Monday 30 July 2018

Mission: Impossible - Fallout

"How many times has Hunt's government betrayed him, disavowed him, cast him aside? How long before a man like that has had enough?"

Until this point the ‘Mission: Impossible’ franchise has been five directors each creating their idealised version of the spy movie. However, with the latest instalment ‘Fallout’ marking the first time in which a director has returned to helm a second instalment of the franchise, there’s an added element of intrigue. Christopher McQuarrie guided ‘Rogue Nation’ to unprecedented levels of success so the question is less about whether he can deliver a good film, but can he even hope to top his last effort?

After a terrorist organisation made from the remnants of The Syndicate steal three plutonium cores, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and the IMF must join forces with CIA assassin August Walker (Henry Cavill) to recover the missing objects before they are used to wreak mass destruction. But as various faces from the past start to resurface, Ethan’s mission rapidly becomes decidedly more complicated.

Roger Ebert once referred to a sub-genre of action cinema that he referred to as the “bruised forearm movie”. The kind of film that isn’t just exhilarating, but is relentless in its action to a point where you find yourself grabbing the arm of whoever is next to you just to feel secure for a second. It unfolds at a speed that absorbs the audience from the opening frame and refuses to release them until the closing credits. Despite being nearly 2 ½ hours long I was honestly afraid to blink out of fear that the movie would fly by in that split second.

There’s a beautiful rhythm to the way McQuarrie’s film unfolds that makes it comparable to some of the greatest films ever to come from the action genre. The relentless momentum of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, tension filled set pieces of ‘Die Hard’ and the constant motion of ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’, they can all be found within ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’ as well. On a structural level the film just flows seamlessly from one astonishing set piece to the next, always filling it’s time with a point of intrigue to keep the audience in a constant state of suspense.

In an age where so many action movies concern themselves with mindless spectacle, McQuarrie has helmed a film of such stunning craftsmanship that it almost defies belief. It’s assembled in such a way so that every stunt is so wildly ambitious that just thinking about orchestrating such a feat is insane. But then amid all of the death defying stunt work, McQuarrie never makes a scene feel strained or overloaded. Everything has a cohesive narrative to it, as if each scene is communicating its own short story that then serves the greater narrative of the film as a whole. Nothing is left uncertain and everything remains crystal clear, both on a momentary level from one shot to the other and on a broader story level.

It helps that McQuarrie has so many talented collaborators to execute each element with the utmost care. Rob Hardy’s cinematography renders every shot as a gorgeously framed and exquisitely composed work of art. The way these shots are edited together by Eddie Hamtilton comnstantly conveys a sense of motion without ever feeling overwhelming. The musical score by Lorne Balfe accentuates and punctuates the rhythm of each arrangement. On every technical level the film just moves on with beautiful synchronicity.

It’s easy to dismiss the plot of a film like ‘Fallout’ to be secondary, and in a certain sense it is. The movie knows full well that the story is more of a framework from which to hang thrilling sequences on. But where this film excels is how it evokes a sense of intrigue through the plot without becoming convoluted. In the same way that his high octane scenes have a pulsating rhythm, McQuarrie bestows that same sense of purposefulness to his dialogue as well. No scene exists as an obligation, as every moment of the film seeks to further the narrative or the characters in some significant way.

After a while you become so deeply invested in the characters that their ever changing dynamic can be thrilling enough on its own. What makes the process even better is how the film intertwines the development of the characters with the kinetic pace of the action. It’s where the set pieces go from being more than just spectacular, they become cathartic for the significance they hold to the characters and themes of the movie. It also allows the script to inject some unexpected emotional weight into the unfolding plot. Even at its most joyous ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’ remains focussed and grounded through endowing each character with a personal stake in the situation.

It is hard to go into detail over what makes the cast of the film amazing without giving away plot spoilers regarding their characters. So much of the film’s set up involves ambiguous motives and hidden agendas, which every actor within the film evokes perfectly. The likes of Henry Cavill and Rebecca Ferguson create such a strong impression without ever losing the suspense of what motivates their characters or where their allegiances lie. Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames bring such brilliant personality to their supporting roles that just further adds to the appeal of the movie.

