Action

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

Back in 2014, Matthew Vaughn and Taron Egerton effectively blew up the action comedy genre with Kingsman: The Secret Service with it’s effective chalk and cheese stylistic approach to the Spy genre. It successfully managed to leave a lasting impression, as Taron Egerton in his first role coupled with Colin Firth (rather brilliantly) made the Spy genre funny without being too cheesy.

It was only a matter of time before the sequel occurred due to the relative success of director Matthew Vaughn’s feature. And it had the early looks of trying to bigger and better than it’s predecessor. With the likes of Julianne Moore, Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum and Halle Berry joining the cast, the film looked like it was going to go whole hog with the action spy-genre.

However, Kingsman: The Golden Circle does enlist the same sort of formula held that made the film enjoyable, as a benevolent antagonist holds the world at ransom. This time it is in the form of Poppy (Julianne Moore) a woman living in isolation and running the most successful drug cartel in the world. She brings the Kingsman to their knees by managing to bomb every agents in spectacular fashion with the help of Charlie (Edward Holcroft) a failed Kingsman recruit.

This whirlwind opening sets up the film within around half hour, but considering the film is a lengthy 140 minutes, it does begin to falter it’s way through the next hour or so, as it builds to the eventual guns a-blazing climax. But that’s where the action and comedy come into the play to keep the film ticking over as it continues it’s building.

I found Kingsman: The Golden Circle troubling in parts though, mostly due to the throwaway nature that Matthew Vaughn used throughout the film towards it’s narrative. The lewd behaviour that the first instalment finished on does continue into this film, which really wasn’t necessary, but also the bit part references to The Secret Service instalment.

Vaughn managed to keep my attention for the large part of the 140 minutes, with the stylistic approach to the action sequences and incredibly imaginative scenes, including Harry getting his memory back. (however, we’re not going to talk about the whole Harry coming back thing – ridiculous) And of course, the film is layered with the fly tailored suits and the music that screams James Bond in places, but also the American ties for the Statesman scenes.

But, on the other hand, the film does have a terrible moral code that seeps into the film, which really loses my attention. With the echo of potential spoilers, I won’t discuss the narrative’s moral code too much, but believe me it’s horrendous. The narrative does take Merlin (Mark Strong) and Eggsy to America to meet with their sister organisation the Statesman, headed by agents named after alcohol, including Champagne (Jeff Bridges) and Tequila, (Channing Tatum) after enabling the Kingsman doomsday protocol.

The only reasoning behind their inclusion I can think of is the continuation of the chalk-and-cheese characterisations that occurred in the first instalment. Also the continuation of the stereotyped version of Americans from the South, that is incredibly overplayed. Vaughn seems to enjoy the continuation element of the Kingsman, echoing scenes throughout the film that are almost lifts from The Secret Service.

Many of the action sequences seem to echo the moves Eggsy used during his training and the toppling of Valentine’s plan. But probably the most iconic Manners Maketh Man, with Pedro Pascal’s Whiskey taking the role of Harry this time and armed with a whip, instead of a brolly.

This necessarily isn’t a bad thing, but not a good thing either. As it reminds one of the enjoyment taken from the first one as Kingsman: The Golden Circle begins to plod through the misshapen narrative and racing toward the climax that is relatively short-lived and quite frankly felt a bit rushed.

But that being said, I still laughed during the film, with Taron’s Scottish impression of Merlin’s “that was fucking spectacular” remaining hilarious even now. But it wasn’t just the comedy used throughout, as the film still showed that it had a beating heart rather than falling victim to the machine as it has emotions between the characters really shining through crowned by the relationship instilled by Eggsy and Princess Tilde.

With a bit of shaping up, Kingsman: The Golden Circle could’ve been great. Between the morally misshapen narrative and some decent editing the film could’ve proudly bore the heart it instils on it’s sleeve and seemed a much crispy film. But unfortunately the edit that was shown, just did not cut it for me.

