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

Ghost in the Shell (1995) – Review

With the new Hollywood remake out in cinemas, it was inevitable the Manga original was going to get a revisit. Or for some, a first viewing. The new Ghost in the Shell is best-known – for the time being, at least – for being responsible for reigniting the whitewashing in American movies. The original was the attempt to penetrate the western mainstream. It failed. But was it fairly overlooked?

It’s interesting when you ask people about Manga. Some will mention Akira before tailing off. Many recognise the niche films as a mark of honour. A nineties cult that defined a new type of geek-cool. For our in-house WWE expert, Clive Balls, who spent time living in Japan, they are more than quirky, in many ways they already trump Hollywood.

To the man in the middle (me), they are somewhere in between. Atmospheric animation that delves into thought provoking issues. They’re certainly not cartoons. They are the Japanese graphic novel without the awkward ties to forties comics.

Ghost in the Shell was a film ahead of its time. It took on artificial intelligence long before the current Westworld revival. It deals with gender and strips away all preconceptions long before the world at large listened to LGBT rights. The makers envisioned large networks and interconnectivity while we were all accessing the internet with dial-up.

The story centres on Major (she’s the Scarlett Johannson character). An outwardly looking female but her nakedness that reveals the dream body is purely to activate camouflage. The strength she displays and all her drives are asexual. She is something else in a world where cyborgs are commonplace, each believing they possess a soul – the ghost in the shell.

A complex argument of what defines consciousness, the individual traits that are left behind, creating the person.

As revelations unravel, Major worries that her ghost could just be clever programming. This comes about when her unit, a government agency, realises a hacker is at work, it appears the corporation that makes government cyborgs has been infiltrated.

The Puppet Master, is the name the hacker goes by, and it sets Major up for a showdown. With it, a deep insight into her own existence.

To go into further detail will unravel the apex of the story. The main takeaway from Ghost in the Shell after all these years is that the mood and feel stands up to anything that has come since. Some hallmarks have been outright robbed in major Hollywood films. The way characters move during action scenes is now the way CGI enhanced stuntmen do combat.

The soundtrack could be where Manga borrowed ideas from western sci-fi, even when using traditional Japanese songs, in terms of tension building. But the pacing is a let-down. The philosophical statements are unlikely to be surpassed in the 2017 live action remake but the flow of the film has room for improvement.

To answer the question in the opening paragraph: Yes, originally it was overlooked when it should have been embraced rather than copied. But time has aged some of its parts and degraded the once four-star film.

6/10

Get Out – Review

Oh! The power of the trailer. Get Out, touted as a horror held the promise of a psychological thriller. A movie that was willing to throw social ignorance front and centre then scare the wits out of us. What it didn’t do was indicate the film is a badly envisaged comedy.

The clues were there, had we looked a little closer. We’ve got Allison Williams, Marnie from HBO’s Girls. Here she plays Rose, who is pretty much Marnie from HBO’s Girls. She’s taking home new black boyfriend to her white liberal, affluent parents. All the groundwork for that racial awkwardness already laid.

Just in case the incessant prodding that her boyfriend, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), is black flies over your head, we even get a scene when they report a traffic accident with a deer where the police officer asks to see his ID. For no reason.

That sums up many scenes and incidents in the movie. There’s no reason for them. Take early on, it’s established Chris is a smoker and Rose’s mother is a therapist that uses hypnotism to cure addictions. It worked for Rose’s cringe over-the-top father. Then, during a late-night wander, he stumbles across Ma, and we’re wondering if he went under.

Pause there. Great premise. Is everything we’re about to see merely a messed up hypnotic trance or is he under some spell in the real world? Can we trust what follows? Also, the teddy bear (actually a lion) he moved before his walk is still facing the other way. Yes, he must have been hypnotised.

Wait. So why are you confirming the fact for certain with the next available dialogue between characters?

Because it’s not a psychological thriller. Or a horror. Or very good.

I’m aware this is going against the grain of what early reports are saying. But does this really highlight social discourse in a relevant way? The exaggerated scenes will shame some viewers who will shift uncomfortably as they see unpleasant traits on the big screen. But those moments do not justify a film that flops between genres, not to be savvy, but because – ironically – it lacks identity.

Even when it has the opportunity to finally gain traction after laying hints of some type of cult, it feels more like The Man with Two Brains than Rosemary’s Baby. Okay, it was never trying to be that dark or sinister with the horror but the social commentary is diluted when the chosen vehicle is so poorly conceived.

Take how Chris’s best friend – the true comedy in the movie – Lil Rel Howery’s Rod starts to piece together the situation. We have black people in this strange suburban community that appear brainwashed. Then when Chris sends a pic of one such character, who felt familiar, dressed like a Caucasian, and freaked out when flashed with the camera, some more plot points are pieced together.

Turns out he’s a missing man from Brooklyn. Suddenly we have the possibility Rose’s family are complicit with kidnap and brainwashing. But it’s never properly followed through. The situation is so ludicrously obvious that the hints become annoying. And the race divide is forgotten – and worse still – exposed as a poorly conceived plot point. There was no reason, whatsoever, for choosing black people. None. Other than to get attention for misusing the topic.

Really, in good faith, I can’t jump on the bandwagon. Don’t be fooled by the trailer, don’t believe the sycophantic reviews, don’t waste your hard-earned cash. Wait for it to come on Netflix or Amazon. Or better still – save yourself the 100 minutes running time and do something else instead.