Ultimately though it’s Cruise himself who seems to own the film. A lot has already been said about Cruise’s stunt work, which goes above and beyond what any other actor within the action genre is currently doing. But I think an undervalued part of Cruise’s significance in these films is how he;s fortunate enough to work with filmmakers who always want to display his face. Whether it’s a boke chase through Paris or aerial combat in a helicopter, McQuarrie constantly gives the audience a glimpse of Cruise’s intense and frantic expressions. Maybe even more so than the physicality of the stunts, it’s Cruise’s expressionism that well and truly sells each moment.

Spectacular on every conceivable level, ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’ is a masterpiece of action cinema and sets a new standard not just for this franchise, but the entire genre.

Result: 9/10

Sicario: Day of Soldado

"You've got no reason to trust me. But trusting me is the only way you're going to say alive."

In many ways 2015’s ‘Sicario’ was elevated by the sum of its parts, which is not to take any credit away from Taylor Sheridan’s efficient and affecting screenplay. But I think the real distinctive qualities of the movie come from the likes of Roger Deakins amazing cinematography, the late Johann Johannsson’s breath taking score, Emily Blunt’s compelling performance and the always mesmerising direction of Denis Villeneuve. It’s sequel has lost all of these elements, retaining only Sheridan as its writer, which forces me to exercise a degree of caution in my expectations.

FBI agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) calls on mysterious operative Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro) when Mexican drug cartels start to smuggle terrorists across the U.S. border. The war escalates even further when Alejandro kidnaps a top kingpin's daughter to deliberately increase the tensions. When the young girl is seen as collateral damage, the two men will determine her fate as they question everything that they are fighting for.

Given that it is missing so many key elements which made the first film remarkable, ‘Day of the Soldado’ is unlikely to ever replicate the greatness of its predecessor but at the same time it could easily morph into something different but distinctive in its own right. Unfortunately ‘Day of the Soldado’ finds itself wedged awkwardly in between to two scenarios, never quite fulfilling either role. Too often the film tries to mimic its predecessor through surface level elements only, copying its aesthetic elements without ever seeming to fully understand why those elements were originally put in place.

Perhaps the most striking example is how ‘Day of the Soldado’ seems at ease with depicting violence and scenes that are disturbingly brutal on both a visceral and moral level. Though this is effective in conveying the ugliness of the world it wants to depict, there’s no craft to justify the shocking nature of what the film is depicting, no thematic undercurrent for it to serve. Instead it’s just an unnecessary parade of unpleasantness with no compelling features or intriguing narrative.

You can find this distinction in how rarely the film employs any sense of restraint. ‘Sicario’ featured its fair share of horrific scenes, but was often ambiguous in depicting said horrors to their full extent. This was because Villeneuve was aware that the violence itself was not the point as much as what the mere presence or knowledge of that violence meant for the film’s narrative. It would be pointless to waste time depicting it since it’s so clearly not what the movie is concerned with. The same cannot be said for the sequel which seems to use this violence as a crux in such a way that it just feels pointless. Ironically in focussing more on the brutality they rob it of its weight. It’s more exploitative than meaningful.

It may be unfair to a certain degree to repeatedly compare ‘Day of the Soldado’ to it’s predecessor but then again the movie itself repeatedly draws that comparison itself. There are so many visual cues and stylistic choices lifted straight from the first film to such a degree that it creates this sense that the movie is frightened of ever trying to deviate from the aesthetic of its predecessor. It constantly reminds you of the elements that were done better elsewhere.

All of this weighs down a film which, at times is strikingly competent in how it goes about staging its action. There are certain set pieces littered across the film that contain an effective amount of tension and visual flair. Director Stefano Sellima keeps the events clear and cohesive, framing his characters as the focus of each set piece and making their state of mind a priority as they are two fascinating subjects. Brolin and Del Toro also portray a great dynamic in their ensuing conflict over the course of the film. Their performances here are definitely worthy of their previous efforts of bringing Sheridan’s script to life.

