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Posts Tagged ‘Geoffrey Rush’

Long-term and well-acquainted visitors to these parts may be familiar with my general attitude to the Pirates of the Caribbean movies: which is that these are obviously lavish and skilfully-made movies that I have generally found to be reasonably entertaining, diverting fare, but by no means especially memorable or exceptional (Hans Zimmer’s ebullient score is often the best thing about them). I’m probably in the minority there, as usual – I do find the massive success of these movies rather mystifying, to be honest, and can only assume it’s down to the continuing popularity of Johnny Depp’s portrayal of the addled buccaneer Jack Sparrow.

Depp is basically the only real constant in these films – he’s not quite the only person to appear in all of them, but it’s always his face on the poster and his character at the very centre of the plot. Everyone else gamely turns up and does their thing in the other stock roles, but they are clearly ultimately dispensable in a way that Depp definitely isn’t. I was mulling things over along these lines when I had a bit of an epiphany about these films, which is that they are basically the closest thing Hollywood has to pantomime.

I mean, you’ve got the Principal Boy and Girl, who gamely attempt to suggest romance using limited resources, you’ve got various supporting clowns and comedians, you’ve got some Serious Actor drafted in to play whichever spectral baddie is in this particular film, but above all you’ve got Depp, basically giving a Pantomime Dame performance, most of the pleasure of which comes from its sheer familiarity.

Even the structure of the films kind of recalls that of a panto, except that the songs have been cut and replaced by lavish and frequently OTT special-effects sequences. (They really should put songs in these films.) The rest of the movie consists of convoluted plotting, just-about-bearable romance between the Principal Boy and Girl, and – the stuff everyone turns up for – the many scenes of Johnny Depp doing his comedy schtick at great length.

There is of course a new Pirates movie doing the rounds, subtitled either Dead Men Tell No Tales or Salazar’s Revenge depending on where you live. In it the essential virtues of the Principal Girl – wholesome, determined, well-upholstered – are embodied by Kaya Scodelario, those of the Principal Boy – fresh-faced, heroic, wooden as a bannister – by Brenton Thwaites, and the Serious Actor is Javier Bardem, CGI’d to within an inch of his life. Providing a heavily-trailed surprise cameo is Paul McCartney, although Macca’s appearance here is not in the same league of baffling pointlessness as David Beckham’s in Legend of the Sword. Fans of an earlier generation of hardboard histrionics will be gratified by an appearance by Landy Bloom himself as the coral-encrusted captain of the Flying Dutchman – when it comes to an actor of Landy’s calibre, it takes more than being half-covered in barnacles to have any effect on his performance.

The new movie is directed by Joachim Ronning (O with a line through it) and Espen Sandberg (no, me neither, in either case). In keeping with the tradition of this series, there is a mightily unwieldy plot concerning an old enemy of Jack Sparrow’s (Bardem), a mysterious map, Landy Bloom’s son (Thwaites) trying to lift the curse from his father, ghost pirates, magical treasure, and so on. I’m not even going to try to attempt to explain what happens in detail: all it boils down to, in the end, is Sparrow and the new kids trying to track down a legendary plot device while being chased by the ghosts, who have teamed up with Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush).

Of course, you have to keep the audience happy while laying in all the vast amount of plot and backstory required by the tale, so of course they open with a couple of humungously extravagant sequences for this very purpose. I suppose that this is, for me, one of the pleasures of the Pirates of the Caribbean series – the vast resources and expertise of a major film-making corporation put to the service of set-pieces which are uninhibitedly silly.

The problem is that there aren’t that many of these, and the film doesn’t have a great deal else to offer. It does feel like there’s a huge amount of exposition involved, and the character scenes are mostly just drab. One thing you can say about Thwaites is that he could plausibly be the progeny of Landy and Keira Knightley, but Scodelario’s character just feels parachuted in, and she’s so obviously designed to hit feistiness and intelligence quotas that it’s almost a surprise that she’s not played by Emma Watson. In any case, put the two of them together and we’re back to the land of furniture being stacked.

There are many ridiculously over-elaborate set-pieces – an absurdly over-blown gag about a revolving guillotine is a bit of a stand-out – and there’s one involving zombie sharks that I did think worked rather well. Better this stuff, anyway, than the laboured comedy routines which are inserted into the plot whether they’re strictly required or not. The jokes work better when they feel more natural, I think, and there are some decent gags in this film, always assuming you have a soft spot for Carry On-level double entendres (there’s a running gag about the word horologist which I don’t think you’d find in any other movie series).

