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Posts Tagged ‘Ryan Reynolds’

‘Why are there two enormous bald angry men in this trailer?’

I couldn’t tell if Sagacious Dave sounded more aggrieved or suspicious. ‘Because the third enormous bald angry man fell out with the second one,’ I said (I decided not to go into details of the Vin Diesel/Dwayne Johnson tiff just at that moment).

Sagacious Dave grumphed. Once again, I couldn’t really believe my luck: having talked the ursine Head of Advanced Erudition from my workplace into going to see The Meg with me last year (as readers with long memories and short change may recall), and his making vaguely positive noises about it, I took the chance on suggesting we go and see this year’s Jason Statham film as well. He had insisted on seeing the trailer first, though.

In the end the Sagacious One said yes, and off we went to the cinema, accompanied by one of his children (I wasn’t sure if the offspring actually wanted to see the movie or just see with his own eyes what the patriarch of the family did in his spare time). As it turned out, if Sagacious Dave had known going in that this was a Fast & Furious movie, I would have had a much harder job talking him into it, as he had seen one of the duff early sequels and not enjoyed it. But he hadn’t so I didn’t and there we were watching David Leitch’s Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw like two serious-minded education professionals (plus a grown-up child).

Never mind that this is officially a spin-off from the long-running Fast & Furious franchise, this coming together of genial Dwayne Johnson and Mr Jason Statham feels somehow fated. I know they’ve technically been together in the last two F&Fs, but on this occasion the movie can dispense with all the supporting cast of sidekicks and just let the pair of them get on with it, which basically boils down to frowning a lot and property damage.

There is something pleasingly purist about the straightforwardness of the plot. Some evil transhumanist terrorists have stolen a plot McGuffin and an MI6 team is sent to steal it back (some iffy editing strongly indicates their secret base is in an underground car-park under St Paul’s Cathedral in London, but I doubt this is intentional). Leading the team is Hatty Shaw (Vanessa Kirby), who is of course Mr Statham’s little sister. Things take on some of the proportions of a citrus fruit when they encounter lead terrorist operative Idris Elba, who has been given the strikingly dubious name of ‘Brixton’ and basically turned into MACH One from the old 2000AD comic. Brixton frames Hatty Shaw for the death of her own team and forces her to go on the run, having downloaded the McGuffin into her own body (of course).

Now, it turns out that Mr Hobbs and Mr Shaw are both already on the case, as depicted through a lively sequence using more split screen effects than have been seen in a movie theatre since about 1971. ‘Who are you?’ growls a bad guy, supplying this feed line with an admirably straight face. ‘I’m a giant sized can of whup-ass,’ replies genial Dwayne, who also manages to deliver this immortal dialogue deadpan. ‘Funny, I’d have thought that would have broken,’ observes Mr Statham, over in his bit of the sequence, having beaten about six people unconscious with a champagne bottle which has miraculously remained intact. Oh, friends, the joy – the joy.

Now, believe it or not, you can’t just have these two walloping people for the whole movie, and the script dutifully obliges by crowbarring in scenes establishing the moral premise of Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw. Mr Hobbs gets a scene with his young daughter (who has had a facelift since F&F 8) and Mr Shaw gets a scene with his mum (still Helen Mirren, who has clearly realised this is the kind of film where you don’t have to worry too much about acting), and it turns out both of them are carrying an inner sadness, because they are estranged from their families. Could it be that all the chasing about and hitting people that will come over the next two hours will bring about a rapprochement? Hint: yes.

So, the CIA (embodied by an uncredited Ryan Reynolds, who is roaringly OTT even by the standards of this kind of film) puts genial Dwayne and J-Stat together to find Hatty Shaw and the missing McGuffin (‘No ****ing way!’ howl the duo in unison) and hopefully fend off the marauding Brixton. They chase about London for a while and blow a lot of it up. Then they go to an evil base in Russia and chase about there for a while, blowing much of that up too (the evil base is clearly meant to be under the Chernobyl plant, but this has been snipped from the script presumably because they don’t want to be seen to be jumping on the bandwagon of that TV show). Then they all go off to Samoa to blow most of there up too (Cliff ‘Maori Jesus’ Curtis appears as Mr Hobbs’ elder brother).