I wonder if even Sheridan himself seemed to realise within this story the characters themselves were far more worthy for intrigue than any thematic arc. While the characters themselves have a decent amount of depth bestowed upon them, there’s little to no expansion on theme or purpose. Even the character work isn’t enough on its own to justify the film’s runtime, let alone the parade of heavy subject matter that it treats with absolute severity.

As well as that though, the screenplay is structured heavily around the characters. Ultimately though this creates a plot that feels awkwardly weighted in the third act, while dragging for the two that came before it. In fact the third act of ‘Day of Soldado’ feels so rushed and contrived that it almost breaks the suspension of disbelief within the film as a whole. At the very least the movie was attempting to be measured on some level, only to then depart from that approach completely and create a severe case of cognitive dissonance.

At its best ‘Da of the Soldado’ is a hollow imitation of ‘Sicario’. At its worst the film is a shallow and exploitative throwaway.

Result: 4/10

Sunday 29 July 2018

Mission: Impossible - The Franchise So Far...

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when ‘Mission: Impossible’ became the revered franchise that it is today. With five films from five different directors, it stands as a unique series in the landscape of modern filmmaking wherein everything is designed to be cohesive and have connective tissue. Each and every ‘Mission: Impossible’ movie stands on its own as a separate product, with little continuity between each one. In a lot of ways the series is essentially five different filmmakers each realising their own idealised version of the spy movie as a genre. However with ‘Fallout’ hitting cinemas soon and finally braking that pattern of alternating directors, now is obviously an ideal time to look back on each and every instalment.

When ‘Mission: Impossible’ first hit cinemas in 1996, the brand itself was heavily associated with the 1960’s TV series of the same name. In fact the film itself was made as a loose tie in with the series, casting Jon Voigt as an older version of the TV series’ protagonist Jim Phelps. I bring this up because it showcases the evolution of this franchise in the public consciousness. I think it’s a safe bet to say that the movies and Cruise himself are the main associations with the brand name ‘Mission: Impossible’ at this point, arguably eclipsing the property which the first film was aiming to be in service of.

While I doubt that Brian De Palma had such lofty ambitions as to believe that he would instigate a franchise that would still be moving forward two decades later, he certainly made a strong foundation from which to start. But at the same time ‘Mission: Impossible’ is unquestionably a Brian De Palma film. Having directed acclaimed horror/thrillers such as ‘Carrie’ and ‘Blow Out’, De Palma was acutely aware of how to make the tension of each set piece reach boiling point. It’s remarkable how the raw action of ‘Mission: Impossible’ is somewhat low-key but the suspense that preceded each action sequence is utterly palpable and a huge part of what makes them so memorable.

De Palma’s use of dramatic angles, tight close ups and intense lighting bestow each set piece with a sense of weight. The screenplay is convoluted and awkwardly based, transparently serving as little more than a framework for the action sequences. But that in itself is a minor issue given how effectively each set piece functions. De Palma also utilised Tom Cruise as a performer to the best extent. The intensity of Cruise’s performance does a great deal to heighten to momentum and break neck speed of the film even further. With some visually dynamic cinematography to accompany it, De Palma even makes the exposition heavy dialogue scenes look interesting thanks to some clever framing and compositions.

If De Palma relied on tension to support his film, then Jon Woo went in the opposite direction when he was brought in to direct ‘Mission: Impossible 2’. As the director behind dozens of masterful Hong Kong action movies from ‘The Killer’ to ‘Hard Boiled’, he seemed like a fitting candidate for this kind of property. Unfortunately none of his skills were properly utilised in this 2000 film. Most of its issues come from a scripting standpoint. Though the script of ‘Mission: Impossible’ was hardly exceptional, it at least urgency and clearly defined stakes to it. It’s successor possessed neither of these, and instead descends into a meandering mess. There are huge chunks of the film in which not only the action seems absent, but the entire narrative seems to ground to a halt. Events occur, but nothing really develops.