The knowing silliness of much of the Pirates franchise has reminded me of Monty Python in some ways, but, of course, this is the kind of enterprise which will quite happily plunder the tone and visual style of a Terry Gilliam movie without for a fraction of a second ever consider actually employing Gilliam himself as a director. Certainly the series has always had that slightly Gilliamesque sensibility of a world where the forces of mysticism and chaos are staging a ferocious rearguard action against the encroaching age of  enlightenment, and that continues here as well. The new movie is being marketed as the final installment in the series, and you could argue that this one concludes with the culmination of that conflict. On the other hand, the door is left not very subtly open for a further episode, courtesy of the now-obligatory post-credits sequence.

Personally, I think Captain Jack Sparrow and the crew have delighted us all for long enough. Apparently one of the declared intentions of the new movie was to take the series back to its roots and have the same kind of dynamic and atmosphere as was the case in the original film. I haven’t seen that one in ages, but I do recall it being much less laborious and infinitely lighter on its feet than the new offering. This particular formula is wearing extremely thin, and to me it looks very much like it’s time for this franchise to walk the plank. There will probably be worse films this year, but few quite as dispensable.

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Over twenty years ago, I decided, mainly on a bit of a whim, to go and see a preview screening of the original The Crow (I had a sort of part-time unpaid gig as a film reviewer for a free newspaper). It was the dog days of early summer and I really had very little else to do that night. As we emerged into the chilly Yorkshire night, the usherette asked me what I’d thought of the film. ‘Much better than I expected,’ I replied truthfully.

Alex Proyas, director of The Crow, has not gone on to have most prolific of careers, but he has made films that most people have heard of – primarily Dark City, which is generally considered to anticipate The Matrix, and I, Robot, which is generally considered to be a silly Will Smith film with zero feeling for the source material it adapts. Now he is back with Gods of Egypt, another film which a lot of people have been talking about, although admittedly not perhaps for the reasons the director might have hoped.

gods-of-egypt-new-poster

Gods of Egypt is set in Egypt and features gods. I feel I must clarify this by saying this is an Egypt and probably not the Egypt you may be thinking of. We know it is an Egypt because the landscape is covered with an absurd number of pyramids, but also that it is not the real Egypt because, well, it has gods wandering around in it. These gods are supposedly the ones of ancient Egyptian religion, but most of the time they just resemble digitally-enlarged actors and actresses whom you might possibly recognise from other films or off the telly, when they’ve not transformed into twelve-foot-tall CGI robots, anyway.

As things get underway, boss god Osiris (Bryan Brown) is retiring and giving the throne of Egypt to his slightly feckless but basically decent son Horus (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau). This is somewhat to the chagrin of Osiris’ brother Set (GERARD! BUTLER!), who expresses his unhappiness by brutally murdering him and seizing power himself, though not before he forcibly removes Horus’ eyes (as these are gods this is not as permanent as it would be for you or I).

The story skips forward a bit and we find Egypt in a sorry state, not least because Set has put a paywall around the afterlife (a notion I’m sure many real-world companies are racking their brains about even as I type). Beautiful slave Zaya (Courtney Eaton, a young actress who combines an air of unquestionable innocence and virtue with a mesmerising embonpoint) persuades her roguish boyfriend Bek (Brenton Thwaites) to break into Set’s treasure vault, nick Horus’ eyes back, and persuade the defeated young god to reclaim the throne from Set. But Horus is doubtful of his ability to challenge his evil uncle unassisted, and Set has his own plans to rise to a position of even greater power…

Gods of Egypt has made headlines partly because it looks likely to be something of a flop, taking only $143 million in its US release (about four months ago, which is in itself something of a rarity these days) compared to a budget of $140. (Due to some sort of dark sorcerous accountancy, the studio seems to have very limited exposure to the film’s underperformance.) Why the film should have done quite so badly has been a topic of some discussion, and there are suggestions it’s because of the other reason for those headlines – the vexed issue of how the film has been cast.

