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Posts Tagged ‘Jason Momoa’

I’m not going to beat around the bush – I’m just going to come straight out and tell you this. Julie Andrews, movie legend, international treasure, beloved (it would seem) of millions, has decided to lend her talents to her first live-action movie in nearly ten years. Now, if you had told me this a couple of days ago, I would have said ‘Ha ha! Secret cameo! But of course. It was inevitable,’ in the full and certain knowledge of which film she was coming out of (semi-)retirement for. But I was wrong. She is not in the movie you would expect her to be in. Instead, Julie Andrews is playing a giant kaiju-esque sea monster living in a mystical subterranean ocean in James Wan’s Aquaman. This is one of those facts that causes me to wonder if I am having some kind of psychological episode, or at the very least have eaten the wrong kind of cheese.

On the other hand, it does give you a general sense of the kind of tenor of Aquaman, which is in no way the film I would have expected a year or so ago. With Marvel Studios cheerfully pumping out three films a year on a regular basis, it feels – perhaps unfairly – a little surprising that their rivals at Warner Brothers/DC should basically have taken most of 2018 off, as we’ve seen nothing from them since last November’s could-have-been-much-worse Justice League. On the other hand, the DC movie line has routinely been met with such eviscerating reviews (I put my hand up unashamedly) and use of words like ‘omni-crisis’ that it’s entirely understandable they should take a breather, listen to what people are saying, and rethink what they’ve been doing. Aquaman is definitely a change of gear.

Thirty-odd years ago, lonely lighthouse keeper Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison) is startled to find a woman (Nicole Kidman) in an outlandish outfit washed up during a storm. After  a bumpy start (she eats his goldfish and sticks a trident through the TV while Stingray is showing – clearly not a Gerry Anderson fan) romance blossoms between the two of them. It turns out she is Atlanna, queen of Atlantis, in self-imposed exile to avoid an arranged marriage. The pair of them end up having a kid, before her past resurfaces (sorry) and she is forced to leave them both and return to the underwater world.

The child is named Arthur and grows up to become the definition of a strapping lad (Jason Momoa), who leads a fairly carefree life when not appearing in other movies as ‘the metahuman known as the Aquaman’ (note the addition of the definite article – which I don’t recall ever seeing applied to the comics version of the character – in an attempt to somehow make him seem more mature and portentous), as he can swim at incredible speeds, breathe water, and talk to fish (historically the source of some embarrassment to writers of Aquaman), in addition being very big and tough.

The movie has been practically dancing along so far, but at this point the plot kicks in, which is fair enough – but as much of the exposition is delivered by Dolph Lundgren, with CGI magenta hair, while riding on a prehistoric sea monster, I was rather distracted and not in the best state to take it all in. Basically it goes a little something like this: Arthur’s younger half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) is intent on uniting the various splintered kingdoms of Atlantis and having himself declared Ocean Master. His plan to achieve this is to provoke a war between the people of the ocean and those living on the surface. Already King Nereus of Xebel (Lundgren) has signed up.

However, Nereus’ daughter Mera (Amber Heard) and Orm’s vizier Vulko (Willem Dafoe) recognise a mad scheme when they hear one and have a plan to stop it. This involves persuading Arthur to press his claim to the throne of Atlantis and go off on an epic quest to retrieve the magic trident which is one of the symbols of power in the sunken city. Orm, naturally, is not pleased when he learns of all this, and despatches a high-tech pirate calling himself Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) to stop them…

Now, I became aware of Aquaman at a fairly young age, along with most of the other core DC characters. At this point he was still a fairly nondescript chap in an orange shirt whose signature ability (talking to fish) didn’t really match up to running at the speed of light, having an invisible plane, or being able to shoot heat rays out of your eyes. Various attempts to make Aquaman a bit more interesting as a character ensued over the years, with the most effective (if you ask me) being the one done by Peter David (credited on this movie) in the middle 1990s – this would be the version of Aquaman with the attitude, the beard, the gladiator vest and the hook replacing one of his hands. Do I detect the influence of the David Aquaman on this movie? Well, Momoa obviously has the beard and the attitude, so maybe, although ultimately they go back to the orange shirt costume, and don’t bother with the hook (someone did point out it would make it difficult for Aquaman to go to the bathroom, although I’ve never been able to work out how the sanitation in Atlantis would function anyway).

Momoa basically plays Aquaman (or Ah-quaman, as some of the people here pronounce it) as a not-especially-bright bro, a take on the character which works in this context even if it’s not particularly authentic to the comics. It’s a perfectly good, charismatic performance, although I suspect the best he can hope for is a Chris Hemsworth level of stardom, where people will flock to see him only if he’s playing one particular role. Perhaps I’m damning with faint praise, for Momoa does do the heavy lifting when it comes to carrying what’s a big, hefty movie.