On the way out I asked Sagacious Dave what he’d thought of it (his son had been sitting between us so I hadn’t heard his reaction to the choicer moments of the film). ‘That was very congruent,’ he said, with a beatific smile upon his face. It turned out this meant he thought it cleaved very admirably to the requirements of the action movie genre. And indeed it does: lots of cars and even a few buildings are demolished, Mr Statham gets to beat up multiple people simultaneously in more than one scene, and genial Dwayne gets to do a Samoan war dance before dragging a helicopter out of the sky using sheer muscle power. (If, as has been suggested, the fight scenes are carefully choreographed so both stars take exactly the same number of punches, for contractual reasons, it is not at all obvious.) But it also entertains mightily as a knockabout comedy film, with the two leads sparring breezily and overcoming some very Carry On-level humour. Thankfully the film does have a sense of its own ridiculousness and plays up to this just enough: it is, of course, absurd to suggest that Dwayne Johnson (an actor so monolithic that compared to him J-Stat is described as the ‘small, subtle’ one) can evade an international manhunt by putting on a cap and a false moustache, but it’s such an amusing idea that the movie gets away with it. Only when Kevin Hart comes on to do the actual comic relief do things feel a bit laboured and you wish they’d get on with it.

They even find time to include the necessary character beats and reflective moments as the film continues, and we learn a bit of the back-story of both lead characters (Mr Shaw’s history has become a bit confusing, and his reinvention as misunderstood anti-hero kind of glosses over the fact he murdered Sung Kang in F&F 3, 6, and 7, but hey ho). But Leitch knows not to get too bogged down in this stuff and soon we are back to moments of priceless cinematic gold like Eddie Marsan running amok with a flamethrower or Idris Elba being head-butted in slow-motion.

Needless to say, the action choreography is lavish and immaculate, as you would expect from a movie on this scale. I think there is a strong case to be made that the Fast & Furious films have really displaced the Bond franchise as cinema’s big, brash, outrageous action series – they don’t have quite the same wit or classiness, but they don’t take themselves too seriously, know how to stick to a winning formula, and they are almost irresistibly entertaining, especially when they’re fronted by actors like Johnson and Statham.

That said, we are told that Fast & Furious 10 will mark the end of the series. Happily, though, it looks very much like future Hobbs & Shaw movies are on the cards, separate to all of that. Does the Fast & Furious series really need Vin Diesel and all of that Los Angeles street racer malarkey? On the evidence of this film, I would say not. This is a very silly film, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a lot of fun, too.

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Wood floats, death gets you in the end, the total entropy of a closed system can never decrease, and if a movie makes nearly $800 million off a $60 million budget, it’s a rock-solid certainty that there’s going to be a sequel to it. So it proves, with the arrival of Deadpool 2, directed by David Leitch this time around. Why would you sack Tim Miller, the director of the first one (which, as I believe I mentioned, turned a tidy profit)? Well, creative differences, not to put too fine a point on it: especially when those differences were with Ryan Reynolds, who in addition to playing the title role, on this occasion also co-produces and co-writes the movie. Now, Reynolds is another one of those amiable screen presences whom I seldom have a problem with, but it is possible to turn a movie into too much of a star vehicle, and the question is whether that’s happened with this film. (There’s also the question of whether we need yet another Marvel-originated superhero extravaganza featuring a stony-faced Josh Brolin on the rampage, given it’s only about three weeks since the last one demolished all sorts of records, but first things first.)

Various things happen at the start of Deadpool 2 which would probably constitute spoilers if I went into details about them, but let’s just say they leave disfigured mercenary and general super-powered pain in the neck Deadpool (Reynolds) in a bad place, wondering what his role in the world is. Needless to say his old pal Colossus, a nine-foot-tall Russian made of organic steel, has an idea about this: Deadpool should join the X-Men and do his bit to put his powers to responsible use.

Of course, because Deadpool is a violent sociopath who won’t shut up, this plan does not really work out, and Wilson finds himself packed off to mutant prison with a troubled young man who has flamey-zapping powers (I still maintain the single stroke of genius at the heart of the X-Men franchise – or is it just a convenient plot device? – is the fact that ‘mutant genes’ mean you can give just about anyone any conceivable ability without having to justify or rationalise it in any way) and looks up to Deadpool in a way he finds difficult to deal with. There’s also the problem that with his regenerative powers suppressed by the technology of the prison, he’s quite rapidly going to die of terminal cancer. Bummer!

However, things get even worse with the appearance on the scene of Cable (Brolin), a time-travelling cyborg warrior (the comics version of this character is a mutant, but that’s not really made clear here). Cable is here to avert dark events which will afflict the future world from which he hails, which puts Deadpool’s young associate squarely in his sights. Can Deadpool find it in him to become a heroic protector, even if only for a little while?