The argument usually goes something like this:

This is a film called Gods of Egypt, set in Egypt, and about Egyptian people (and gods). casting people who are notably non-Egyptian in the major roles is thus another egregious example of Hollywood whitewashing.

Yes, well, but this is a major studio production hoping to attract a large international audience, so we need to cast established film stars. The only Egyptian film star most people can name is Omar Sharif, and he was unavailable for this film, mainly because he died last year.

Even if this argument was acceptable, which it isn’t, you’re not even making sense on your own terms – just who are these ‘established film stars’ you say you’ve put in your film? Brenton Thwaites? Who he? Courtney Eaton? Who she?

She’s the sweet-looking young girl with the breathtaking –

I know who she is. Well, actually, the point is that I don’t know who she is, you could just as easily have cast an actress of the right ethnicity, not someone who’s… what is she, anyway?

English-Chinese-Maori, apparently. Well, look, Gerard Butler’s in this film, he’s a big star.

Well, maybe. But that’s one guy out of five or six…

Where were all you guys when Ken Branagh made Thor, anyway? I didn’t hear anyone complaining when Idris Elba and Tadonobu Asano got cast as gods from Norse mythology. Not one peep about ‘ethnically appropriate casting’ then…

Ahem. Let’s just go back to the regular part of the review, shall we?

Fair enough.

At moments like this, I do recall the words of – I believe – Alexander Walker, who always responded to this sort of complaint by declaring ‘There were no Arabs in Casablanca!’ – which I interpret as meaning that you can take pieces of entertainment a bit too seriously if you’re not careful. If there’s a film this year meant to not be taken seriously, it’s Gods of Egypt, though this doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its moments.

All right, when you get down to it this is just another CGI-slathered extravaganza of mechanical plotting and overblown set pieces, but I’ve never felt that there isn’t a place for that kind of film on our screens, particularly if it’s done well. Perhaps Gods of Egypt doesn’t do it particularly well in terms of actual storytelling, but that doesn’t mean there are not things here worth at least a few moments of your time.

Putting all the running around and zapping things with CGI to one side, this is a film which has the cojones to suggest Gerard Butler as the Egyptian god of darkness. Not since Sean Connery in Highlander has anyone of putatively Egyptian origin been quite so thoroughly Scottish. Butler grapples heroically with his own accent, with honestly rather strange results, but in a strange way this just adds to the film’s peculiar… well, charm’s too strong a word for it, perhaps inoffensiveness will do. (Butler himself is much more likeable a presence here than he’s been for a long time.)

Coupled to this is the fact that the film is prepared to push the CGI envelope in some quite bonkers directions. At one point Butler pulls on a frankly astonishing hat, clambers aboard a space-chariot pulled by giant dung beetles, and flies off into battle, and that’s not something you see every day even if all you ever watch are special-effects blockbusters. There’s actually something rather impressive about the way in which the film treats the wilder ideas of Egyptian mythology as being literally true. A couple of scenes take place on the sky-barge of the chief god Ra, said barge dragging the sun across the sky on the end of a length of chain, with Ra himself forced to do nightly battle with the gargantuan doomsday-serpent Apophis, and I couldn’t help watching it all and going ‘Hmm, this is refreshingly different.’ (That fact that Geoffrey Rush plays Ra rather in the long-suffering manner of a man contending with a difficult-to-swat fly on barbeque day only adds to the fun.)

This is not a great movie. It is not quite even, I would say, the proverbial Good Bad Movie. But it always looks interesting and it is never completely dull, even at its least-effective moments (Egyptian mythology and the tropes of formulaic Hollywood scriptwriting crunch into each other with results that are so lame you almost wonder if the movie is sending itself up – and I must confess to disquiet at a conclusion which appears to suggest that mercy is a weakness and mercilessness somehow a virtue). And at least the fact the whole thing is on some level rooted in actual Egyptian myth gives the thing a kind of coherent underpinning notably absent from some other recent films of this genre. In short, it’s better than Warcraft.

Then again, there aren’t millions of rabid ancient Egypt fans in China, which is why Gods of Egypt is being viewed as an ethically suspect flop and Warcraft: The Beginning may in fact be looking good for a sequel, gods help us. Rather as with John Carter, perhaps, the negative press around Gods of Egypt may well have hurt its box office to a significant degree, but that press isn’t particularly concerned with whether this is a genuinely terrible movie or not. Gods of Egypt is fairly bad. But it is a fun and above all a very imaginative kind of bad, and personally I find I can forgive that a lot.

