Film Review – Action

Blast From The Past: Batman Returns (1992)

Before Christopher Nolan all but completed the Batman franchise with his reimagining of the legendary comic book figure, there was the gothic interpretation, with Tim Burton directing and Michael Keaton returning as the Caped Crusader, after the 1989 Batman film.

One of my local cinemas occasionally puts on films of yesteryear, usually cult classics, so I’ve started a new segment called ‘Blast From The Past’ and this is the first one I’ve caught. Batman Returns was probably my favourite Batman from the 90s, but all I remember was that featured the grotesque-looking Penguin villain.

I forgot how dark the opening is, as a young Cobblepot is born but discarded into a river on Christmas. Fast-forward 33 years, and there are rumours floating around, that a Penguin-Man has been sighted and living in the sewers. And in true Tim Burton style, the film is filled with gothic stylisation and shadows aplenty. From the opening scene with costumes the Cobblepots are wearing, to the tall shadowy buildings that surround Gotham City, Burton has really dressed the screen in his gothic imagining.

Michael Keaton continues his role as Batman and protecting Gotham City, but doesn’t actually show up until the Red Triangle Gang cause havoc during the annual turning on the Christmas tree lights, with a speech by Max Shreck (Christopher Walken). Shreck is kidnapped and blackmailed by The Penguin (Danny Devito) in the aftermath, to make sure he becomes an up-standing citizen of Gotham City after being cast away by his unknown parents.

The character of The Penguin reminds of Nolan’s interpretation of The Scarecrow, being a character that has a dark persona hidden by the public figure, especially as he discovers his true name of Oswald Cobblepot. Shreck in an effort to get his dodgy power planet authorised pushes Penguin to run for mayor so they can aid and abet each other. And Danny DeVito and Walken play these characters to perfection, as you become to dislike them as people and their slimy exterior.

And of course Tim Burton continues to dress the screen in dark colours throughout the 2 hours+ running time, otherwise would it even be a Tim Burton film? But some of the sequences included within Batman Returns are incredibly dark and strange. I mentioned the opening scene, where the child is abandoned to the sewers, but also Selina Kyle’s (Michelle Pfeiffer) transformation into Catwoman, but as Hello There transforms into the statement Hell Here is just brilliant imagery by the director.

Selina Kyle does becomes integral in this story, as she discovers why Shreck is a dodgy dealer when it comes to the power plant, but also the transformation becomes one of the key turning points in the struggle for Gotham City. And that’s what happens, you become wrapped up in this film and feels like you’ve been there for hours, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing because of the enjoyment from watching a nostalgic classic on the silver screen.

That being said though, Tim Burton loves to drag out an ending doesn’t he? The climax of this film feels like it does drag on for a good half hour, but this is probably down to the three narrative interjections coming to a close. There are some cringey moments within Batman Returns from it’s one-liners, to the tight clothing of the Princess. But these issues do not necessarily overshadow the film as a whole.

The choreographed action sequences are what you would expect from the early nineties, but they are fun, especially the aerial efforts from the Red Triangle Gang. It was fun to see this film up on the big screen after all those years of not watching it, and it’s richness in texture and laced with the gothic imagery that Tim Burton just adores.

The film is not one of the classics, it’s fair to say. It’s just not. It hasn’t aged well at all. But it doesn’t matter, because the enjoyment trumps that completely. It’s two hours of over-egged performances from the star-studded cast, but it’s a fun way to spend two hours. And it’s not just Christian Bale that seems to be a moody Batman, Michael Keaton does his best at this as well.

6.9 Bats out of 11.

Spiderman: Homecoming (2017)

Spiderman: Homecoming marks the third incarnation of the character after Sony have finally allowed the Marvel Cinematic Universe to have their wicked way. Another sign that the MCU is showing no signs of releasing the stranglehold it currently holds over Hollywood.

I’m not going to lie, I enjoyed Sam Raimi’s imagining of Spiderman with Tobey Maguire at the helm and disliked Andrew Garfield’s take on the character in the rebooted follow-up. After his appearance in Captain America: Civil War, Tom Holland gets his own standalone adventure in the MCU canon.

Tom Holland’s casting does bring about the youth and innocence that the character of Spiderman was missing in the previous films, and the film itself accentuates this as he tries to harness his own powers for good. This is all but helped by his interactions with Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and Tony Stark. (Robert Downey Jr.) (yes, Ironman makes yet another appearance in a Marvel film, bore)

But rather than having Ironman as the knight in red armour coming to save the day, he takes on the mantle of the father figure mentoring Peter Parker and goads him into becoming the neighbourhood friendly spider. And that is where we find Tom Holland as Spiderman, some time has passed since the events of Civil War took place and he’s vying for the next superhero call-up.