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American Assassin (2017)

How many times has a film had it’s protagonist suffer a life-altering event, for them to use that in their vengeance or as motivation. It’s seems to be a trademark for films involving spies, as the harrowed past is zeroed in on during their training montage.

And American Assassin does fall victim to this trope that has almost become a staple of these films. However due to the film being adapted from the original novels by Vince Flynn, I have no idea how faithful the film is to the books.

But American Assassin does feel incredibly poignant for the day and age we’re living in within the opening moments as Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) is caught in an ambush by terrorists as they murder holiday goers. Amidst the chaos and merciless killings, Mitch’s fiancé is murdered with Mitch unable to save her.

Film, meet the harrowed past.

Rapp (as he goes by Rapp now) uses this as his motivation and begins training in vision to take down the terrorists that are responsible for the countless deaths. The film garnered an 18 rating by the BBFC, which I thought was odd considering IT was given a 15 rating. But the opening 10 minutes, it becomes clear with the merciless killing and the strong themes of terrorism and vengeance throughout.

My main issue with the film stemmed from the opening ten minutes, as although there is a lot to take in, I couldn’t find a connection with the character of Mitch. Part of this, I believe, comes down to the believability of what is actually on-screen. But also because of the montage, as he manages to successfully infiltrate a terrorist cell, but this is whilst taking up MMA and going rogue at firing ranges.

American Assassin does continue this trend as Michael Keaton’s Stan Hurley just rolls through the runtime and his character just isn’t believable at all. Rapp is enrolled in a black ops-training programme, headed by the aforementioned Stan Hurley, who is supposed to be a hard-nosed individual.

The narrative is a bit strange, because it’s built around the antagonist, but is largely washed over for the rushing into the grand finale of action. Strangely, it had depth, but it didn’t feel acted upon with the whole Ghost (Taylor Kitsch) character. Whereas the action scenes are intriguing, they are cut between far too quickly and sometimes feel like a mess as it ends up with Rapp and his assailant end up rolling around on the floor.

There are enjoyable sections to American Assassin but on a large scale it doesn’t work for me. I think the majority of this comes down to the acting that is on show. In glimpses, it’s okay, but for a large part there is no believability. I did mention that the opening is incredibly poignant for the time we’re currently living in, but it suddenly the vengeance is transferred from one character to another and never really delved into to what could’ve been an interesting story.

For the 110 minutes or so, the film’s narrative just bobs along. American Assassin is okay, but for sure there is nothing to be blown away by in the film. I did leave the film feeling like I haven’t enjoyed it, because it just decides to keep the framework for usual spy crime capers.

Passenger 57 (1992)

“Always bet on black”

I think Wesley Snipes is one of my heroes on film appearing in some of the greatest action flicks of the nineties. My favourite appearance of Snipes is probably in Demolition Man as the blonde-haired Simon Phoenix.

Hankering a craving for Wesley Snipes, I decided to check out one of his earlier ventures in Passenger 57, which is home to that memorable “always bet on black” quip. Where Ice Cube has perfected saying anything and can make it menacing, Wesley Snipes has perfected that demeanour about him that just smells of action hero.

Wesley Snipes is John Cutter, the all round bad-ass head of security for Atlantic International Airlines, but has a haunted past. He relives the night of his wife’s death during a convenience store robbery and in the true 90s action flick style, the flashback is coupled with a training montage as he punches a bag at a late hour.

He boards a flight to Los Angeles, after accepting a job offer from his friends, only to find the notorious Charles Rane (Bruce Payne) on-board after he is caught and sent to LA to stand trail. And this is where the fun happens, as he hijacks the plane with the help of his cronies and a youthful Liz Hurley.

And what’s the American badass to do but save the day?