Well, much like the first one, this is essentially another entry in the X-Men franchise, taking place off in its own peculiar little corner of that universe, with a fairly standard superhero movie storyline made distinctive by a strong element of self-aware comedy. Or, to put it another way, while some parts of this film are genuinely accomplished effects-driven action sequences – there’s a clash between two classic characters that would not be out of place in one of the main sequence X-movies – much of the film is crass, puerile, potentially offensive, and absurd.

This is not necessarily a problem, of course, but the problem is that it is very much like the first one. Encountering a movie doing this kind of knowing and irreverent joke was a genuine novelty when the first Deadpool came out, but the essence of comedy is surprise and the unexpected, and doing the same kind of thing all over again is inevitably going to be a little problematic. Some of the best jokes were even in the trailer – they’re funny the first time you see them, but in the actual movie you’re not surprised by them, you’re waiting for them, so they inevitably have less impact. And you can also really predict the kind of jokes they’re going to do – going in, I was thinking ‘Hmmm, they’re bound to do something at the expense of Logan,’ and so it proves, in practically the very first moments of the film. Elsewhere they do repeat gags from the first film, to notably less effect, and at times the movie does seem to be scrabbling around for ideas – if this is supposed to be a semi-spoof of superheroes, why is the credits sequence a Bond parody?

That’s not to say Deadpool 2 is bereft of laughs – it isn’t, with some of the more comedy-sketch-like scenes proving very funny indeed. Quite wisely, several of the best jokes are held back for the credits sequence. I have to say, though, that for anyone connected with Marvel to be doing jokes at the expense of DC’s frankly wobbly film series just feels like bullying at the moment, even if the jokes are often pretty good ones.

Of course, Deadpool 2 has the same problem as the first one, which is that once you start to get all knowing and self-referential and ironic, it kind of sets the tone for your whole movie – and so it proves here. There are various elements of Deadpool 2‘s plot which deal with grief, and loss, and other ostensibly serious emotions, but they really, really struggle to give these things any real heft or traction, simply because Ryan Reynolds is always winking at the camera and undercutting the whole thing by making jokes about how the budget is so much bigger this time around. Guys, if you’re not going to take this movie seriously – and not taking it seriously is kind of the point of the Deadpool character –  then you can’t really expect the audience to, either.

The film’s big innovation is bringing in Brolin as Cable, another very popular comics character with a quite bafflingly complex back-story. Here he is basically just a slightly more sympathetic version of the Terminator, which doesn’t give Brolin a great deal to work with (the actor has said he found the experience less satisfying than playing Thanos in Infinity War, which doesn’t surprise me). As is the way of things these days, Brolin is under contract to reprise the part in forthcoming movies in this franchise, and it will be interesting to see if he gets more to do then (quite how all this will mesh with Marvel’s masterplan to consolidate their assets and fold the X-Men characters into the Marvel Studios films remains to be seen: a Thanos Vs Cable movie would really give Brolin a chance to shine).

I don’t know, I quite like the X-Men movies even though the formula is starting to show its age a bit. The Deadpool films are a really odd mix of material with wildly different tones and styles, some of which works much, much better than others. This second one already seems to flailing about in search of ways of staying original and funny – it succeeds, but by no means consistently. Much like its protagonist, Deadpool 2 is fun and engaging on a certain level, but it’s also a kind of a scrappy mess. But as long as these films keep making money…

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What exactly is the appropriate response when you’re sitting down in anticipation of a thoroughly profane and blood-spattered movie, only to find yourself joined in the cinema by a couple who have brought their clearly much-too-young children with them? Should you speak to them? Tell the cinema staff what’s going on? Isn’t it the staff’s responsibility anyway? Is this a mistake? Have they gone to the wrong movie, or snuck in after buying tickets to something more innocuous?

This was the situation I found myself in during the opening moments of Patrick Hughes’ The Hitman’s Bodyguard. Thankfully, I was spared the trouble of, you know, getting off my backside and actually doing something, because a minion appeared and explained the situation to the family and they promptly decamped. Which was a good thing, because I’m not sure I could really have relaxed and enjoyed this film knowing there were minors present. Then again, it has made me wonder about the degree to which one should really relax and enjoy this movie at all.

Hmmm. The movie opens with disgraced Belarussian ex-tyrant Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman, in it for the money) on trial for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court. However there is no hard evidence and witnesses keep turning up dead, so he looks like walking free. Only one man can give the testimony that will put him away – notorious hired killer Darius Kincaid (Samuel L Jackson).