That is until he stumbles onto the weapons being harnessed from Alien technology by The Vulture (Michael Keaton playing a different kind of Birdman) and his cronies. And suddenly (and unsurprisingly) Spiderman: Homecoming falls into the framework that has been used time and time again. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fair bit lighter than the previous Marvel ventures due to the youth, innocence and amateur-hour display from Peter Parker, but its does follow the pattern that is expected.

What has also become a staple for the Marvel Universe is the use of comedy throughout the film, and that is channelled through Ned (Jacob Batalon). Again it is a very over-egged choice of comedy, but for some reason with Spiderman: Homecoming it worked. Ned channelled the Michael Pena-esque Luis from Ant-Man, continually talking and just being hilarious with his quips.

Michael Keaton’s hard done-by Vulture character was really intriguing, especially with his backstory and how neatly the narrative fits in together. But he does rip and tears through everything Spiderman throws at him, but ultimately as it’s a Marvel films you know what is going to happen. Jon Watts did do a masterful job of building tension though between Keaton and Holland during that scene.

Spiderman: Homecoming is a largely enjoyable film in the cinema, but afterwards it becomes largely forgettable one as I’m struggling now to find memorable areas within the film. (aside from that tense scene with Keaton) What it boils down to is a coming-of-age story, especially with the Tony Stark father figure shooting him down. But the believability of this coming-of-age story weighs on Tom Holland’s shoulders. Which does work as he does struggle to find the right way to go about stopping the baddies and does mess up but it’s all with the hope of doing the right thing.

Jon Watts’ reimagining of Spiderman for the Marvel Universe was a fun way to spend the best part of two hours plus, but don’t forget the film itself is less than memorable after you’ve left the cinema. That tense scene between Michael Keaton and Tom Holland was absolute genius but is that the only take away I got? Yes, yes it is. If you’re a big fan of the overconsumption that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you’ll probably take more away than I did, but nonetheless, it’s decent enough for a Spiderman film, definitely better than the Andrew Garfield lot.

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

After the 2011 reboot, War for the Planet of the Apes is the third instalment and the now-blossoming franchise is showcasing some of the finest effects in modern cinema today with Andy Serkis portraying Caesar throughout.

With Matt Reeves returning from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes I was a tiny bit apprehensive, as the two-rebooted Planet of the Apes films, Matt Reeves’ was the weaker. Lo and behold, I am a sucker for a good action flick though.

Reeves’ does briefly catch up the viewer with a few choice sentences, reciting Rise, Dawn and War, whilst the mentioned battle-hardened veterans weave through the forest. Having war in the title of the film, I was anticipating some all-out action sequences, and this is what happens immediately. The soldiers that adorn the ‘monkey killer’ helmet quickly light up an outpost, but not before the apes show up and take out the army.

As Caesar has taken on the leader role on this, his status is still key as he walks amongst the apes and they all part almost as though he is a God. And this is where the advanced technology really comes into it’s own as Andy Serkis’ portrayal of Caesar is brilliant.

And therein lies one of the greatest things about War for the Planet of the Apes is that the apes take the bulk of the emotion on show within this film. And it is tied in with some beautiful shots, as Lake and Blue Eyes reunite after a long time as the waterfall cascades down behind them.

Personally I think this device was really effective by Reeves’ as it shows the evolution of the apes over the humans. The first encounter between the apes and the humans, Caesar extends a compassionate olive branch in the hope of long-lasting peace, whereas Woody Harrelson’s Colonel is a very two-dimensional as a character. I don’t think that’s necessarily Woody Harrelson’s fault, more a device used by Matt Reeves.

It is now common that blockbusters are starting to use comic effect for one or two of their characters in their films and War for the Planet of the Apes fell victim to this trope. Unfortunately for me, it didn’t work. That was clear emotion elicited by the new ‘bad ape’, but his comic trope kept pulling me out of the picture.

Aside from that, there was very little that caused grief with this film. I was a massive fan of the compassion and humanity that the Apes showed and that being directly contrasted by the humans inability to elicit any emotion. Their ability to communicate and come together for the sake of their race was key, whilst the humans carried on bringing about destruction of their own race.

Although for saying the title of the film is War for the Planet of the Apes. There isn’t a great deal of war sequences within. There is that glorious opening sequences, and the climatic battle, but other than that it seems as though the war is held within Caesar. Especially as he is tipped over the edge in the battle for apekind against humankind, when the Colonel embarks on some pretty shady business with Caesar’s family.