 

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Hello, and welcome to what promises to be a new and possibly very regular feature entitled Oh God, Not Another One. Our first subject for appraisal is Rob Marshall’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the latest iteration of Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer’s sea-going cash-cow. This installment has what I expect you’d call added interest in that it’s possibly the first film to be based on both a theme-park ride and an award-nominated fantasy novel (Tim Powers’ On Stranger Tides, obviously enough).

Actually, I don’t want to diss the Pirates franchise too much, as while none of the films in this series have particularly (oh dear) floated my boat, they do represent a significant achievement. Not too long ago the pirate movie had a terrible reputation, mainly due to massively expensive flops like Polanski’s Pirates and Renny Harlin’s Cutthroat Island – the received wisdom was that you were more likely to make a profit by putting all your money in a box and throwing it off a cliff than by doing this kind of film. I suppose the Pirates series must have redeemed the genre a little, but it’s interesting that there don’t seem to have been any attempts to cash in on their popularity. They do operate in a very specific niche indeed, after all.

As you could probably have guessed, this movie is not really set in the Caribbean and features no actual piracy, although if we’re talking crimes it is quite murderously long. This time it all kicks off with Jack Sparrow (Sir Ian McKellen – no, only joking, it’s still Johnny Depp) arriving in London, drawn by rumours of an impostor recruiting a crew in his name. Apprehended by the authorities he’s dragged before the king (Richard Griffiths, briefly) and informed that the dastardly Spanish have learned of the existence of the Fountain of Youth, and they’d quite like him to help the British get there first. The King has already persuaded Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to help – who knows, maybe he’s doing a little light speech-therapy on the side.

Sparrow is not that interested until he tracks down his lookalike. It all turns out to be part of a plan by his old flame Angelica (Penelope Cruz), who’s also after the Fountain as she believes supernatural longevity is necessary if her father is to find redemption. As he is Blackbeard, infamous sorcerer-pirate and the most feared man alive (funny how his name name never came up in the previous three movies – hey ho), she may have a point. So off everyone sets in various vessels in search of a list of plot coupons they will need to use the power of the Fountain, the first item in question being a tear shed by a mermaid…

By the time a film series hits part four things are usually looking pretty grim, as I mentioned when discussing Fast Five. That said, my expectations for this movie were a little higher than they might have been. I’ve always found the Pirates movies fairly mechanical and uninvolving, but redeemed by Johnny Depp’s heroically off-the-wall performances and Hans Zimmer’s ebullient score. This time around, with the departure of Keira Knightley to be a serious actress, and Orlando Bloom to… er… I’ll get back to you on that one, the omens seemed to suggest we’d be getting a lot more of the good stuff.

Depp’s performance is this movie’s sole reason for existence, and – to be fair to him – the great man definitely seems to break a sweat in his attempts to justify his enormous paycheck. You would have thought that all the eye-rolling and twitching and slightly fey running about would seem a bit mechanical and overfamiliar by now, but it’s still remarkably fresh and funny, even when Depp’s given some rather corny old jokes to deliver.

That said, the film does seem to meander along very much like Sparrow himself: every other character’s involvement seems to be better motivated than his. The script also doesn’t seem certain exactly who he is – the first film suggested that Depp’s performance is just that, a facade put on by Sparrow himself to make others underestimate him. There are hints of that here – in one scene he surreptitiously organises the elements of a ridiculously complex escape plan without anyone around him noticing, while other moments see the mask dropping and him showing genuine emotion – but at others he seems to be just who he appears to be, a sort of zen-master of drunken serendipity.

The film-makers themselves seem to have been a little concerned that you could have too much of a good thing, and that people who went to the others in order to see Keira K and Landy Bloom would want something along those lines in this one too. To this end, they have smuggled an equally vapid and uninvolving romance into this one, between characters played by Sam Claflin and Astrid Berges-Frisbey. I say smuggled because neither of these guys is really a major character or shows up until well into the film. And they’re not really introduced as people of significance, but gradually they start having more and more lines, until there are whole scenes just about them. This is actually quite confusing, not to mention annoying. Very much like their predecessors in the roles of ‘crossed young lovers’, the moments of their physical entanglement put one ineluctably in mind of furniture being stacked, though younger people who are still unsure of the correct use of their brain cells may find this whole subplot less irksome.