Anyone expecting the kind of industrial gloom of something touched by the hand of Zach Snyder will be in for a big surprise, for there is a very different sensibility at work here: this is a light, fun fantasy epic, somewhat influenced by a bunch of other recent blockbusters (and not just ones from Marvel Studios), with its own very distinct aesthetic – there are garishly-coloured vistas throughout, and all manner of unlikely CGI critters (including, and we mustn’t forget this, Julie Andrews). Perhaps they are overcompensating somewhat, for the grim-and-gloomy of the earlier films has been replaced by a tone which is often as camp as Christmas (shrewd choice of release date, guys), sometimes absurdly so, with a rainbow-hued fluorescent colour-scheme.

In the end, popcorn fun results, thanks to a script which hangs together well and doesn’t worry about too many other DC references (there’s an attempted HP Lovecraft in-joke at one point, but they seem to have chosen the wrong book). The film has an interesting, eclectic cast who do good work, on the whole – personally, I can’t believe I’ve turned up to see a major Hollywood release featuring Dolph Lundgren two weeks in a row. His appearance here isn’t as good as the one in Creed II, but could we nevertheless be seeing the start of a Lundgrenaissance? Fingers crossed. I’m not entirely sure what Black Manta contributes to the movie beyond a major second-act action sequence, but then again the character is saddled with an especially silly costume design.

Aquaman is such a change of pace for the DC movies series that I’m genuinely curious to hear what fans of these films make of it – apparently there were a lot of complaints that Joss Whedon’s cut of Justice League was just too entertaining and faithful to the comics, and that Snyder’s depressing and misconceived vision should be respected and preserved. We’re off into a whole new world of camp nonsense with this film, and on its own terms it works just fine – I imagine it will do rather well for itself, although this does seem like an unusually crowded Christmas for aspiring blockbusters (in the absence of a stellar conflict movie, everyone seems to be piling in). I’m not sure if this approach will work for any other characters in the DC stable, but then again maybe the trick will be to not worry about the consistency of tone which has been such a mixed blessing for the Marvel films. I don’t think Aquaman has quite the same quality as Wonder Woman, but it’s still a very enjoyable piece of silliness, much better than any of the other recent DC films – fingers crossed they can keep this standard up in future.

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Someone appears to have declared this to be Old Git Action Month, for the ancient stone gods of the genre have risen from their stately thrones and are lumbering about the place making the dull honking noises that was ever their primary mode of communication. First of all we had Arnold Schwarzenegger, not exactly back with a bang in The Last Stand, and, close upon his heels, here comes Sylvester Stallone, starring in Walter Hill’s Bullet to the Head: a movie so utterly in thrall to its own genre conventions it practically reviews itself.

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This is a film with a slight problem on the Silly Name front. Stallone plays New Orleans hitman Jimmy Bobo, who is going about his business as usual with his partner (obviously, he has a code of honour, which he appears to have bought pre-owned from a character in a Luc Besson movie). However – and don’t bother to stop me if you’ve heard this one before – the duo find themselves set up while on what appeared to be a routine job, and his partner is offed.

In town to investigate the killings is strait-laced Washington PD detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang), whose investigative skills seem to be limited to googling people on his smartphone. Nevertheless, Kwon tracks down Bobo and convinces him that they should team up to find whoever ordered the hit in the first place.

On paper it sounds somewhat complex, and I suppose it is a bit, but what it all boils down to is Kang googling people on his smartphone (seriously, he’s never off the damn thing, and Stallone even mocks him for his dependence on it – I thought this was all building up to a climactic gag where Kang would actually use the phone to kill someone and resolve the plot, but no) so that he and Stallone can drive round there and shoot them (sometimes after roughing them up a bit). It all turns out to be about local civic corruption, but even this plot gets peremptorily switched off so Stallone and featured bad guy Jason Momoa can have a set-piece fight with axes.

Walter Hill has been knocking out movies like this for well over thirty years, and this is hardly one of his better productions. As loud, bloody, extremely macho and formulaic action thrillers go, it’s okay – red-blooded old-school fans of this sort of thing will probably find it passable, but the whole thing stews in its own testosterone to the extent that anyone else will probably find it a bit objectionable.

For example, most of the female characters, and both of the significant ones, have at least one nude scene, usually relatively lengthy. And it’s a bit bemusing that Sung Kang was specifically cast in this movie (replacing Tom Jane) in order to give it ‘wider ethnic appeal’ when the treatment of his character is arguably quite racist: Stallone gets to make numerous cracks, calling him Confucius, Oddjob, Kato, and so on. And quite apart from that, his character is just insipid – he’s not Stallone’s partner, he’s a whiny sidekick who goes on and on about his phone and about how, when all this is over, he’s going to have bring Stallone to justice for being a hitman (no prizes for guessing whether he does or not). He comes across as weak and dorky.

Then again, the film isn’t looking to give anyone equal billing with Stallone, for this is his vehicle. For a pensioner, he looks in frankly alarmingly good shape – he gets a lengthy fight sequence in his pants, which I can’t imagine any other actor of his age agreeing to, and faces off with the half-his-age Jason Momoa quite convincingly. His face appears to be permanently stuck in an expression of hangdog wounded cynicism, and his voice is virtually a gravelly monotone (he can vary the volume but not, apparently, the pitch), but I think this was probably always the case.