The job of getting Kincaid from Manchester (where he is in the clink) to the Netherlands is given to crack Interpol agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung, currently cornering the market in ass-kicking babe roles), but there is a traitor in her organisation and Kincaid is nearly killed in an intense gun-battle on the streets of Coventry (just another day in Warwickshire, I guess). In order to get him to the court on time and in one piece, Roussel is obliged to call in Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds), a disgraced freelance protection agent – this is slightly complicated by their own history together, and the fact he blames her for the fact he’s disgraced in the first place.

Nevertheless, Bryce and Kincaid set off for the ICC together, quite clearly destined not to get along, as they are polar opposites in virtually every way: the bodyguard is uptight and methodical, his charge relaxed and spontaneous. Dukhovich’s goons are hot on their heels, the authorities can’t be trusted, and Kincaid insists on stopping off in Amsterdam where his wife (Salma Hayek) is incarcerated. No wonder there is very strong language and bloody violence throughout…

Well, it’s extremely clear what kind of movie we’re in for, practically from the word go – an action comedy buddy movie, with the two leads trading heavily on their established screen personae. Ryan Reynolds delivers the usual slightly-narcissistic snarkiness, while Samuel L Jackson basically just does his Samuel L Jackson act – being effortlessly cool and funny, while shouting a lot about, um, melon farmers. Reliable comedic material there, I think you’ll agree, and you can probably imagine the substance of most of the movie. Scathing put-downs! Crackling by-play between the two stars! Hilarious comic chemistry! Truck bombs going off in major European cities! Women and children being cold-bloodedly executed!

…er, what? Well, yes – I think this is where a lot of people are going to find themselves having issues with The Hitman’s Bodyguard, because doing a knockabout action comedy where faceless goons are scythed down like wheat is one thing, but including major terrorist acts and the murder of young children is crossing a line, if you ask me. You simply can’t put that stuff in a comedy film without it seemingly incredibly tasteless. It doesn’t give your movie any more dramatic heft, it just makes all the jokes and so on feel immensely inappropriate. This is non-negotiable. (It doesn’t surprise me to learn that this started life as a straight drama which was rewritten as a comedy in very short order. At least one more rewrite was definitely required.)

And while we’re on the subject, it strikes me as rather off that the film implies that, as recently as 2012, Belarus was a dictatorship where ethnic cleansing was going on. Now, I know that by western standards, Belarus is not a shining example of a free democratic state, but I don’t see how presenting it in this way helps matters much. It treats Belarus like a made-up cartoon nation (Oldman is certainly playing a cartoon bad guy), rather than a real place where people live today. I had the pleasure of getting to know someone from Belarus quite recently, and I would be frankly embarrassed to watch this movie with them.

Ooh, listen to me, I’m on my moral high horse a lot today, aren’t I? I should say that if you can discount the disturbingly tasteless violence and highly dubious geopolitics, The Hitman’s Bodyguard does what you would hope for, in that the action sequences are slick and competent, and the comedy stuff also gets a very satisfactory number of laughs – the flashback to Jackson and Hayek’s first meeting is probably the high point, and it’s a shame that Hayek basically disappears for the final third of the movie. As I say, this was only really a couple more drafts away from being a highly entertaining, essentially inoffensive buddy comedy.

But as things stand, I don’t know. I mean, I enjoyed most of it, and don’t really regret watching it, but it did leave kind of a bad taste in my mouth, not least because at various points it makes a big deal out of issues of morality and guilt, stressing that the moral choices people make are important. Fine in theory, guys, but you made the moral choice of including bombs going off in crowded cities and children being shot dead in your freewheeling comedy film, so what are we supposed to conclude? I’m not sure The Hitman’s Bodyguard even counts as a guilty pleasure, but I’m very glad I wasn’t watching it in the company of some very young children.

 

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I know I go on a lot about the various evils of predictable films, lack of new ideas in mainstream cinema, fear of innovation, and so on, and it does occur to me that perhaps I am making just a little bit too much fuss about this. Perhaps there is something to be said after all for movies which don’t set out to up-end expectations, mash genres beyond all recognition, or carve out a bold new niche for themselves. Familiarity isn’t always a necessarily ugly word.

I have been moved to this thought by Daniel Espinosa’s Life, which lends itself more readily than most recent films to the ‘it’s X meets Y’ game (one that I usually try not to play as a point of principle) and its numerous variations. Hey, let’s indulge ourselves for once: it’s The Quatermass Experiment meets Gravity, or The Thing set in low orbit – either of those capsule descriptions strikes me as largely accurate and highly informative as to the kind of movie this is.