Someone actually says in this film, ‘it’s about the journey rather than the destination’ and this is a wise thought to bear in mind should you go to see it. Certainly the climax is slightly misjudged – I was left with a definite sense of ‘oh, is it finished now?’ – and the events leading up to it are not quite as memorable or as cleverly-plotted as in some of the earlier films. One gets a sense of inspiration running dry and the scriptwriters desperately groping about for new nautically-flavoured fantasy elements to include – this time around there are mermaids, and some zombies, and a voodoo pirate ship, but none of it’s as visually striking as before. Ian McShane is okay as the bad guy, as is Cruz as the love interest, but still, but still…

I should say that I did enjoy this film and laugh a lot throughout it – it’s certainly better than At World’s End, and not far off Dead Man’s Chest in quality, either – but perhaps that’s my problem with this whole series. I enjoy the dark fantasy elements of these movies very much, and the production values are excellent – but every time the film starts to generate any kind of atmosphere, along comes a performance that’s either crushingly bland or incredibly knowing and arch, and suddenly it feels like I’m watching a different kind of film entirely.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides passed the time pleasantly enough, but its strongest elements – Depp’s comedy performance and the fantastical atmosphere – constantly seemed to be pulling it in opposite directions, so it never really seemed to gel as a cohesive film. I should say this was basically exactly how I felt after watching all the others, so this movie is really very much business as usual. ‘This isn’t over!’ somebody shouts at Johnny Depp at one point, and on the strength of this film I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they were right.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published 21st August 2003:

Ah, the buccaneering life! Is there anything more likely to set the heart a-quivering and the bladder a-quaking? A life on the ocean wave, regular plunder, and such interesting hats. Is it any surprise that one of my favourite daydreams involves me mustering my seamen and grabbing some booty? Well, anyway, for all the charm of being a corsair, for the last twenty or thirty years making a movie on this theme has been a surefire way of giving away all your money. This depressing trend has finally been reversed by Gore Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, based on the Disney theme park ride of the same name. (Hopefully the success of this film means we can expect M Night Shymalan’s Little Dipper – based on the Blackpool Pleasure Beach ride – in the not too distant future.)

A reassuringly old-fashioned swashbuckler, Pirates kicks off by introducing the inhabitants of the Caribbean outpost of Port Royal, primarily the overlooked blacksmith’s apprentice Will (Elven poster-boy Orlando Bloom) and the girl he has a bit of a thing for, governor’s daughter Elizabeth (Keira Knightley, whom you may recall as a striker in Bend It Like Beckham or one of the Amidalettes in Phantom Menace). Inevitably, Elizabeth’s father is not too keen on Will wooing her and is trying to set her up with a snooty English naval officer. Anyway, Elizabeth falls in the sea (quite why this happens isn’t really gone into), which has an odd effect on her stylish Goth medallion, nicked from Will some years earlier while rescuing him from a shipwreck. Fortunately she is rescued by passing pirate Captain Jack Sparrow (an almost indescribably bizarre performance from Johnny Depp), who’s in town trying to steal himself a ship. Unfortunately the medallion attracts the scurvy pirate swabs of Captain Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush), who have their own quite unusual reasons for wanting to get their hands on the medallion and its owner…

Well, this is a big, lavish, undeniably spectacular blockbuster, and you’d have to be a tiny bit shrivelled up inside not to find it at least a little agreeable. It has people walking the plank, it has a full-on sea battle between two sets of pirates, it has some very distinguished sword-fighting, and the special effects aren’t bad either (although not up to the standard of the classic Ray Harryhausen sequences they’re clearly a homage to). But these are not what make the film such fun.

What brings the film to life is Johnny Depp’s extraordinary turn as Captain Jack Sparrow, a staggering, swaggering, addle-brained rogue who comes across as a strange hybrid of Gypsy fortune-teller and Keith Richards from The Rolling Stones. He really, really earns his fee, investing every line and movement with a knowingly peculiar twist of some kind, and he’s by far the funniest lead character in a blockbuster for many years – big kudos to Depp for pulling it off, and much respect to the producers for letting him try in the first place. Best of all, it allows the rest of the film to engage in some very off-beat humour without it seeming out of place, and a supporting cast containing many familiar faces from British sitcoms (Mackenzie Crook, Kevin McNally, Jack Davenport) is ideally suited to this kind of material.