Considering Matt Reeves’ first attempt at the Apes franchise was less-than-memorable, War for the Planet of the Apes is considerably better. Probably better than the first rebooted film, but this will be significantly helped by the portrayal of the apes thanks to the advancements in technology, but also Andy Serkis’ performance. His ability to channel the humanity and compassion from the start and then seeing the hatred completely take over is astounding.

In a summer of blockbuster films, War for the Planets of the Apes is probably in amongst the top for the enjoyment taken out of the action sequences, but also for having that narrative structure to allow for the film to be carried over it’s two hour plus runtime. Maybe with some fine editing and the removal of the comic relief the film maybe could’ve been the best film out of the summer for me, but alas, this has not happened. For now, it’ll be interesting to see whats next in stall for the Apes franchise.

Transformers: The Last Knight (2017)

Back in 2007, Michael Bay bought the robots in disguise to the silver screen in great fashion. I personally really enjoyed watching these metallic behemoths battle whilst the screen was bathed in a glossy finish during the first instalment. Fast-forward ten years and Michael Bay is still going with this franchise with his latest instalment of Transformers: The Last Knight.

Unfortunately, my enjoyment has been evaporating quickly as the franchise now trundles into into it’s fifth segment. Bay seems to be up to his old tricks with his fast-paced and sometimes unintelligible narrative as Mark Wahlberg returns as Cade Yeager, but after the events of Tranformers: Age of Extinction he is currently in hiding with Bumblebee and other familiar faces, including Grimlock, the dinosaur robot.


I’m unsure where they keep coming up with ideas for the Transformers franchise, but it is seemingly picking points in history and making it Transformer-y. 

This time? The legend of King Arthur. 

After Transformers: Age of Extinction, Transformers are being hunted by TRF, regardless of their factions. Bay does some show incredible feats of world building as he shows cities demolished and the derelict areas where Transformers are hunted. It’s in one of these broken cities that Cade is given a metallic talisman, which carries the same symbol as the Arthurian knights in the glorious action-packed opening segment.

All the while, there is a storyline involving an Earl of Folgan (Anthony Hopkins), keeper of the secret regarding the history of Transformers on Earth, but also a girl that finds herself without a home after her Transformer companion is killed by the TRF. And of course, much like the other four Transformers films, Bay jet sets the film across the world from London to the South Dakotan badlands and Cuba.


At this point, I was unsure which direction Michael Bay wanted the film to go with Anthony Hopkins jabbering away at Mark Wahlberg and Laura Haddock. Hopkins believably seemed as though he had a screw loose during this segment. This naturally bought about a few laughs, and his leprechaun butler Cogsworth. Bay’s choice of jokes was odd though as some landed but more missed. He often pointed at things throughout the film and directly laughed at them in cringeworthy fashion.

Transformers: The Last Knight doesn’t try and stray away from the framework that has already produced four films, as Michael Bay still includes earth-shatteringly loud action sequences but also having that attractive female for leering purposes. This time Laura Haddock takes on this role as Viviane.

I will say, I was enjoying Transformers: The Last Knight. That was until my popcorn ran out. The film is just mind-numbingly packed to the brim with action with abundance of slow-motion sequences and of course because it’s a bay film, explosions galore. However, as I mentioned, once the popcorn runs out, the patience does too. The film is shy of three hours, and it feels it every step of the way.


And the problems do not stop there. The narrative is just nonsense and often found myself at a loss with where the film was heading, especially with the whole Witwickian lore and how it somehow segwegged into the battle between Unicron and Cybertron. And it’s not often I notice, but the ratio was all over the place as the film jumps from one ratio to the next. Of course with action films, the performances are never going to be the centre of attention, but when the performances are dialled in with cameos thrown in for nostalgic reasons, it becomes a bit of a farce.

That being said, the action sequences were enjoyable as the Transformers punched and shot at each other, but this can’t carry a film for near enough three hours. Transformers: The Last Knight wasn’t certainly the worst film I’ve seen, but it definitely wasn’t the best. It was just complete, sometimes enjoyable, nonsense.

Baby Driver (2017)

There is something that is just brilliant about films containing car chases and heists, this is probably why the Fast and Furious franchise is incredibly successful. But whilst the Fast and Furious is entering the realms of ridiculousness, Edgar Wright’s newest venture Baby Driver remains grounded.