Life is set in and around the International Space Station in a fairly near future (the film is intentionally vague about this). The six-person crew is very excited as the first sample of soil samples from Mars are about to arrive, and there are indications that the probe has located something truly exceptional on the Red Planet – preserved microbial life!

Well, work on the Martian cells gets under way, with appropriately strict precautions in place, and soon enough the chief boffin (Ariyon Bakare) has cultured himself a cute little Martian blobby thing. You can almost certainly guess what happens next, but anyway: there is a mishap, resulting in the organism turning aggressively hostile, and before you can say ‘Fendahl Core’ the crew are doing battle with a rapidly-growing lifeform (alien monsters, especially ones you get trapped in a confined space with, are always rapidly-growing, as any fule kno) that has already laid waste to Mars. Can they survive? And, more importantly, can they ensure that the Martian creature never reaches the planet below…?

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction suggests that at least half of all SF movies also fall into the horror category, and while I’m not sure Life contains quite enough grisliness to satisfy the most dedicated gorehounds, I suspect there’s quite enough unpleasantness here to make the average person go ‘Ewwww,’ and think about looking away. There’s a gripping sequence illustrating why you should never shake hands with an unknown alien, someone has a very unpleasant experience in a broken space-suit (this appears to have been inspired by a real-life incident from 2013), there are scenes involving flame-throwers and defibrillators (these strike me as being a knowing tip of the hat to some of Life‘s more celebrated progenitors), and so on.

The odd thing about Life is not the fact that, from the very beginning until the very end of the movie, you are never really in any doubt as to what’s going to happen next, because this is a well-worn tale, to say the least. The odd thing is that it really doesn’t matter, and in a strange way it may even add to the fun of the film – anyone with a working knowledge of how this kind of movie is structured, and why people get billed in the order they do on movie posters, probably has a very good chance of being able to work out exactly what order the various characters are going to get picked off in.

Quite apart from the gribbly alien horror elements of the story (the Martian ends up looking rather cephalopodic, which, all things considered, probably qualifies this film as being on some level Lovecraftian), the most obvious influence on Life is obviously Gravity. The new movie doesn’t have quite the same breath-taking technical virtuosity, but the fact remains that this is another film set almost entirely in zero-G, using (almost wholly) credible technology – the fact it’s so close to reality is one of the things that makes the film such fun. I’m pretty sure this film wasn’t shot on location on the ISS, but it nevertheless does a good job of first conning you into thinking that it could have been, and then making you take for granted that everyone’s casually floating around. Only at a few key moments does the film get ostentatious about its zero-G effects – at one point someone sheds a tear, and it bobbles off their face and floats away, but to be honest, most of these involve great clusters of globs of blood drifting about the place.

Lest you think this is just reheated splatter on a space station, some proper actors are participating and seem to be having fun doing so. Ryan Reynolds is the mission’s pilot and engineer, and you are reminded what an able and amiable screen presence Reynolds is; hopefully he’s not going to spend half his time playing Deadpool from now on. Rebecca Ferguson is the quarantine officer in charge of keeping the Martian from reaching Earth, although she is British, she is also part of the (US-based) Centre for Disease Control, which struck me as a little odd – alien monsters are admittedly outside the remit of Public Health England, but there’s always the WHO… Playing the station doctor is Jake Gyllenhaal, who gives a typically thought-through performance, although you can’t quite shake the impression he’s only here because his agent said ‘You know what, Jake, it’s time you did something a bit more fun for a change.’

There’s nothing tremendously exceptional about Life in any department, but it is a thoroughly competent and entertaining film. You could possibly argue that the climax of the story has rather more energy than elegance, but, once again, this hardly spoils the fun at all. If you don’t like space movies, or horror movies, or indeed horror movies set in space, then this is definitely not one for you. If this sort of thing is your cup of tea, on the other hand, this is a safe bet for a solid trip to the movies. A worthy addition to an honourable tradition.

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There’s a school of thought – which I think has some merit to it –  arguing that you can trace the death of comic books as a truly popular, mainstream medium to the middle of the 1970s. It sounds rather odd to suggest this, given that there are four Marvel and two DC movies coming out this year alone, but the theory goes that no-one has invented a truly popular new character since the 70s (one that non-comic book readers could recognise) and that while movies based on characters from the 80s and 90s have been produced (Elektra, Steel, Spawn), none of them have been artistic or commercial successes. (This of course invites the riposte that it wasn’t that long ago that the majority of comic-book movies were strikingly awful and frequently flopped, but I digress.)