And to be honest this gives Pirates a mad energy and distinctiveness it sorely needs. This is a good script, and it’s handsomely mounted, but Verbinski’s direction is rather bland and uninspired (a few CGI shots notwithstanding). With a visionary like Terry Gilliam at the helm this could have been a hilarious, chilling classic – as it is, it’s just a fun night out, a bit overlong, with romantic leads most notable for their good looks and rarely any sense of darkness or danger. Still, a distinctly superior adventure, and you’re never in any doubt as to whom to thank for it.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published 27th July 2006:

Hello again everyone, and with the fifth anniversary of this column’s first appearance soon upon us, not to mention another (hopefully temporary) cessation of service not far behind, I thought it would be appropriate to briefly look at the state of cinemas today. Yes, that’s cinemas the buildings, not cinema the art form. I remember the rush of disbelief, verging on awe, when the first multiplex opened in my hometown back in 1989. Ten screens! Ten of them! Five times as many as the existing cinema! Imagine the surprise! Imagine the possibilities! No film would ever struggle to get shown again! In this giant temple to the art of film, there would surely be a place for all styles, all genres – something for everyone! All tastes could be catered to at once!

Well, sort of. Last week my local ten-screen cinema was, on a Saturday afternoon, showing a grand total of four different films. It was just that Superman Returns and Pirates of the Caribbean were each on four screens simultaneously, with Over the Hedge and Just My Luck just about scraping a screen each. It’s almost as if the company was putting profit ahead of catering to varied tastes… oh, hush my cynical mouth!

I have actually been to see Superman and Pirates, cos they’re both my sort of film. The thing is that there are lots of other things which are my sort of film too, but they’re just not profitable enough to warrant multiplex-space these days. Anyway, less whinging and more reviewing: starting with Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns. Oddly enough for a man these days best-known for superhero adaptations (this film and the first two X-pictures), Bryan Singer has cheerfully admitted he didn’t read comics as a boy and isn’t really that familiar with the characters. However he is a big fan of the classic Richard Donner Superman movie. This is very, very obvious to anyone who’s seen both Donner’s movie and Singer’s, because Superman Returns is much more interested in Superman the movie than Superman the character.

The plot is, to put it mildly, straightforward: Superman (Brandon Routh) returns to Earth after a five-year pilgrimage to the remains of his homeworld Krypton. But things have moved on in his absence. Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has a fiancée (James Marsden) and a toddler. The world has learned to cope without him. It’s enough to give the Man of Steel insecurity issues. But he need not fear, for his baldy nemesis Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey enjoying himself) has somewhat implausibly got out of jail and has embarked upon another deranged and cataclysmic real estate scam, which is bound to keep him occupied.

Well, there are many good things that can be said about Superman Returns. It’s a classy production which has clearly been a labour of love for many of those involved in its creation. The new Superman is cleverly cast and likeable, the new Luthor gives a witty performance, the special effects are eyecatching and it has a wonderful score. Unfortunately all these things could just as accurately have been said about the 1978 movie (and most of them probably were). It’s not just that this film doesn’t escape from the shadow of its predecessor, it doesn’t even want to.

This is a shame for all sorts of reasons. Brandon Routh does well in a very, very tough job, but any possibility of his performance not being endlessly compared to that of the late Christopher Reeve is removed by a script which even goes so far as to reprise some of the dialogue of the original film. There’s barely a gag, a beat or a plot twist that isn’t revisited here in some form or other and the tone and style is slavishly reproduced. This is quite a slow film with a lot of special effects sequences but very little action. Back in the 70s, the technology simply wasn’t there to put some of Superman’s more spectacular opponents up on the screen, but the recent Marvel movies have proven this is no longer the case. Bryan Singer’s choice to make this a more mature and stately movie isn’t necessarily wrong, but it does drain the film of a lot of the energy and fun of the comic books.

