances, but again they are ultimately being held back by under-developed roles that seem in keeping with the movie’s desire for mystery, but ultimately leave the movie with a real stretch in order to claim ultimate satisfaction.
That stretch is too much for Midnight Special, and arguably the only reason it does not warrant five star status, but this is at least a movie that demonstrates just how far you can advance on a bedrock of style, atmosphere and quality performances. At heart this is a modern retrofit of a quintessentially 80s theme, and while it almost satisfies purely by virtue of rekindling the wonder and adventure of that era it is certainly frustrating to sit in Midnight Special‘s wake and imagine just how transcendent it might have been under circumstances of more satisfying character development. Nonetheless it provides a strong array of evidence to suggest that Nichols rather than JJ Abrams may be the more authentic 21st century heir to Spielberg’s throne, and in comparison to that director’s Super 8, a movie which harkened to that same bygone era of optimism, this is objectively the far superior movie.
While I cannot rightly offer unreserved recommendation of Midnight Special, I would plead with you to watch it if, like me, you were initially interested but dissuaded by a piss-poor marketing campaign which effectively sunk the movie in theatres. There is enough here to warrant a punt from the comfort of your own sofa, and it certainly makes me want to check out Nichols’ previous works, not to mention speculate as to what he might achieve with further studio backing and the narrative safety catch firmly off.
Now, it must be said that I was very impressed by the first entry in the Bourne franchise, which for my money is the best action-led espionage outing of 2000s, rivalled only by a film that stole liberally from it, Casino Royale. As the sequels rolled in, they were certainly enjoyable but a feeling of diminishing returns set in, and it became apparent that the were more or less the same film, with slightly different names. But after the drop in enjoyment caused by making the same film with a different actor, I was open to revisiting the new Matt Damon starring, Paul Greengrass directed flick.
Julia Styles’ Nicky Parsons tracks down Bourne (Damon), currently scratching out a living off grid in the bare-knuckle boxing circuit, and tells him of information pertaining to his past, at which point your Deja Vu Meter may need to be reset.
Turns out it’s concerning his father and, of course, the creation of the Treadstone program, or Blackbriar, or whatever codename the first film was about, but before she can spill the beans she’s bumped off, leading to Bourne having to seek out the hacker Parsons was working for.
While this hacker wants to take all the information public, Bourne’s not interested, which is ironic as it’s his disclosure of information in the previous films, apparently, I can’t remember that part but I’ve no reason to doubt it, that paints him as public enemy No. 1 to CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), and the Asset he reactivated to deal with / murder Bourne, played by Vincent Cassel.
Well, that’s pretty much your setup for Bourne being chased, until a rouge subplot emerges regarding a Facebook analogue headed by Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed) that threatens obliquely to reveal the access the CIA have had to their users information and revoke that, creating a bigger problem for Dewey and his Asset to deal with. However, ambitious CIA operative Heather (Lee Alicia Vikander) sees this as an opportunity to gain a promotion by dead man’s boots and cuts a deal with Bourne to have him save Kalloor and, as a byproduct, take out the people obsessed with capturing or killing Bourne.
So, the same film again then, but with an older cast, at least when looked at from arms length. Unfortunately, the magic’s not there this time. I don’t mean to imply that this is anything less than a really competently put together film, but not one that’s deviating much from its established playbook and consequently not one that’s particularly engaging
While I’m wary of making this argument, as both in better condition than I am, Damon is 45 and Cassel is 49. The Climactic fight therefore has a bit of the Moore-era Bonds to it. A bit of the town drunks fighting in a pub car park. It doesn’t make for a dynamic and impactful fight sequence to end on, and given the power of the earlier films in that regard it’s a terrible let down.
It’s attempt to reframe itself in a post-Snowden age I suppose must be done, but it’s led to some of the most idiotic “computers are magic” moments on camera yet. I’ll take the CIA being able to take complete control of German CCTV systems on faith, but there’s a scene where the presence of a (somewhat anachronistic) circa 98 dumb phone, a Nokia 5110-esque thing, leads Heather Lee to exclaim that she can use that phone to delete files off a laptop in the same room, one that’s in no way connected to the phone, because of malware, apparently, displaying a worrying misunderstanding of both computers and phones.