Well, history may be being made in a small way, with the release of Tim Miller’s Deadpool, a movie based on a character who first appeared in 1991 – practically the day before yesterday in comics terms. Deadpool first turned up in a book called The New Mutants, which, under the arcane terms of the various licenses governing the film rights to Marvel characters, means his screen version belongs to Fox, makers of the X-Men films.

deadpool

The thing about Deadpool, an enormously popular character in comics terms, is that he to some extent is a parody or subversion of a typical superhero character. To some extent the character is a combination of two other very popular heroes, having a costume (and inability to shut up) reminiscent of Spider-Man, but a power set and worldview more like that of Wolverine. Then again, the guy is covered with swords and guns, which couldn’t be much more early-90s-comic-book. Above all this, though, is the conceit that Deadpool is aware of his own identity as a fictional character and frequently addresses the reader directly, and his various books mock and undercut those of other characters.

How are you supposed to put this in a movie? Well, when the X-Men movie people first had a go, in 2009, they didn’t much try. Deadpool sort-of appears in the first Wolverine movie, played by Ryan Reynolds, but the character is largely unrecognisable. Reynolds is back for this second attempt, and the only reference to the 2009 film is a predictably tongue-in-cheek swipe in passing.

The actual plot of Deadpool is very, very straightforward – Reynolds plays Wade Wilson, an ex-special forces soldier turned general-purpose underworld heavy, whose life changes when he falls in love with beautiful night-time-lady Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). And then it changes again, when he discovers he has terminal cancer.

In desperation, he turns to nasty British scientist Francis (Ed Skrein), who injects him with plot-device jollop and tortures him in order to activate any latent mutant genes he may possess. This works, and Wilson is left cured, with immense regenerative powers (and, it would seem, enhanced agility and reactions), but also a horribly scarred appearance. Not best pleased with Francis, Wilson adopts the masked identity of Deadpool and sets out in search of revenge…

I suspect you may hear people proclaiming that Deadpool is a radical new invention of the superhero movie that takes the genre to new and exciting places. As you can see from the plot, however, there is nothing especially innovative going on here, and – some structural inventiveness notwithstanding – the plot is ultimately procedural, with action sequences and big special effects moments in all the places you would expect.

The main new things that Deadpool does are superficial. Firstly, it drops any pretence of being made for a family audience, being chock-full of so-called mature content – heads explode, effs and jeffs are effed and jeffed, Reynolds takes his trousers off a lot, and so on. (Then again, this is far from being the first superhero movie to get a 15 certificate in the UK.) This loss of the kiddy buck seems to have spooked the studio, which is probably why the movie was made on a relatively low budget, but I suspect it’s going to do rather well.

Secondly, proceedings are brightened up considerably by the inclusion of a lot of very snarky and knowing humour, much of it at the expense of the other X-Men films (Hugh Jackman is a particular target). I laughed very hard at a lot of Deadpool, but I would also suggest that some of the jokes will be a bit impenetrable to anyone not into the comics. Deadpool talks to the audience, the shortcomings of the budget are mocked, and the conventions of the genre are ferociously spoofed.

It’s all good fun, and the film is solidly entertaining – as you might expect of a movie with Gina Carano in it. On this occasion Carano gets to have a ding-dong fight with Colossus from the X-Men (who is presented as a preachy bore on this occasion) – Carano could probably do that in real life, come to think of it. But it doesn’t figure out a way to square the circle of being post-modernly knowing and tongue in cheek on the one hand, and yet also be a properly involving story at the same time. And, one has to ask: does poking fun at your own movie for including a lot of cliches really excuse the fact that your movie includes a lot of cliches?

Deadpool will probably do very well, as I said, but I think its combination of violence, profanity, shallow cynicism, and delight in its own cleverness means it will be most enjoyed by teenagers. It’s a very cleverly and competently assembled movie, but ultimately I think it’s a lot less subversive and unconventional than its publicists would like you to believe. I enjoyed it, but if every superhero movie was like this, I think there would soon be a lot fewer of them.