What’s actually new about Superman Returns is a bit of a mixed bag. For most of its duration, this is a light and almost whimsical movie, which makes the inclusion of some quite brutal violence all the more jarring. James Marsden gets more to do here as the sidekick of a sidekick than he did as leader of the X-Men in three movies combined (but that’s not really much to do with this film). The only central performance that falls down is Kate Bosworth’s, who doesn’t make much impression at all (Jonathan Ross memorably described an appearance by her on his chat show as being like trying to interview a piece of furniture). There is a major and rather startling plot twist which if nothing else strongly implies that either this movie must be in continuity with Superman II or that the writers haven’t read Larry Niven’s classic article Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex. There’s a brief bit near the end that seems inspired by one of the most famous Superman stories of the 1990s, but once again it doesn’t really go anywhere.

Superman has lasted nearly 70 years because the character can be reimagined and reinvented by every new generation of writers, artists and fans. Since the first Donner picture the mythos has effectively been reconstituted as a romantic comedy and a teenage rites-of-passage story, and that’s just on TV. A new Superman for the 21st century has a lot of potential themes to deal with, especially given the character’s status both as global policeman and American icon, and modern effects technology is capable of putting any comic panel up on screen. To make a movie so determinedly backwards-looking strikes me as a massive missed opportunity. This is well-made and entertaining, but it’s not a movie in its own right so much as the longest cover version in history.

Moving on, some good news: Captain Jack is back! But that’s enough about Torchwood. Sticking with the cinema, the unlikely alliance of Walt Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer brings us the appropriately bizarre spectacle of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, directed by Gore Verbinski. The startlingly humungous box-office this little flick has already racked up makes my opinion of it rather surplus to requirements, but looking back I see that’s never stopped me in the past. So…

It must be said this movie presumes heavily upon the viewer either having recently seen the original or possessing a detailed knowledge of it from a large number of not-so-recent viewings (this is a roundabout way of saying there isn’t a recap at the start). The titular receptacle is the possession of mollusc-headed sea-demon Davy Jones (no, not the guy from The Monkees), portrayed by Bill Nighy and a bucketload of CGI effects, and the rather complicated plot revolves around everyone wanting to get their hands on it for various reasons. Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, giving what we can probably now safely describe as an iconic performance) wants it because he’s sort of sold his soul to Davy Jones and needs it to bargain with. Will Turner (Landy Bloom) wants it for reasons involving his undead father, whose fate was never quite explained in the first movie. Disgraced toff Norrington (Jack Davenport) wants it to help him regain his station in life. Keira Knightly wanders about the movie as Elizabeth Swann (presumably so named because she’s a bird with a long neck), being almost (but not quite) entirely decorative.

Yeah, I’m not doing a very good job with the synopsis, but then it is terribly complex and takes a long time to get going. (It’s nearly two hours into the movie before the three leads meet up.) Do not let this put you off, should you not have seen this movie, because this is a movie that can definitely be described as a rollicking adventure, with copious amounts of entertainment value. As before, its success is due to a combination of outrageous stunts and effects sequences, eye-catching fantasy and horror, and unexpectedly offbeat humour. Johnny Depp acts Bloom and Knightly off the screen as you’d expect – that’s if ‘acts’ is quite the right word for it — but Nighy is also good value, as usual, and the junior members of the cast do justice to the jokes. Practically everyone from the first movie comes back and gets something interesting to do, which is neat trick, while there is good work from newcomers Stellan Skarsgard, Naomie Harris, and Tom Hollander.

The success of the first film seems to have emboldened its creators because this one ups the ante in virtually every department. Bigger fights and effects! More grotesque fantasy-horror! Even zanier jokes! Unfortunately, one of the side effects of this is that the movie has bloated to a frankly unnecessary two-and-a-half hours in length. It’s never actually slow or dull throughout that time, but one gets a definite feeling that this is still too much of a good thing. It doesn’t help that this film doesn’t actually have a proper ending, stopping instead in mid-plot on a cliffhanger (okay, a pretty good one), setting up next year’s World’s End (which apparently has Chow Yun-Fat in it, Hong Kong fans). Also less than fully satisfying are the writers’ attempts to set the heroic trio at odds with each other — while they effectively underline what an unreliably amoral character Sparrow is, the attempt to create some emotional darkness and genuine character conflict feels a bit of an afterthought, surely to be resolved in the next movie. I would also have commented on how, for a franchise called Pirates of the Caribbean, very little in the way of actual piracy goes on — but very wisely, the writers have beaten me to it by putting a complaint to that effect in the mouth of bandana-loving thespian Kevin McNally. Hey ho…

Readers of long standing may recall that I wasn’t that impressed by Curse of the Black Pearl and I must confess that I didn’t have particularly high hopes for this latest installment. However, despite its faults, I thought this was a hugely entertaining movie, practically perfect popcorn fodder. Its obvious desire to match Lord of the Rings in scale and impact is a bit overambitious, but this is still a remarkably accomplished and witty movie, considering its origins as a theme park ride. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this one, but I am the next.