But it isn’t without a few hiccups, as Rane is calculated every step of the way and unrelenting as he mows down passengers without remorse. In true nineties fashion, the antagonist is there to just be an antagonist and only given very loose motives. Rane just seems hell bent on causing havoc and being a general nuisance. In general though it works, because for the runtime of eighty minutes the depth of usual antagonists isn’t needed, as John Cutter is the regular action hero.

The action sequences are of course completely over the top, but also excellent as Cutter jumps over seats Kung Fu kicking his way down the airliner. And what is a nineties classic without an over the top explosion, especially as the stairlift explodes in Michael Bay-esque fashion.

And why is there always a set of golf clubs in the storage units of planes? But of course it’s brilliant whilst John Cutter wields a club to beat the crap out of a bad guy. Of course, John Cutter isn’t a shade on Simon Phoenix, but the Passenger 57 is still incredibly enjoyable.

If you need a film to pass the time and want to see Wesley Snipes kung-fu kicking his way through bad guys then Passenger 57 is your film. It’s of perfect length and it’s nothing like modern-day action films with their intricate narratives, but Passenger 57 doesn’t bother with an intricacies, but rather just action for the sake of action. Just don’t take the film too seriously.

Detroit (2017)

Hate only breeds hate.

One of the tensest I’ve been in the cinema was earlier this year with Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit is a close second, and she places you dead centre in the 12th Street Riots in Detroit, amongst the police brutality and racist tension that was rife in 1960s America.

Before becoming swept up in this 1967 time period, Bigelow chose to use an illustration that gave the film it’s legs to stand on, using the Great Migration as it’s launching point. This illustration is incredibly poignant and showcases the tensions although on a relatively small scale.

And Detroit is told around the centrepiece of an event at the Algiers motel that occurred during the riots. Mark Boal’s ability to interplay that with enough background to really amp up the tension on screen is integral to the middle section becoming one of the most terrifyingly shocking events throughout the film.

I was transfixed with Detroit, as a retaliation prank becomes incredibly volatile and tense. But it demands your attention every step of the way, as so much is going on, but told perfectly. Bigelow’s choice to splice archive footage into the film only exemplified the believable set that was to recreate the destruction that of property that occurred during the riots.

I believe with a film like Detroit it would have been easy to slip into the telling of one side, but I think that Bigelow managed to get the correct balance and show that the riots not only had a huge impact on the black communities in Detroit but also everyone else caught up in it, from the national guard to the local police force.

Not only this, but the nuanced movements of each character was crucial in Detroit from the shaking, stuttering hand of Aubrey, to Larry Reed’s (Algee Smith) performance to the empty Fox Theatre as the lights are shut off around him. But also the looks of terror, not only placed on the faces of the those forced to face the wall, but also the deputy to Krauss as he seemingly questions his actions during a key scene.

The tension definitely emanated through the screen, especially as the Detroit Police Department begin to essentially bully the suspects in the Algiers Motel. But this event is seen all the way through, which only helps build the tension, through the actions of Krauss and the Detroit Police Department and the effective use of set by Bigelow.

The casting of Will Poulter was interesting as one of the leads, but he was playing Krauss to perfection, as you become to loathe the character that is unveiled at the Algiers. But the rest of the casting was absolutely superb and kept me transfixed throughout the film from John Boyega’s Melvin Dismukes to Jacob Latimore’s Fred Temple. They all played their parts to perfection.

Kathryn Bigelow had this film nailed on every step of the way. I believe Detroit is going to be staying with me for a long time and for all the right reasons. It’s important to have films like this, as it’s incredibly poignant for today and suggests that we haven’t moved far from these attitudes at all.

I was honestly left stunned by this film, and it’s not often that this happens. This comes to the believability of the performances from the cast, but also how the narrative was told. It was incredibly compelling and I was gripped for the entirety of the 140-odd minute runtime. Although it was slow to get off the ground, once it started running, Detroit took me with it. It’s an incredibly harrowing tale, but one that is also incredibly important at the same time.

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.

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.