Wonder Woman – Review

Let’s cut to the chase. It’s what you have come to expect from this site and now’s not the time to disappoint. Wonder Woman has already been heralded as the saviour of the DCEU. A female has supposedly achieved what DC’s finest two males couldn’t pull off. It’s true, she’s managed to bring about change. But better the Extended Universe? No. Not one iota.

Before cries of misogyny come thick and fast, this review has nothing to do with the gender of the lead, the director, or in any way an attempt to prevent the empowerment of women. The movie does a grand job of resetting the balance when it comes to the perception of females on film.

What is slightly upsetting, is how the World War I era plays up attitudes as archaic when even, a hundred years on, women face unreasonable challenges compared to their male counterparts.

The movie starts on Diana’s all-female home world, the hidden Amazon island of Themyscira. It is here where women are warriors. Her mother, Queen Hippolyta, is against her taking on combat training but Diana’s aunt General Antiope helps her anyway.

There’s a conflict of interest. Hippolyta (played by Connie Nielsen who managed to avoid her brother’s advances in Gladiator) knows – as does Antiope – she is Zeus’s ultimate deterrent against the God of War, Ares.

That particular God is Diana’s half-brother. Oh yeah, Diana is the product of Zeus’s loins.

When American pilot Steve Trevor, or Kirk from the new Star Trek, magically appears through the fabric that shields the island, bringing a bunch of Germans with him, Diana sees it as a call to duty. Against her mother’s wishes, she decides to join Kirk on his return to Earth as we know it.

She’s convinced the head German, Ludendorff, is the manifestation of The God of War. If she defeats him, the human battle will also cease.

The segments in London – and subsequently Europe – are all well and good, in the sense it flows okay and characters are established. Gal Gadot pounces off the screen. She is an inspired choice and without her, it may even have dragged during the build to the final battle.

But it is during this passage and subsequent payoff the film hits terminal problems.

Not – this must be made clear – as a standalone movie. Judged as a brains out film, it’s fine. Nothing challenging at all but fun. Like a Marvel movie. It’s a watered-down Captain America.

The war elements feel too small for Diana; when the God of War finally appears, it’s too far-fetched for a DC live action affair.

Remember, the DCEU’s opening gambit was Man of Steel, a movie with Christopher Nolan listed as producer.

Wonder Woman confirms the worst fears for true DC fans (and I’ve checked with resident expert Christopher William Kinsey) that the DCEU won’t be playing to the strengths of their branding and onscreen successes. Instead it’ll be an imitation Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The CGI ending, with Ares making a suit from the molten metal of destroyed aircraft hangers and debris, was something beyond corny, cheesy, and cringe worthy. It was lazy.

But it has received approval from the same people that misjudged Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice because it actually had depth, thus, needed a little thought. The same people that think the new choice for Spider-Man is good but got lost with Suicide Squad’s dark undertones.

The perceived success could mean the tone of spinoffs like Suicide Squad are phased out and Warner Bros. and DC produce more live action cartoons.

If the DCEU was in trouble before, it is truly doomed if this is the sort of popularity it seeks.

4/10

Ghost in the Shell (2017) – Review

The fuss of casting a white actress in the lead role of Ghost in the Shell can at last take a (temporary) backseat. It helps that the actor in question is Scarlett Johansson, she has the screen presence to divert attention to what is important. As always, that should be the plot.

Playing the role of the Major, a rank we see her attain here after a short opening sequence that reveals her “creation” and/or alteration. She is Mira Killian, her brain is planted into a perfect engineered cybernetic body made by Hanka Robotics. The CEO there, Cutter, sees her as a weapon and wants her up and running as soon as possible.

The designer, Juliette Binoche’s Dr Ouelet (because white people make, as well as look, like the best of Asia in this future world), sees Major as a living person. Most definitely not an object. And therein begins our moral tale of consciousness and what constitutes life. However, unlike the animated original, these themes – along with the entire movie – have been made more accessible for a mainstream audience.

It means the deeper philosophical questions have been dumbed down and the action sequences, instead pioneering like its forbearer, become generic and lifeless. They do pay homage to scenes from the original, at times it’s as if moments have been lifted from there. And the authenticity of the environment is solid throughout.

It falls down when it comes to adding suspense and the journey Major undertakes to reveal her true identity (it isn’t Killian). It’s noble they tried to add the backstory in what they must be hoping is a franchise, but everything is far too obvious.

Whether it be Hanko turning on Major, to the main plot of seemingly malevolent AI that is looking to bring down Hanko. This third-party intelligence is at odds with Major’s views of the world, leading to Hanko losing faith, despite Dr Ouelet’s protests.

It seems tech companies like to be run by bad guys once they’re making revolutionary strides forward. Hanko is like RoboCop’s OCP. A company in deep with the government and run lawlessly from within.

Visually, it can be stunning at times. A body suit clad Johansson is always going to be easy on the eye, and as mentioned, the set pieces breathe life into the world they are trying to replicate from the original. Perhaps the finale goes too big on the Hollywood action, and the setting feels at odds with all that came before it.

But as something to look at, whether it be Major, Hideo (we see why he needs the goggles), the city, or most of the fight scenes, it deserves the title: Ghost in the Shell.