Well, this week both the man from Krypton and the buccaneers slumped back to a mere three screens apiece, allowing some lesser productions a look-in, and one of these was Geoffrey Sax’s Stormbreaker, a jolly romp of a kids’ film with an all-star cast of talented and much-loved actors and Jimmy Carr.

If James Bond and Harry Potter got together and had a baby… no, hang on, that’s just eurgh. If Ian Fleming and JK Rowling got together and… mmm, that’s nearly as bad. I suspect you’re getting the drift, anyway. Alex Pettyfer plays Alex Rider, an average London schoolboy (average if you’re willing to overlook the fact that he’s clearly about three years older than everyone else in his class). As an orphan, he lives with his uncle (Ewan MacGregor, briefly appearing) and au pair-stroke-housekeeper (Alicia Silverstone, not appearing briefly enough), but this fairly happy existence is shattered when his uncle dies. Alex learns the incredible truth – not only was his uncle a top British spy, but all those adventure holidays and other activities they did together were actually his uncle’s attempts to train him as his replacement!

(Since seeing this film I have wondered if all the things my uncle encouraged me to do when I was younger might have been for a similar reason. But as they mainly revolved around my drinking vast amounts of falling-down water and then lying to his girlfriend when she asked me where he was, I doubt it, unless he had me in mind for a job in the Royal household.)

This is actually quite good news for Alex, as previously he looked more likely to get an ASBO than a licence to kill. Anyway his new bosses (Sophie Okonedo and Bill Nighy, again) pack him off to Wales for survival training (insert your own joke here) and then send him to poke about in the business dealings of peculiar computer tycoon Darrius Sayle (Mickey Rourke, who appears to have had himself varnished and actually wears eyeshadow in most of his scenes). Needless to say Sayle is up to no good and intends to commit a ghastly revenge upon the British people for… well, that’d be telling.

I had vague misgivings about Stormbreaker on the way in, as it’s based on a book by Anthony Horowitz (the brain behind wretched 90s TV sci-fi cock-up Crime Traveller), directed by Geoffrey Sax (who also helmed the shocking American Doctor Who telemovie) and part-funded by the UK Film Council (responsible for a roll-call of terrible movies too grim and lengthy to recount here). Remarkably, however, the collaboration here is a very fruitful and enjoyable one. Unlike the other two films also covered this week, it doesn’t outstay its welcome and zips along very cheerfully with some impressive stunts and action throughout — though while Hong Kong legend Donnie Yen gets a credit as fight choreographer, the actual martial arts stuff isn’t particularly special. (Alicia Silverstone gets a hugely entertaining kung fu fight with Missi Pyle though.)

This is quite cleverly pitched so that, while the kids are enjoying all the teenage wish-fulfillment stuff, the adults can play spot the star cameo (choose from the likes of Andy Serkis, Stephen Fry, and Robbie Coltrane) or, more challengingly, spot the rip-off from the Bond franchise. (Some of these are quite obscure.) The adult cast join in with this sort of thing and the British contingent largely give entertainingly tongue-in-cheek performances. Bill Nighy’s twitchingly neurotic spymaster is particularly good fun. The Americans, on the other hand, just go roaringly over-the-top at all times. The tone of the film is a bit uneven as a result — at first it looks like this is going to have a bit of emotional darkness and reality to it, but in the end it’s not that far removed from a Spy Kids movie. I suppose that’s what you get for including a sequence with an animatronic jellyfish…

All in all, though, this is good fun throughout, provided you don’t pause to consider how insanely implausible it all is. With the proper Bond franchise apparently making one of its regular detours into more gritty and naturalistic territory, there’s a definite gap in the market for this sort of thing and Stormbreaker deserves to find a place amongst the bigger beasts of the summer.

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