47 Metres Down – Review

Bit of confusion to clear up with this title’s title before we begin. Being English, it’s Metres, other territories have named it 47 Meters Down, and some of you purchased leaked DVDs with the title In the Deep. Maybe that name was dropped to avoid puns about the movie being shallow?

They needn’t have worried on that score. Okay, it’s played pretty simple on the emotional stakes – cheesy, even. But it’s a movie that wants to rely on the visual treats rather than build a character study with sharks in the background.

Jaws did that decades ago and it’ll never be surpassed.

Obligatory mention of Spielberg’s classic, because this is a killer shark movie, taken care of, let us take a look at Johannes Roberts’ attempt at a claustrophobic thriller.

It’s been billed as a horror but it really isn’t. Sure, there’s blood and some gore but the threat of not surviving is more psychological than monster lurking in the darkness chills.

The story centres (centers) around two sisters, Lisa and Kate. Lisa, played by Mandy Moore, is the dark-haired conservative type. They’re holidaying (vacation) in Mexico, Lisa is hiding a recent break up but finally confides in Kate.

Believing she was dumped for being boring, adventurous younger sis convinces her to kiss some Mexican boys and go cage diving with sharks. Like you do. Kate is played here by Claire Holt, proving to Maggie Grace that her younger self has been replaced.

Hopefully, Holt will go on to make more than a fleeting appearance in this generation’s Lost and Taken.

Obviously, the cage snaps with the two girls inside, otherwise the movie would be called 5 Metres Down (or 5 Meters Down, or In the First Bit of the Sea where You Can Still See the Boat’s Reflection).

Lisa’s fear of taking the dive is played up well and the director does will to avoid playing for lots of cheap jumps once they become stranded. This makes up for the dialogue that plays as poorly hidden commentary. However, towards the end, the sense of actual peril fades.

The girls are also told facts that we know must come into play or they wouldn’t get a mention. Hence, the penultimate scene could be seen by some as Jumping the Shark (see what I did there?).

Roberts can be forgiven for this. It still manages to work as a whole and with a movie clearly reliant on (subpar?) CGI, he appears to have made an effort to use tension rather than a series of further farfetched shark attacks.

Overall, a decent movie. The scale and budget means it was never aiming to be a massive blockbuster but it has already turned a tidy profit. It’s a top-level TV movie that deserves the chance to be seen in cinemas.

6/10

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Spider-Man: Homecoming – Review

The MCU continues unrelenting, with it, Marvel open their arms and welcome into the fold a name that faces few equals: Spider-Man. Despite two solid showing as Andrew Garfield’s Amazing variant, Sony decided if you can’t beat them, sell back some rights and take a cut of the profits.

For Marvel’s part, they decided the best way to keep those profits high was to not deviate from what has worked before. This doesn’t mean a rehash of former Spider-Man movies. Oh no, not at all. It means shoehorning Peter Parker into the MCU by stripping away his uniqueness.

This is where two opinions on this latest film will tail off from one another.

If you love all things MCU, then you won’t mind this alternative direction for Spidey. If you hold Spider-Man dear to your heart, brace yourself for an onscreen character assassination.

This isn’t the Spider-Man many grew up with. There’s no driving motive behind his foray into fighting crime. He isn’t burdened by loss in the family. He isn’t crooning over Mary Jane (she’s here, hiding in plain sight, but for now, he half-fancies a girl called Liz). There’s no such thing as a Spidey Sense and his best mate isn’t going to become the Green Goblin.

So, what do we have instead?

A boy that was bitten by a spider (he briefly tells his buddy this, no origin drama to deal with) who can walk on walls and ceilings. That’s it. The Spider-Man suit is actually a Tony Stark design, complete with visual/audio guidance.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has turned Spider-Man into Iron Man Jr.

Such is the simplicity – and deceit of the true nature of the character – the plot and film remains decidedly average. Generic set plays on peril, and a villain – played by the excellent but left with little to explore, Michael Keaton – whose integrity and overall threat is undermined by Iron Man existing in this world.

There is hope Keaton can reprise his role as Vulture in later films, and the way he was a property salvager working on the post-Avengers New York debris, able to come across alien tech but put out of business by Stark and the authorities, is the sort of loose tie-in the film benefits from.

However, the overbearing MCU connections even kill this element.

There are good interactions between Jacob Batalon’s turn as a Ned and Tom Holland’s Peter Parker. The identity of Spider-Man is accidently revealed to Parker’s geeky best pal, adding a fresh element but this should be the unseen cement in the movie, not a standout plus.