The thing about The Last Stand is that at least it has the novelty value of being Arnie’s first starring role in nearly a decade. Stallone’s been plugging away doing this sort of thing almost non-stop since the 80s. There’s a vague attempt to acknowledge Stallone’s back catalogue and screen persona, but he could have made this film twenty years ago with only the tiniest of changes. As a lowest-common-denominator action thriller it is perfectly serviceable, but it’s also thoroughly mediocre and a tiny bit pointless. Maybe Arnie and Sly should get together for a – oh, God, no, I’ve just remembered that they already have. As you were, gentlemen.

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Anyone up for a spot of treading the jewelled thrones of the Earth under their sandalled feet? Well, someone obviously thinks there’s some interest in that sort of thing, as they have knocked out a new movie based on Robert E Howard’s invincibly buff troublemaker, entitled – as you’d expect – Conan the Barbarian. Directing this time around is Marcus Nispel and playing the Cimmerian himself is Jason Momoa.

Is this a remake of the 1981 movie starring His Arnieship or a whole new take on Howard’s original stories? I don’t think it makes much difference. Set in a mythical way-back-when, it all kicks off with Conan being born on the battlefield where his mother has declined to take maternity leave (from somewhere she has managed to find chain-mail maternity wear – look, if you’re going to start asking awkward questions this early in the movie, I really wouldn’t bother at all), skips forward through his astoundingly violent young manhood, then on to the destruction of his village and death of his father (Ron Perlman, possibly cast due to his playing Conan in an unfinished animated movie, but a good choice anyway) at the hands of a passing megalomaniac Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang). This gentleman is intent on collecting plot coupons which will allow him to resurrect his wife, open the gates of hell, give him overlordship of the world as we know it, etc, etc – plot coupons being worth a bit more in days gone by.

Well, years go by, Conan grows up into the strapping form of Momoa, but remains intent on taking revenge against Zym when not being a reaver, buccaneer, freebooter, and all the other things on his CV. Zym, on the other hand, is still looking for coupons, the last one being the final descendant of an ancient bloodline: she is played by Rachel Nichols, her name is Tamara, and she is a monk. No, really – she states her career choice on a couple of occasions. Why is she a monk and not a nun? My money is on this being the result of a really thick-headed script and/or a suspicion that the audience might not be quite on-side with the idea of Conan getting it on with a nun. Whether they’ll be happier with the idea of Conan getting it on with a monk I really doubt, but I’m absolutely certain this is a really thick-headed script.

So Conan ends up protecting Tamara from Zym and his nutty witch daughter Marique (Rose McGowan), with the aid of his old buddies Artus (Nonso Anozie) and Ela-Shan (Said Taghmoui) – hmm, my spellchecker has just gone off weeping. The names of characters and places just slide out of your head, anyway, but you always know what’s going on as it’s all straight out of the Big Book of Heroic Fantasy Cliches: Barbarian Warrior, Aristocratic Love-interest, Wisecracking Sidekick, Aspiring Despot, Insane Evil Girl Minion and so on. Swords get swung, body parts get chopped off, fake blood splashes in remarkable quantities, and, well, er, it’s all very mechanical and rather familiar.

In fact, this is very much the direct descendant of any number of ropey, generic fantasy movies that got made in the Eighties and Nineties. There’s nothing original about the characterisation or plot, and the world of the movie is drawn so vaguely that you really have nothing to engage with. Very occasionally the film has a moment of insanely over-the-top machismo – such as at the beginning, where Conan’s mum, mortally wounded, gives herself a quick C-section in order to make sure he’ll be okay – that elevates it to a level of camp absurdity that I found rather endearing, but all too often it continues to wallow in the realms of the predictable.

I’m not a great fan of heroic fantasy anyway, to be honest, especially in its American idiom – given the choice I’ll take Elric over Conan any day – but I do have a certain fondness for Robert E Howard’s original stories. Maybe Howard was a bit of a hack, but his stories have a robust honesty about them that I find rather appealing, and his setting is distinctive. I would say this movie is probably closer to Howard than the 1982 version, but only marginally so.

If nothing else, Jason Momoa looks the part as Conan (possibly – heresy ahoy! – even more than Schwarzenegger did), but all the performances here are forgettable (with the possible exception of McGowan, who’s just plain bad). The script, as I mentioned, is thick-headed, and the direction nothing special. And yet I find it hard to actually dislike this film. It’s not much cop, and yet it’s still very far from being the worst film in this genre, and even those based on Howard’s works. That’s an indictment of the low standard of epic fantasy movies in general, I suppose: with a very few, very obvious exceptions, no literary genre has been as poorly served on the big screen as fantasy. Something tells me we shouldn’t be surprised that Conan the Barbarian continues this trend – in any case, it certainly does.

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