It’s fine, but it’s nothing special, and I think the series has now completely run out of the fumes that made the first film great. Time for bed, Mr. Bourne.
It feels like just a little under two months since we discussed Roland Emmerich’s sci-fi destruction set-piece Independence Day, because, well, it was, in our Disaster Movies episode. Reviews would seem to indicate that this is a disaster in a more conventional sense, but I figured I’d give it the benefit of the doubt. I can’t say it did a great deal to repay my faith it it, but at the very least it’s not actively miserable.
There’s not a great deal of plot to pick over – mankind’s been doing its best to pull together and figure out better weapons after the events of the first film, knowing that another invasion attempt is likely, and, well, here it is. There’s a few strands for the narrative to pull together. The current director of the Earth Space Defence, Jeff Goldblum’s David Levinson, sees the arrival of an alien artificial intelligence and is promptly overruled on how to handle it, the military blowing it up, but not before it leaves a part of itself to help with the exposition in the final act. The flyboys doing the blowing up are largely headed up by Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher) and his estranged ex-buddy Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth). Down on Earth the science department is headed up by a reawakened Dr. Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner), who reemerges from a coma as the evil aliens approach, and there’s also an odd sub-plot with the head of a totalitarian African state Dikembe Umbutu (Deobia Oparei) who’s country was waging a guerrilla war with the aliens, as it was home to the only mothership on the ground at the time of Goldblum’s computer virus trick.
So, once the stupidly colossal alien ship appears, wrecks a ton of landmarks and starts digging a hole to the core of the planet to harvest it, because science, humanity launches another counterattack that flops, before hitting on a wheeze to use that there alien AI as bait for a trap to lure the alien queen out into the open and take it out, which they theorise will have the same effect crippling as an Apple Powerbook connecting to the alien’s wifi and changing the router password, or whatever Goldblum did in the first film.
Which, in general terms, is broadly the same plot as the first film, but without the charisma. And, it turns out, that was the only thing holding the first film together. In abstract terms, more or less every other element of this film is an improvement, certainly effects-wise, but without any real interest in the lead characters it’s tough to care one way or the other about anything that’s happening in it.
The first film embraced and played up it’s cheeseball nature, and to be fair I think Emmerich tries to go in the same direction with this, but he doesn’t have the characters in place to back it up. The only interesting characters are the returning ones, Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Brent Spiner, and the new ones who are supposed to carry the action don’t make much impact.
Shorn of this, it’s just another CG showreel, and, well, we’ve all seen enough of them and while the effects work here is fine, it’s not particularly noteworthy or worth going out of your way to see. Sure, this isn’t great, but in a year where Gods of Egypt was unleashed upon an unsuspecting populace it’s hard to be too offended by this film.
You may remember Dory from Pixar’s mildly successful Finding Nero, the charming tale about a clownfish who loses his ancient Roman emperor. Dory remembers that she had a family, and so she’s off to find her parents with the help of a similar assortment of freakish talking aquatic monsters.
Continuing our long standing, er, stance of not quite understanding where Pixar’s bulletproof reputation sprung from, we’re nonetheless happy to report that this sequel to Finding Nemo is better than Cars 2. For what little that’s worth.
But even Pixar on their off-days are better than most other animation studios, and really the only problem we’ve got with this sequel is that it’s largely risk adverse, with a story that’s lifted directly from the original with a minor bit of character swapping.
We suppose the box office results already in makes our recommendation (or otherwise) redundant, but for what it’s worth there’s no reason that you wouldn’t enjoy this assuming you’re on board with what Pixar’s selling, and by this point you’ve probably worked out if that’s for you, or your offspring.
Justin Lin takes over the reigns of the other successful Star franchise, what with J.J. Abrams off bothering the Star Wars universe. Not, it must be said, an announcement that filled this podcast with confidence, as while Lin set the template for the Fast & Furious‘s becoming the commercial juggernauts they now are, he also started their slide towards the exceedingly ludicrous, admittedly from a starting point that wasn’t all that far away from ludicrous anyway. If nothing else we’re curious to see how he handles this.
Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and crew are now deep into their mission of flyin’ aboot and lookin’ at stuff, ken, and if anything seem to be getting a little bored by it all. What seems to be a routine delivery of a gift to seal a peace accord goes a little south when some nervous little critters force Kirk to retreat, and log the gift into the Archives for safekeeping. Unbeknownst to him, this artefact is a Ancient Lost McGuffin of Unsual Power, and its re-emergence brings Kirk to the attention of someone who wants it rather badly.
Heading back to a spiffy new Federation starbase, the Yorktown, that appears to have been designed entirely for impressive fly-bys with no concession to practicality, they’re almost immediately sent back out on a rescue mission. A ship has crashed on a planet inside an uncharted nebula, and only the Enterprise has the advanced navigational equipment to safely traverse it. So, off they go, only to be attacked by the forces of Krall (Idris Elba), McGuffin-seeker extraordinaire.
In short order Krall and his fleet of drones unceremoniously rip the Enterprise apart, kidnapping most of the crew in the process and crashing the saucer section to the planet below. Through various combinations of guile and luck, Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban), Kirk and Checkov (Anton Yelchin), and Scotty (Simon Pegg) escape to the surface, although strewn about the shop.
Scotty makes a new friend in the shape of Jahlay (Sofia Boutella), similarly stranded on the planet but who was able to escape Krall’s camp after her father sacrificed himself in a diversion, allowing her to escape. She’s been busy fixing up a crashed, long-lost Federation starship, which allows Scotty to bring the gang back together. This leaves them merely having to come up with a plan to save the crew and defeat Krall before he unleashes a bioweapon on the Yorktown, killing thousands. Millions, maybe. I forget. Which is a bit of a microcosm of the film in its entirety, I guess.
It’s probably closest in spirit, if little else, to Star Trek IV: The One Where They Go Back In Time And Get A Whale And That, inasmuch as it’s a completely disposable, lightweight, throwaway adventure during which we learn pretty much nothing about anyone involved. If any characters were developed during this film, I must have been examining my popcorn at the time. I’m sure this may annoy a subset of people who take Star Trek altogether too seriously, which is to say in any way seriously at all, but it didn’t bother this casual fan.
If I were taking this seriously, there’d be a great deal to be annoyed about in Star Trek: Beyond, and most of it’s the script. There’s a cursory attempt at an overarching theme of how the Federation’s unity goes against a survival of the fittest, War as an engine for progress, but it’s laughably underserved and one of the weakest rationales for committing atrocities I’ve heard in sci-fi. But while the overarching vision is a little shaky, it’s the smaller details that would surely be more infuriating.
I can’t go into them in any detail without spoiling too much, but here’s a couple of examples. There’s a fully functioning motorbike on board that there crashed, long-lost Federation starship. You can presumably immediately come up with a list of reasons that’s nonsensical, so perhaps it’s for the best there’s no justification presented at all for its presence. There’s an audaciously stupid “signal jamming” moment that plays like a homage to Mars Attacks!, and is no less credulity-stretching. The final revelation on who Krall really is not only has no impact whatsoever, it also required an ass pull of mysterious future technology 11 to baffling effect.
There’s more, but I came here to praise Star Trek: Beyond, not to bury it, because it is an honourable film. It’s certainly flawed, and will be remembered, if it is remembered at all, as a minor work in the Star Trek canon. It will, however, not be remembered as a boring, or terrible, or boringly terrible Star Trek film, of which there is no shortage, so all in all that’s a win for all concerned. I wouldn’t advise you to rush out and see it, but perhaps gently stroll out and see it sometime, at your convenience.
Right, that’s your lot. Find your hook and sling it.
If you’ve been affected by any of the issues discussed today, please hit us up on Twitter (@fudsonfilm), on Facebook (facebook.com/fudsonfilm), or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to receive our podcast on a regular basis, please add our feed to your podcasting software of choice, or subscribe on iTunes. If you could see your way clear to leaving a review on iTunes, we’d be eternally grateful, but we won’t blame you if you don’t. We’ll be back with you on the first of September with a look at the career of Michael Cimino, but until then, take care of yourself, and each other.