And it also contains one of the funniest opening sequences, as Baby (Ansel Elgort) jives in his getaway car to Bellbottoms whilst the heist crew wreck havoc inside the bank. What is toe-tappingly infectious soon becomes heart-poundingly exciting as the crew evade the police around Atlanta. The camera placements within this sequence plant you straight in the action and Ansel just looked comfortable behind the wheel.

What was surprising was that usually the narrative of car chase films are often just driven (pardon the pun) by the flashy cars and heists. Not Baby Driver, this film had heart and it stemmed from Baby as he cares for his foster father Joe. (CJ Jones) And this is surprising from the stern-faced Baby driving the Subaru around Atlanta, to this care-free young man dancing around the kitchen making his foster father a peanut butter sandwich.

Baby suffers from tinnitus, so he soundtracks his own life with an abundance of iPods that depend on his mood. He uses music to drown out the constant ringing, but this produces some extraordinary scenes within the film. From the first coffee run where he is dancing down the street, to action sequences that are perfectly timed with the music.

The power of soundtracks have become something to behold as Guardians of the Galaxy paved the way in this modern age, but Baby Driver is head and shoulders above with the aforementioned perfect use.

As the film is based around Baby being the getaway driver for Doc (Kevin Spacey), what I wasn’t anticipating was the film to have genuine characters throughout, especially as Baby and Debora (Lily James) develop a relationship, to which Lily James and Ansel Elgort share great chemistry as the young lovers.

And Wright makes sure each character has their time on screen, from the small role of Griff (Jon Bernthal) to Jon Hamm in a meatier role as Buddy, which was great down the stretch. I soon realised that Jamie Foxx was playing the same character as Eddie Jones in Horrible Bosses, but in Baby Driver his character Bats had something extra that wasn’t apparent in Horrible Bosses.

As well producing some incredibly comedic scenes, namely the Mike Myers mix-up, Edgar Wright also made some tense sequences in Baby Driver. This is probably exemplified by Kevin Spacey channeling Frank Underwood as Doc as he quietly threatens Baby into driving for him again.

“And err, your waitress girlfriend’s cute.. Let’s keep it that way”

Edgar Wright is fastly becoming one of my favourite directors to watch, as he is just producing some incredible films in recent memory and Baby Driver is no different. He has mastered the perfect blend of action and narrative, and didn’t need to rely on people explaining the narrative. He had everything nailed down to a T, from the characters to the music and the narrative having enough to envelope you in the story.

All the characters had great chemistry and I thought the narrative took a brilliant and largely unforeseen turn with the characters. The film is just short of two hours, but I could have happily watched it continue for another two hours. Baby Driver is fast-paced when it needs to be, and also manages to take it’s foot off the pedal when necessary. It is helped by everyone chipping in on the acting front, but when it is backed up by the soundtrack and that masterful blend of action and narrative it shows. Baby Driver has become one of my favourite films of the year so far, and all I wanted to do was go back in and see it again.

Wonder Woman (2017)

As DC tries to combat the ever-expanding Marvel Universe, they have begun by building towards the Justice League film. In the meantime, we are treated to their standalone backstories. Wonder Woman is the latest film to get the treatment with Gal Gadot returning as the legendary Amazonian.

What I have recently disliked about the comic book movies is that they all seem to be using the same framework. (mainly the Marvel Cinematic Universe) But what is more enjoyable about the DC Cinematic Universe is the darker and grittier undertones they have taken, which was present in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman even though the latter wasn’t as enjoyable.

Wonder Woman is continuing this trend, but referencing the picture that was seen in Batman vs Superman with Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) herself stood with four men during World War One. Before Wonder Woman leaps into how Diana found herself there, they divulge in the backstory and the mysterious land of Themyscira, home of the Amazons.

What was great about Patty Jenkins’ interpretation of this story was that there was enough in the narrative to allow for the audience to interpret things themselves, something that has been missing in my recent cinema outings. And there was some gorgeous graphics in the opening sequence as Queen Hippolyta (Connie Neilsen) reveals the origin of the Amazon race and of the battle between Zeus and Ares.

Zeus cast out Ares, and hid the Amazons from the world until Ares rises again. The rest of the Amazons and Diana train on the beautifully landscaped island of Themyscira away from the worlds view. That is all until Steve Travers (Chris Pine) crash lands on their private island.

And this is where the film really picks up the pace as Gal Gadot and Chris Pine come into their own as characters. Gal Gadot becomes the focal point of her scenes as Diana believes that the atrocities of war are at the hand of Ares, the God of war. Although he has found a new form in the body of General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) as his sidekick Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya) concocts a poisonous gas capable of killing everyone. Diana forces Travers hand in taking her to front line to help the war effort and she just looks fantastic whilst doing it.