It even tries to carry the heart of the original and gets a free pass, this time, because of the leading lady.

Sadly, it just lacks that something special beyond the performance of Johansson to make it noteworthy. The 1995 version was ground-breaking in many ways, this is the exact opposite. It plays it safe, using standard techniques and methods we’ve seen a million times before in countless forgettable movies.

Hopefully there is enough of an interest to allow Section 9 another chance but without Rupert Sanders in the director’s chair.

5/10

Kong: Skull Island – Review

“Let’s face it baby, these days, you gotta have a sequel,” to paraphrase Stu from the 1996 film Scream. If that was remade today, it’d be something like this: “‘cause let’s face it baby, these days you gotta have a shared universe.” Thanks to Marvel’s unprecedented success at juggling many balls in one massive shared cinematic universe, every studio and its dog is trying the same trick.

The latest Ghostbusters was supposed to launch a shared series of films. It failed. Of course, DC is trying the same. It’s struggling. Legendary is trying its hand with a MonsterVerse, which brings us to the relaunch of King Kong. This trip to Skull Island is primarily to familiarise the audience with King Kong in the universe that 2014’s Godzilla took place in.

The opening credits use the same montage technique as the Gareth Edwards monster film but there is no direct connection, Godzilla showed the years 1954, 1999 and 2014. Kong’s tale predominantly takes place in 1973 (after seeing a US pilot and Japanese dogfight counterpart crash land on the island in 1944).

The premise being John Goodman’s Bill Randa wants to travel to an island that defies detection. He’s convinced – because of something he saw as a child – that prehistoric animals exist in the modern day. He thinks Skull Island is a haven for them. Of course, he’s correct, and the island isn’t just home to a massive monkey. There are things that make the dinosaurs look fluffy.

Randa uses the end of the Vietnam war to leverage the powers that be to use the returning military for a little excursion. Enter a team. Shared universes need teams, even if the decades that divide the movies means it’s a onetime shot.

Tom Hiddleston is James Conrad, a former SAS man turned mercenary, reminding us why he can never be James Bond. Brie Larson turns up as photographer Mason Weaver. She is a do-gooder that has been on the cover of Time and is looking for the next big shot, regardless of the danger. And we have Samuel L. Jackson playing Preston Packard, the leader of the squadron assigned to land on the island.

Brie Larson Hiddleston Kong Skull Island

Along for the ride are a few scientists, their biggest contribution is discovering we live in a hollow world. Yep, we can forget science when given massive monkeys with five fingers. Do we need pseudo-science to makes sense of it? Clive Balls does believe the world is flat, so perhaps some people will buy into this. Plus, it could explain the appearance of further beasts in upcoming Godzilla films.

Because the scientists need to probe, they dropped seismic charges to determine the composition of the land mass. Or as they appear to Kong: bombs.

There is no slow build-up and a big reveal to Kong like in all of his previous outings. Here, the King is front and centre from the off. He takes out the incoming helicopter squadron with ease. The moment is perhaps to pay homage to the original battle from 1933 on the Empire State Building. If so, all it does is alert us to the fact there is no tension or investment.

The survivors meet up with that crashed 1944 pilot, he turns out to be Hank Marlow, played by comic actor John C. Reilly. He provides relief in a film that doesn’t really need any. Godzilla (2014) was criticised for being too dark. It literally lacked a colour palette. This movie goes too far in the opposite direction.

The banners on buses and building gave us the hint. Those garish colours fill the big screen. What it loses in mood swings it toward cartoon. In doing so, the characters follow suit. Samuel L. Jackson, as well as reusing his own lines from Jurassic Park, and paraphrasing himself from Pulp Fiction, becomes the single-minded human antagonist.

He’s miffed Kong killed his invading crew. Hank Marlow explains, Kong keeps the dangerous monsters at bay and the island’s indigenous people safe. Jackson doesn’t care. It’s as unrealistic as his pouch – something a soldier returning from years of war in Vietnam just wouldn’t have.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts must have had a checklist of classic Kong shots – like the blonde woman lay in King Kong’s open palm – but he missed the vital element. Kong’s powerful scenes work when you feel for the character. In this outing, we don’t have time to care for the big guy.

And Brie Larson, arguably the most talented actor in the film, can get the damsel in distress and looking up in awe facial shots down to a T all she wants, it means zero if the world she’s working in is soulless.

The action is visually perfect, the actors do their best with a limited script, but it lacks the intelligence Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla strived for in pursuit of a more accessible action flick. I hope to see Kong again, next time I hope he reminds us why we used to care.

6/10

Game of Thrones – Season 2 – Review

The beginning of season two takes a few minutes for you to settle in. We are expected to just understand who the new faces in Westeros are. The displaced Robert Baratheon sees his true heir Stannis bang heads with brother Renly. It takes a while to accept Stannis as a main player due to the absence of screen time in season one but he meddles enough to grab your attention.

He’s aligned with the Red Lady aka Melisandre. The actress that plays her Carice van Houten replaces Denise van Outen as my favourite sexy woman with a Dutch sounding name. It’s amazing what dropping an H and spicing up a first name can do. In the show, what she can do is also magical but it’s dark. The sort that gay brother Renly falls foul of.