This could be the moment Marvel jumps the shark on the big screen. From the Captain America school videos during classes to the Stark created Spider-Man. It’s too cheesy, too much comic book for the screen. And not the best sort of comic book. It’s the dated, outmoded variant most haven’t lifted from a shelf in years.

Marvel are either on a collision course with creativity or cleverly tapping into a dumbed down audience. Either way, it makes for a very average Homecoming for the character that should be the jewel in Marvel’s crown.

5/10

(P.S. Don’t stay to the final end credits scene, it’s a lame joke and offers no insight or progression to future MCU stories.)

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

Logan (2017) – Review

If Get Out sold us short on the trailers, then Logan reset the balance. We know it’s Hugh Jackman’s final outing as Wolverine, and the arrival of young girl in the said trailers indicates X-23 is likely to be brought into the X-Men cinematic universe. It’s also clear we’re heading for a serious drama, less superhero feast. Knowing all this doesn’t detract from what we’re given.

Many are saying we should thank Deadpool for Wolverine getting – at last – an adult movie. Let’s face it, his previous two solo outings were subpar. And that’s being nice about it. The studio told director James Mangold and Hugh Jackman to make the film they wanted. Why don’t studios just do this all the time?

We find an aged Wolverine in a future where mutants are a distant memory. The disappearance of those with special abilities is explained clearly. Richard E. Grant’s Zander Rice has developed the vaccine earlier X-Men films fought against. He describes getting rid of them no different than curing Polio outbreaks.

The aging of Wolverine is a little less clear. We’re led to believe that perhaps it is the adamantium slowly poisoning the body, acting as a cancer. This just doesn’t wash with me. Sorry. But he’s had it long enough to dispel that theory. However, we have excused the fact his adamantium magically reappeared at the end of Days of Future Past so we can just accept the idea he’s not in the best of shape.

Neither is Professor X. He’s being kept locked away in a metal container, on lots of meds, to protect the world from his brain. See, it’s a massive problem if your head is classed as a weapon of mass destruction but you’re suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Logan’s joint carer for Charles Xavier is Stephen Merchant’s Caliban.

Quick segue here, so Tómas Lemarquis played Caliban in the very average X-Men: Apocalypse. The two versions in no way can be married up. It’s effectively a different character with the same ability (they’re trackers, in Logan, Caliban is captured and used to track the escaping Wolverine(s) and Professor X). It raises the question: Is Logan really canon?

It feels like a set-up for a continuation or a spin-off but could remain standalone. The future of mutants is preserved because Zander Rice has been attempting to weaponize strands of DNA with powers. Hence the arrival of the excellent Dafne Keen as Laura, or X-23, or future Wolverine.

As the story unravels, and Logan tries to get Laura to her meeting place, we realise some of these children have been saved from the clinic. The displays of abilities are the only let-down of the movie. They are clearly working to a tight budget and it betrays the feel of the majority of the film. The legend of the X-Men has made it to comic book form, which Logan explains is overblown nonsense.

The idea the reality was grittier fits the grittiness we see for the first three quarters of the story.

The only other problem is the appearance of a younger, healthier Weapon X. The film didn’t need cheap parlour tricks to slow Logan down. But it does offer a mirror on his growing and real humanity. So perhaps it was a good move?

The catalyst and reason for Logan to open up to his feelings is, of course, Laura. She steals scenes without using words. As there ever been a child actor so expressive and effective? Not to mention kick-ass bad. She’s determined and also vulnerable, she needs Logan’s love.

Charles Xavier also prods the conscious of Jackman’s character. Here it is touching as we see two old friends, with years of history, care for one another. Logan looks after his body and protects his mind. Not just from destruction but the truth of some unknown atrocity Professor X is guilty of committing.

In return Charles reminds Logan he is good. He can be saved.

The tone of Logan is perfect and as the main X-Men franchise loses its spirit and becomes more and more the mindless blockbuster it once stood apart from, this is a reminder that the best comic book films are the ones with heart.

It is graphic in parts. The stall is set out in the first scene when Logan places his claws through the skulls of carjackers. But it is never played for the sake of shock. It’s a movie trying to be honest.

Patrick Stewart announced on The Graham Norton Show this would also be his last film connected to the X-Men universe. By the end, you can understand his reasoning. There’s nothing a future film maker will be able to offer that bests this complete picture.

It is a passing of the torch. In Dafne Keen’s hands, it’ll be carried safely.

9/10