 

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The colour green, so my researches on t’internet have revealed, has many and various symbolic associations – with immortality, with nature, with love and with financial prosperity. Most significantly right now, it is also famously the colour of envy. Given the truly colossal revenues raked in by the various movies spawned by Marvel Comics over the past decade and a bit – and here I’m thinking of the legion of blockbusters based on X-Men, Spider-Man, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and so on – it would be deeply surprising if their long-time rivals at DC Comics weren’t a striking verdant shade right now. The only successful movies DC have put out in the same time period are the two Christopher Nolan Batman pictures – massive popular and critical hits, to be sure, but even so…

Well, not surprisingly, DC are having another crack at big-screen success, in the form of Green Lantern, directed by Martin Campbell. Campbell, as you may know, directed two of the best Bond movies of all time, in addition to the brilliant TV thriller Edge of Darkness, so he can do the business – even if a SF-themed superhero fantasy seems a bit of a departure for him. I, as you probably don’t know but will soon be painfully aware, used to be a pretty hard-core Green Lantern fanboy. My search for a particular back-issue (the infamous #51 of the third series) is a running joke for my family. So this could turn into a bit of a bumpy ride. Oh, well, can’t be helped…

Green Lantern boils down to being the story of brilliant but irresponsible test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) whose devil-may-care antics cause all kinds of problems for his boss and sharer of unresolved sexual chemistry Carol (Blake Lively – cripes, that actually seems to be her real name). But things change when a gobbet of green energy plucks Hal off the streets and transports him to the side of a dying alien cop (Temuera Morrison, briefly), recently crashlanded thereabouts. The cop is looking for someone to take over his job, to which end he bequeaths Hal a green lantern. Why? you may be wondering. Well, let the man himself explain, in the words of the original comic:

‘A green lantern… but actually it is a battery of power… given only to selected space-patrolmen in the super-galactic system… to be used as a weapon against forces of evil and injustice…’

Well, that’s that sorted out, then. (The dialogue in the movie isn’t quite as hokey as the stuff John Broome was writing back in the 50s, but it’s a close thing.) The lantern comes with a matching ring, the wearing of which gives Hal the power to summon up anything he can think of (in any colour he wants, as long as it’s green) as well as fly through space. All these powers will come in handy as the giant space nasty that mortally wounded the cop is heading for Earth, preceded by a scientist (Peter Saarsgard), whose exposure to the cop’s corpse gives him enormous psychic powers and a bit of a swelled head…

Well. From being green-lit to hitting the screen, the gestation period for one of these enormous summer movies – which this definitely is – is about three years, which means that Green Lantern got the go-ahead just about the time that the first Iron Man was racking up some serious revenue. It’s very hard to shake the suspicion that the latter is responsible for the former. All of these movies are very similar in their structure, of course, but the characters, their development, and relationships in this film are all terribly familiar.

Of course this shouldn’t matter, and it really wouldn’t if the story was involving and witty and well-played. One of Green Lantern’s main problems is that the script is trying to do too much. The fictional GL universe is a vast and complex one with a lot of detailed back-story, and to me the movie tries too hard to include it all. Rather than letting the story open with Hal so that audiences can learn about things just as he does, everything kicks off with a sonorous voice-over talking about alien immortals and the green energy of willpower, and the fear-monster of the lost sector… I knew all this stuff already and it still seemed a bit over the top to me. Lord knows what newcomers will make of it – the villain’s not the only one who’s going to end up bulging at the occiput, I suspect.

It’s a fairly busy plot with a lot of different threads and not all of them really pull their weight (I apologise for that horribly mixed metaphor). I suspect a lot of them are here just to tickle the happy buttons of the Green Lantern fanbase, who are a dedicated bunch: a previous attempt to make this movie was abandoned when news of the project was greeted with bared fangs online (but then it was going to be a comedy, starring Jack Black). So we get voice cameos from Geoffrey Rush as Tomar-Re and Michael Clarke Duncan as Kilowog, and a just-about-in-the-flesh appearance by Mark Strong as Sinestro, including three well-known comics characters when the film only needed to use one of them to tell the story. (The ultimate bad guy is Parallax, not the original version – obviously – nor, so far as I’ve kept up with these things, the retcon that replaced him. So they’re really just using the name, then.) That said, the movie focuses very much on the core iteration of the Green Lantern character. The power comes from the ring, which has been worn by many characters down the years: Hal Jordan is the highest-profile of the main Green Lanterns but also (I would argue) the least interesting. No sign of the Alan Scott, Guy Gardner, John Stewart or Kyle Rayner versions here; perhaps one of them will make it into the sequel which this movie takes some pains to set up.

For me, however, the biggest problem with this film is that – well, parts of it are set in California. Parts of it are set elsewhere in Space Sector 2514, in the Lost Sector, and on the planet Oa at the heart of the universe. But events most frequently occur somewhere close to that peculiar realm known as the Uncanny Valley. The what? you ask, again. Well, basically, you know when you see a CGI picture that’s just a little too perfectly rendered to actually feel realistic? When it looks so real it feels fake? That’s when you’re in the Uncanny Valley.

