Loaded into this month’s arbitrary film review roulette are Wrath of Man, Cruella, and Army of the Dead. Which of them clean up, and which gets swept into the trash? The answer to this confusing, poorly constructed hypothetical can only be found out by listening in! Rien ne va plus.
Wrath of Man
Guy Ritchie’s latest is a crime thriller based on a French film called Le Convoyeur (or Cash Truck), set in Los Angeles and starring Jason Statham, Holt McCallany, Scott Eastwood, Eddie Marsan, Trevor off EastEnders (look, I know the actor’s name and can name two other things he’s been in, but you probably don’t and can’t and, anyway, he’ll always be Trevor off EastEnders) and Josh Hartnett (no, you don’t remember him, and that’s fine because the film barely does, either).
Statham stars as “H”, a truculent and taciturn new hire at a Los Angeles armoured truck company who makes an immediate impact after brutally, and with clinical efficiency, dispatching several would-be armed robbers who took one of his colleagues hostage, and despite barely scraping a pass in his training.
It seems H is a man with a past, and a man looking for something. Or someone. That someone is a member of the crew that killed a number of people in the armoured truck heist that opens the film, including H’s son. He’s a bit pissed about that, and is soon shown to not have a great deal of restraint while tracking down any lead that could potentially identify his son’s killer. Other leads exhausted, he takes the security guard job as he believes an insider at the company will lead him to his prey.
Guy Ritchie is one of those unfortunates for whom the phrase “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” must have particular resonance: after making his name with a couple of very distinctive and stylish films, he’s forever struggled to break free from them, criticised for sticking to that genre then pilloried when he’s strayed away from it. Even his more successful forays out of the box into which he has been penned – the Sherlock Holmes films – have still had something of his feeling and style to them, whereas Aladdin, while competent, felt very much more like the work of a director for hire. And he may not have helped himself by having his post-Aladdin film, the extremely entertaining The Gentlemen, be the most Guy Ritchie film in years.
Wrath of Man falls closer to Aladdin than anything else, being an entirely competent if unremarkable film, that doesn’t exhibit much of the director’s character. That character often comes in the form of a style and a swagger, which is in the film, thanks to Statham, but the film itself doesn’t have it. It does have a strong, gritty aesthetic, though, and the action scenes are pretty well-handled (even if I doubt quite how little impact assault rifle bullets have on a man just because he’s got some pads on, or how little space $160 million occupies).
While its two-hour running time doesn’t feel at all egregious, it does feel like a tightening up, or certainly a rebalancing, could work in the film’s favour. We really don’t need to see the fateful heist from the target crew’s perspective, as we’ve gathered everything we need from the at least three other times we’ve seen it, or parts thereof. The FBI… subplot? … could be dispensed with entirely, and while a lot of time is spent on H’s failed efforts to find those responsible for his son’s death, the encounter with the responsible party just sort of… happens. Oh, he’s found him, I guess. That’s handy. And the titled chapter format adds absolutely zip.
But I did still enjoy it – come on, what’s not to like about a badass Statham capping some fools? -though this is a Statham character (and likewise a Ritchie film) grittier, darker and less funny than we’re accustomed to seeing. That’s neither good nor bad, just different, and fortunately everything in the film is generally at least solid. But alas for poor Eddie Marsan: there are a number of British actors in Wrath of Man doing American accents anywhere from good to excellent and Eddie, well, he’s not one of them, is he?
I don’t know if the world was really crying out for a 101 Dalmations prequel, but I suppose the necessity train departed this franchise’s station around the time of 102 Dalmations, so why not give us a Wicked style look at Cruella de Vil?
The young Estella Miller, ultimately played by Emma Stone, is heavily encouraged by her mother, Emily Beecham’s Catherine Miller to bury her cruel streak, and embrace being nice, and maybe embrace her talent for fashion design. Due to the provocations of the situation this doesn’t exactly work, being turfed out of school for some broadly justified acts of rebellion, and Catherine resolves to move the two of them to London. Just one quick stop to make first, at Emma Thompson’s Baroness von Hellman’s gaff to ask for financial assistance, which results in Catherine’s Dalmatian assisted plunge off a cliff, although at this point Estella isn’t aware of the Baroness’ guilt.
The now orphaned Estella makes her way to London, soon forming a loose family with streetkids Jasper and Horace, who will grow up to be Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser as the narrative moves along to the 70’s, where they’re still surviving on their wits and petty thievery until Jasper and Horace give her a birthday gift – a fraudulently obtained cleaner’s job at the Liberty department store, a bastion of fashion where she’s always wanted to work her way up to designing for the store’s legendary owner, Baroness von Hellman.
I’m sure you see where this is going. Before long Estella has impressed the domineering Baroness with her skills and, well, basic competence, and is acting as her personal assistant when the truth of her mother’s death is unwittingly revealed and Estella plots revenge, embracing the Cruella de Vil personality to continually upstage and sabotage the Baroness’ fashion shows and get to the bottom of the story of her true parentage.
Now, I don’t know what “essential” filmmaking is in this day and age, or indeed any day and age. I am not a smart boy. However, while it’s pretty clear that this ain’t it, chief, the past year and a bit has given me a renewed affection for distracting baubles like Cruella, which is a solidly enjoyable chunk of entertainment. Stone and particularly Thompson leaving no piece of scenery unchewed, and with a sense of bombast that’s reflected in the scope of the fashionista stunts of the later acts. The two play off each other well, and it’s an entertaining pairing that I suppose naturally invites comparison with The Devil Wears Prada, as noted by every reviewer who’s reviewed this. I never claimed to be a thought-leader.
For much of this film, Mark Strong does not wear an amusing wig, so I was going to write this off as 21’s most disappointing movie, but thankfully some later reel flashbacks provide an opportunity for some characteristically awful hairpieces, thus making this the finest 2K21 has yet offered, at least in the vaunted “Mark Strong Wig” category.
Enjoyable enough, if not something that’s likely to be bothering any film of the year lists, but at the very least it’s the only film we’ll speak of today that picks an appropriate tone and sticks to it, and is certainly the most full of life. Still not enough to get me subscribing to Disney Plus, of course. Yarr.
Army of the Dead
There’s about five minutes of exceedingly fun filmmaking here, with an intro/credits sequence that takes the film’s dumb premise, a heist in a be-zombie apocalypse’d Las Vegas, and turns the dumb up to maxidumb, with over the top action and visuals that are a real hoot.
Then the next two hours of utterly boring, straight-laced, dour “film-making” occurs, with the usual Zack Synder hallmark of taking everything way to seriously, especially given the, as mentioned, very dumb central conceit of the movie.
Perhaps strangely, it’s not interesting enough to be a bad movie, instead, and arguably worse, it’s a very dull movie, an attempt at translating Aliens to Zombietown, but without understanding anything of what made Aliens good. Witness the vast slate of actors, all given no character whatsoever, leaving the action setpieces to stand, or more often fall, by their own ugly merits.
Frankly, not worth your time or ours. Avoid.
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