The film doesn’t even poses the globetrotting appeal of its predecessor either, as almost the entire plot takes place in and around Sydney, Australia. Even Woo’s usually stunning action sequences are spilled by his tendency to overindulge. He engages in his own tropes so often and so heavily that the film descends into self-parody. The action sequences themselves lack any clear momentum or sense of movement due to the poor momentary editing. One would hope we could at least rely on Cruise to elevate the film with his usual charisma but in this case Ethan Hunt is drawn as an indestructible super human who can’t evoke any empathy or level of engagement from the audience. With weightless action, a nonsensical screenplay and thinly drawn characters, it’s tough to even view ‘Mission: Impossible 2’ as being on the same astral plane as its predecessor.

Despite all these flaws ‘Mission: Impossible 2’ was a huge commercial success, outgrossing De Palma’s film and going to become the highest grossing film of 2000. If anything that is highly fitting, because I don’t think you could get any better epitome of what the year 2000 was than Tom Cruise throwing a pair of CGI sunglasses at the camera which then explode as a Limp Bizkit rendition of the theme tune blasts out.

It seems that JJ Abrams was well aware of how ‘Mission: Impossible 2’ went astray, because for his turn at directing what would the third instalment of the series, his first step was the ground the action and place an emphasis on handheld camera t further immerse the audience within the momentary thrills of his story. Though Abrams did overcorrect to a certain degree as the use of shaky cam and quick editing can be distracting, it’s still a remarkably confident film considering that this was Abrams directorial debut. He brought all the skills he had built from his work on TV series such as ‘Alias’ and ‘Lost’, especially since M:I 3’ shares many thematic crux’s and narrative devices with each of those. There’s issues of dual identities and Abrams famed “mystery box” method of storytelling to drive the momentum.

But perhaps the best feature of ‘Mission: Impossible 3’ lies with its villain, played by the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman. There’s a casual nature to the way Hoffman goes about his villainy that makes him even more terrifying. You get the sense that he sees Ethan Hunt as less of an adversary and more as just an inconvenience. His confidence in his own ability to win is startling and as the audience you’d be forgiven for believing him right up to the last second. In the protagonists chair once again Cruise is back on top form in portraying Hunt. By placing Hunt within the plot on a more personal level it evokes a kind of desperation from Cruise’s performance. Seeing Hunt rattled on this deep a level as his loved ones are threatened does a lot to shake the audience and make the stakes feel even higher.

However, despite garnering more praise from the critics ‘M: I 3’ actually underperformed at the box office. It sparked suggestions within Paramount of rebooting the franchise without Tom Cruise front and centre. With the future of the franchise in the balance, there was a lot riding on director Brad Bird to ensure that the fourth instalment reignited studio faith in the property. Bird had to deliver something special, and he went above and beyond to bring ‘Ghost Protocol’ in 2011. It unfolds with such a breathless pace but at the same time never feels strained or contrived. Bird’s set pieces flow seamlessly into one another and hardly a second is wasted when it comes to efficient and effective storytelling.

While almost any character beside Ethan Hunt from the first three Missions were forgettable at best, Bird establishes a distinct and memorable team that works brilliantly in ‘Ghost Protocol’. He gives each member of the IMF a distinct personality and clearly defined dynamic that makes their roles both recognisable and functional. Simon Pegg brings a wonderful sense of charm and humour, Jeremy Renner is useful to repeatedly stress the stakes and gravitas of each situation and Paula Patton adds an emotional element that really adds to the film on a human level. Meanwhile Cruise himself is just as effortlessly brilliant as ever.

But the real stars of the movie might be those phenomenal action set pieces which Bird crafts with such intricacy to evoke such awe. They are creative enough and staged on such an impressive level that every sequence contains elements of tension, comedy and cathartic adrenaline, all while furthering the narrative as Bird is a master of action as storytelling. Against all the odds it even feels vaguely reminiscent of Bird’s animation work. The transition from animation to live action did not seem to slow Bird’s creative process down at all, since almost any set piece within ‘Ghost Protocol’ would feel equally at home in ‘The Incredibles’.