There are great chunks of Green Lantern where practically everything you see on screen is CGI, up to and including Ryan Reynold’s costume and mask. The film looks astounding even in 2D, but you never buy into it and forget you’re watching a movie. For a film about a fairly obscure character with a silly name (I once asked Garth Ennis and John McCrea why they cracked so many jokes at Green Lantern’s expense during his guest-appearance in Hitman #s 10-12, and they basically said ‘because he’s inherently ridiculous’) you need to ground everything in reality, not keep constantly kicking the audience out of the film by throwing a new improbable-looking alien vista or creature at them.

And spectacle does take place of story to some extent. A lot of the plot unfolds via the mechanism of characters making expository speeches to one another with vast CGI landscapes in the background. There’s relatively little ring-slinging action in the movie, and it’s certainly not what you’d call a breathless thrill-ride. The focus on character brings its own rewards, of course, and Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively do well (even if Lively does seem a tad decorative).

Green Lantern is amusing and aesthetically pleasing up to a point, and the story hangs together well enough, but it’s sprawling and talky and a bit too much in love with its own universe to really satisfy as a superhero adventure. And I say this as someone who already knows the mythos and was thus in no danger of suffering info-dump overload. Newcomers may just find it a very thin and rather familiar story, swamped by rinky-dinky visuals and too many characters with funny heads. It’s not actually a bad movie, it has nice performances and a certain visual novelty to it – but it’s not close to the standard of the best of the Marvel films. Not DC’s darkest night at the cinema, but a long way from its brightest day, too.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published December 16th 2004:

Sometimes it seems you can’t keep a dead man down. David Goyer’s Blade: Trinity is the second film this year to feature Dracula as its main villain (the other, of course, was the rather overwrought CGI-fest Van Helsing). This time around he’s played by Eric Cantona lookee-likee Dominic Purcell – people seem terribly keen to bring the Count back, only to completely reimagine his image and demeanour. Very strange…

Rather cutely, in Goyer’s film Drac has been hiding out in Iraq, from whence he is extracted by a posse of vampires led by Parker Posey (who seems less keen on drinking blood than chewing up the scenery), as part of their scheme to bring about the ultimate vampiric domination of the world. The exact details of this scheme are a bit vague, but less so is their plan to sort out their dhampiric nemesis Blade (Wesley Snipes) by framing him for a series of murders he… well, he actually has been committing in the course of the previous two movies. Sure enough Blade is apprehended by the FBI and seems destined for a long spell in a rubber cell.

But help is at hand in the form of younger and chattier vampire-slayers Abigail (Jessica Biel), who’s the Buffy-clone daughter of Blade’s mentor Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), and Hannibal King (Ryan Reynolds). They also have a scheme: theirs is to rid the world of vampires forever, and it’s a bit less vague than the bad guys’. And so the stage is set for the ultimate undead rumble: Blade vs Dracula!

Okay, this may sound a rather goofy premise given the Blade series’ gritty track record but in a strange way it does go back to Blade’s earliest roots, as a supporting character in the Marvel comic Tomb of Dracula. (Sadly, Snipes does not sport the bubble-afro hairdo Blade was fond of back in the early 70s.) And one of the distinctive things about Blade: Trinity is that it is rather more comic-bookish in tone than the first two films – partly this is down to the presence of comic-book characters like King, but it’s also there in the tone of the plot and many of the action sequences.

This is hardly surprising given that, in addition to being one of Hollywood’s preferred writers of superhero movies, David Goyer writes very good comic books himself. But what is a bit unexpected is the way he falls victim to a syndrome quite common to graphic writers writing film scripts: this movie is packed with interesting ideas, but none of them are really properly developed before being abandoned in favour of something new. And he commits the basic error of focussing on new characters rather than the established stars: Snipes’ rumoured gripes about lack of screen time are arguably justified – Abigail and King get a lot of attention and most of the best lines.

But having said that, there are a lot of nice scenes and memorable moments – my favourite being the point where Dracula goes into a specialist horror store and, understandably aghast at seeing all the crappy merchandise with his name on it, slaughters everyone inside. And Snipes gives arguably his best and most rounded performance as Blade to date, making it even more of a pity he doesn’t get more to do. In the end the film resolves itself through FX-laced martial arts sequences, as usual, which Goyer handles well enough.

Compared to the first movie this is a worthy enough piece of work, but it fails to approach the quality of Guillermo del Toro’s Blade 2 in any way. Blade: Trinity will probably entertain existing fans of the franchise, but newcomers may well be left wondering exactly what the fuss is all about.

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