4/10

Passengers – Review

With taglines like: There is a reason they woke up, and, Nothing Happens by Accident, you have every right to expect mystery and intrigue. Passengers soon reneges on these empty promises.

The concept is a decent one and visually the film gets off to a great start. The sets wouldn’t look out of place in an Alien film. Everyone aboard the starship Avalon is heading to a Homestead II, a new Earth, a fresh start. It takes 120 years, so by the time they are removed from suspended animation, their loved ones back home will have long passed.

Bad news for Chris Pratt’s character, Jim Preston, is that the ship hits an asteroid field. Or more like, half the field hits the ship. It causes damage to multiple systems, breaking his pod’s sleep cycle. Just his pod, mind. Bad, bad (writing?) luck.

It means Jim spends a year trying to fix the problem, get access to the crew and bridge rooms, and eventually face suicide. Until he happens across Aurora Lane’s (that’s Jennifer Lawrence) sleep capsule. With nothing else to do, he looks into her story. She’s a writer so he reads her back catalogue and watches all her induction videos.

“She’s so funny,” he exclaims.

She’s about as funny as a white girl sat on a BBC chat show talking about desecrating sacred artefacts.

Jim’s only company has been Michael Sheen’s Arthur, an android barman. He’s like a really friendly version of Lloyd from The Shining. He is at pains whether or not to wake Aurora up or not.

Well, he does. And suffice to say, that secret gets out. So you see, there was a reason they woke up: to drive a stagnant story on. No conspiracy, no experiment, no sabotage.

In a movie of convenient moments, it is no surprise that Aurora falls for Jim. Their class difference aside (he gets better breakfasts now she’s around from the computer), chances of meeting a soul mate based on assumptions, and the strain of the situation have no bearing. They’re just perfect for one another.

Later in the film, Laurence Fishburne pitches up when another pod fails. Convenient that this occurs when the story needed another plot device and equally handy that it’s just a single pod again.

The closing section sees Jim and Aurora forced to work together to save the damaged ship. What they can’t save is the weak script. Okay, it’s a harmless romantic movie but a waste of an imposing set, good actors, and a solid premise.

The studio didn’t spend $110m and bring in two hot box office names for the sort of experience that will be relegated to lazy Sunday afternoons on the sofa. The poor results and box office performance won’t hurt any of the stars, they’ve enough credit in the bank, but it’s an inexcusable disappointment.

5/10

The Lego Batman Movie – Review

After 2016’s flurry of superhero films, this year promises to keep up the trend. Before the world feels burnt out with them, Warner Bros. hand over their prime property to The Lego franchise. Before we get more of the Ben Affleck Dark Knight, we get Will Arnett’s light-hearted brick version.

Criticism Marvel fanboys aim at their DC counterparts is they are too serious and dark, that comic books should be fun. It’ll be interesting to see how they deal with The Lego Batman Movie. Sure, it’s not a canon entry. It’s aimed at the kids’ market (some would say, this is Marvel’s core audience) but if you need the exact opposite of “serious and dark” then this is it.

Like the best of modern animation movies – looking at you Toy Story – there’s action for the kids and jokes for the parents. Lego Batman pleases the children with explosive action sequences, Lego being used and reshaped to create unique outcomes, and behaviour they can relate to. When The Joker fires his weapon, he makes little shooting sounds just like kids playing with Lego need to do.

The Lego Gotham City does feel authentic. You can tell what world we’re in. All the rogues are here too, proving that a good film can survive with an overflow of enemies. It’s clear from the start the movie’s makers are willing to point fun at the source material, and at first, having nearly every conceivable Batman villain on screen seems like a quick pun. But they stick around and The Joker manages to recruit even more bad guys.

Thanks to the Lego tie in, anyone that can be made from the little bricks appears. Even the Daleks show up, although never referenced by name.

The main story is how Batman is too withdrawn and refuses help. Cue Robin and new Commissioner and soon to be Batgirl, Barbara Gordon. Alongside this is how he breaks The Joker’s heart by denying him the title of main villain. He says he fights around, that there isn’t an “us.” It’s great humour that will probably fly over the heads of younger members of the audience.

To make Batman appreciate him, Joker hands himself – and all the villains in Gotham – over to new Commissioner Gordon. Batman, easily manipulated by his nemesis, doesn’t sit tight and starts a sequence of events that sees Joker release all the baddies from Superman’s Phantom Zone.

Suddenly Gotham needs Batman again but he can’t do it alone.

Usually kiddies’ films like this are big on the moral message and speed up the slower adult scenes. Here, even though the ideas it’s trying to tell are plainly obvious, they blend into the background. Early on the plot building will lose some younger viewers. Even when having fun, Batman has to be moody.

The Easter eggs, often in the form of one-liners, come thick and fast, and clearly are designed for older ears. The fun is bright and outlandish, satisfying the kids. The flashy sequences aren’t to cover any deficiencies in the cast either.

Ralph Fiennes does a great turn as Alfred, Michael Cera is back to form as Robin, and it’s a compliment to say you won’t realise (although, you will now) Rosario Dawson plays Barbara Gordon. Even the cameos go to big names.

It doesn’t pull on heartstrings like some animation movies nor is it a film made just for children. It’s not perfect but it works well and Bat-fans and kids alike will enjoy it.

7/10