It has to be said though that she isn’t objectified in anyway, she rather manifests Wonder Woman as a character in such a way that she is incredibly strong and rather independent, especially as she continually defies her mother and Steve. With Batman v Superman the film felt long, Wonder Woman on the other hand doesn’t. This could down to the enjoyment of the characters and the narrative actually being enjoyable instead of the usual cut and paste method Marvel and DC films are currently using.

As I mentioned, the DC Universe films like to be grittier and Wonder Woman has majority of the film centred around World War One. Patty Jenkins effectively manages to instil the atrocities of war and it really works from the dirt of the Belgian trenches to the empty celebrations of a victory for one evening.

My only grief is the overbearing music that is used. The musical cues aren’t established very well, as it clearly tries to evoke emotions at the correct times and at times this took me out of the picture and made the enjoyment considerably less-so.

Gal Gadot is truly a wonder as the titular character as the film progresses into it’s climax. The final third of the film looks as though it is going to enter the realms of similarity as with previous comic book films, it still tiptoes on those, but doesn’t dive head first into it. The chemistry between Chris Pine and Gal Gadot is electric, especially as Jenkins’ captures Steve Travers occasionally glancing at Diana with astonishment at her beauty, but not in that objectifying way that I mentioned earlier.

Just as I thought I was losing patience with comic book adaptations, Wonder Woman comes along and manages to give some life into a merciless machine. I realised after coming out of the cinema that Wonder Woman tried something new, it left the comedy (that has become a staple point for comic book films now) to a minimum and perfectly integrated it into the film. This worked and garnered appropriate laughs when needed, but on a whole, Wonder Woman was an enjoyable and terrific watch and this has to be down to the enjoyable narrative and brilliant characters that can be connected with.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge drew no attention from me, and offered very little to try and ‘woo’ me into watching it. Majority of my interest of this franchise was soon lost after the second instalment of Dead Man’s Chest. I find the Pirate of the Caribbean franchise entering realms of similarity with Fast and the Furious with the rinse and repeat formula.

Salazar’s Revenge is taking this rinse and repeat formula and caking it on by the pounds. I’ve become disenchanted with the figure of Captain Jack Sparrow, as Johnny Depp seems to be offering new to the character, but rather a further drunken stupor.

In the presence of rinse and repeat formula, Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg have decided to take the Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner roles and replace them with Kaya Scodelario and Brenton Thwaites. However, Ronning and Sandberg had a role reversal, with Scodelario’s Carina Smyth as a smart young woman, who shows a deft hand at keeping out of trouble. Whereas Brenton Thwaites’ Henry Turner just offers the run-of-the-mill love story, replicated from the first instalment.

Majority of the performances throughout the 130(ish) runtime, are very mundane and uninteresting. Aside from Scodelario’s performance as Carina, I found myself bored with the characters as they fall into very two-dimensional characters and offer nothing new.

I imagine this is potentially down to the world building not being that immersive either. If anything Salazar’s Revenge offered a truly ridiculous world where pirates once ruled the seas. The film had lost me at the point where Salazar (Javier Bardem) releases undead sharks. I mean, come on.

Seriously.

Salazar in his own right was an intriguing character, but there was nothing built around him as Ronning and Sandberg layered the film with exposition and the cast pointing out the plot to one another over and over and over. His revenge of Captain Jack Sparrow could have been played out brilliantly, rather than becoming the lacklustre affair it is.

As for Salazar’s curse, there wasn’t that much to be invested in as majority of the screen time is faced with Jack Sparrow and his quest for the Trident of Poseidon to break his run of bad luck. And it seems as though the curse isn’t that original either with the undead wreaking havoc once more.

I think therein lies my issue with Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge as it becomes very lacklustre. I often found myself bored throughout the plus 2-hour runtime and very bored with the over-egged performance of Jack Sparrow. The plot doesn’t do a great deal of justice to the massive runtime, and doesn’t offer anything that hasn’t already been witnessed in the previous instalments.

I tried to go into Salazar’s Revenge with an open mind, but left still disappointed as I mentioned it did little to peak my interest in the first place. Aside from Scodelario’s performance, there was little else to enjoy about this film. I find the investment in this film just was not there for me. Everything that could’ve potentially immersed me, did not, from the characters to the CGI. It’s fair to say Salazar’s Revenge just did not do it for me.