With Stannis on the march, he is a clear threat to the Lannisters’ hold on the throne. They are too busy playing games with themselves at King’s Landing. Cersei is trying her best to ignore Joffrey’s cruelty and control the Imp, Tyrion. His Achilles Heel is former prostitute Shae. He’s given some rest bite when Cersei targets the wrong hooker but the tension on this subject threatens to be there for some time.

As added protection, Tyrion as the King’s Hand promotes Bronn (lesser known member of Robson and Jerome) to commander of the watch, or in plain English: nails bodyguard that kills for cash. He’s a likable figure in a city of misfits. IE, The Hound prevents Sansa from getting raped and killed but comes across as a guy you wouldn’t wanna share a meal with.

The Lannisters’ main threat comes in the form of Robb Stark – King of the North. He is winning battles and moving toward King’s Landing, looking to avenge the death of his father. On the way, he breaks the promise to marry a daughter of Walder when his head is turned by Talisa Maegyr, the Florence Nightingale of Westeros.

His problems mount when Catelyn Stark releases The King Slayer Jaime Lannister (with Brienne The Warrior Woman as an escort) in exchange for her daughters. They are in a bad way. Sansa prays Joffery’s eye will turn elsewhere (it kinda does but she’s still a toy) and Arya is now independent and surviving on her wits alone. Her son, Bran, is doing the same.

Starks with power but divided in more ways than one.

Jon Snow, the bastard Stark, finds himself on a covert Night’s Watch mission. It goes wrong (had to, didn’t it) and he ends up siding (for real or not?) with the Wildlings. There, his former red-headed female prisoner happily informs him he knows nothing. And so begins a love affair, of sorts.

While Robb is advancing well on the Lannisters, he should have kept one eye on home. Exiled Theon Greyjoy returns to capture Winterfell. He was only trying to impress his biological father, whom was none too impressed.

Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen continues her journey with growing dragons and actual numbers on the ground. She spends the season in Qarth. I won’t ruin surprises but needless to say, not everyone has the best of intentions for the Mother of Dragons. Hers is one of the most engaging plots and we begin to see her ruthless side and her true power.

The season highlight is episode nine’s Blackwater (10/10). It contains the battle of the same name. The finale Valar Morghulis (9/10) sees Arya make an ally that could prove beneficial and she can thank for her freedom, and a final shot that makes you want more.

The addiction has taken hold…

8/10

Game of Thrones – Season 1 – Review

If you’ve never heard of HBO’s Game of Thrones, welcome back from the coma you’ve been in – the world’s missed you. Before the next season hits our screens in June 2017, Simms View will recap each chapter so far. First up we have the world setting, Sean Bean led, first season. In hindsight, is it worthy of its critical acclaim?

“Don’t believe the hype,” a great song, and a great way to approach fan-favourite telly. Game of Thrones is at a great disadvantage here. It’s been hyped to the heavens (and its seven Gods, the old and the new) and attempts to make an expansive fantasy series manageable for the small screen.

It begins with the world of Westeros in disarray. The King’s Hand –  kinda like his advisor and Executive Officer –  has been killed.

This happens to be Ned Stark’s (played by Sean Bean) so as head of the Stark family, he goes to investigate. Once there, King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) makes him the replacement Hand of the King. These old pals are unable to see out a peaceful collaboration because Robert’s wife is a Lannister and they have their own ideas for domination. These don’t include the most powerful family from the North – The Starks – being anywhere near the throne

Ned’s younger son sees how Robert’s kids are made when he catches Cersei Lannister being rodgered by her brother Jaime. He pushes the boy from his high viewpoint, leaving him out of action. Jaime is already seen as a villainous character, his moniker is: “King Slayer”, because he stabbed the last man on the throne in the back, paving the way for a change in family at the helm.

More acts of betrayal follow as the Lannisters don’t want Baratheon to realise his kids are really his brother in law’s children, made with his own wife.

The focus of the main throne in Westeros is only one claim. Further afield in Esso, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), daughter of the murdered true king, is being used as a possession by her abusive brother to unite with the Dothraki tribe.

She’s from line of people that used dragons but they’re extinct . . . except for three eggs she receives as a wedding gift. Imagine if she had the ability to give them life…

The most popular character has to be Peter Dinklage’s Imp, or to use his proper name: Tyrion Lannister. A “half-man” that is a blight on the Lannister family name. Better known for whoring and drinking, two acts he does very well. But his lack of height and apparent carefree personality act as good cover for his higher intelligence.

Speaking of shamed family members, we have Jon Snow, bastard of Ned Stark. Having been raised by the Starks he joins the Night’s Watch. They are impartial protectors at the Northern Wall. What they’re protecting the lands from isn’t instantly clear in season one.

Neither are a lot of other key aspects. And some characters that you will loath here (Sansa Stark) develop in later years. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s hard to see how season one got such a free pass. To delve any deeper would give away too many reveals, so a pause for now.

If you find it slow going, stick with it. Things get much better in season two and are far less predictable.

6/10