I distinctly remember being sceptical as to whether or not 2015’s ‘Rogue Nation’ could hope to top its predecessor. Christopher McQuarrie had a prolific and successful writing career from the Oscar winning ‘The Usual Suspects’ to the action masterclass that is ‘Edge of Tomorrow’. But as a director he seemed to lack a certain identity, or at least that is what I once thought. When he brought ‘Rogue Nation’ to audiences he brought the culmination of the entire franchise, distilling every great element of every prior film and connecting them in a mesmerising spectacle of exhilarating filmmaking.

McQuarrie took the emphasis on a team dynamic that was put to such great use in ‘Ghost Protocol’ and doubled down, crafting several character narratives that elevate the film even further. Even if it’s just through small interactions and shifts in attitude, almost every character seems to undergo some kind of fulfilling arc. This is especially welcome as it allows this supremely talented cast to shine. ‘Rogue Nation’ is the first film in the franchise in which the actors don’t just feel like accessories, but truly essential factors. They’re not just vehicles for the action, they themselves are part of the action.

In fact so much of the film seems to be in perfect synch that I honestly cannot pinpoint a single dull moment. Even ‘Ghost Protocol’ had one or two scenes of clunky exposition, but everything in ‘Rogue Nation’ just seems to move with effortless pace. There’s a breakneck intensity to how the story unfolds but also enough breathing room for the characters to function and develop. Just when you think the film has reached its crescendo and can’t possibly find new ways to thrill you, it exceeds your expectations and pushes the excitement to new levels of genius. A masterclass of action cinema that stands as one of the finest blockbusters of the past decade.

So with McQuarrie being the first director in the franchise’s history to return to helm a second film in the form of ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’ it’s hard not to be excited to say the least.

Thursday 26 July 2018

SDCC 2018 Trailer Roundup

One week on from the 2018 San Diego Comic Con and now that the dust has settled and the initial hype is over, I want to look at each (and by “each” I mean “the ones I can squeeze an obligatory post from) trailer and what it promises for its upcoming movie. Who were the winners? Who came up short? And could anything possible be worse than that ‘Titans’ trailer? (the answer is no to that last one by the way, nothing will ever be worse, we found out society’s lowest point).

Also I should note this is less about the trailer itself and more relating to speculation regarding the movie each one is advertising since trying to critique a trailer is ultimately pretty pointless since it’s hardly reflective of a film’s overall quality. Enjoy!


The only thing more unexpected than M Night Shyamalan finally making a return to form with 2017’s ‘Split’ was that he would use that opportunity to finally make a successor to his heavily praised 2000 film ‘Unbreakable’. What many initially assumed might only be an Easter egg for loyal fans, has quickly materialised into the third part of a deeply fascinating trilogy. Shymalan used ‘Unbreakable’ to deconstruct the superhero on film, and in the time since its release the movie has become strikingly relevant to what currently dominates the blockbuster landscape.

Obviously with it being Shyamalan I can’t help but exercise some caution in whether ‘Glass’ will live up to its potential. But there’s little denying that Shyamalan managed to draw the best from its three leads when he worked with each of them. James McAvoy is once again electrifying just from the brief glimpses alone, whilst Bruce Willis exudes the same noble stoicism that makes his presence very welcome. But the scene stealer has to be Samuel L Jackson’s clinical menace, as Mr Glass remains a character unlike any other he’s played. If ‘Glass’ as a movie can match the quality of the actors inhabiting it, then we could be witnessing something very special.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

In retrospect I think one of the commendable aspects of 2016’s ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ was how it didn’t indulge too heavily in the Harry Potter iconography. Though it was very much in the same world as Harry Potter, it at least felt like an individual story. It’s why I am a little irked by this trailer for the sequel to immediately go back to Hogwarts. As much as I adore the Wizarding School as a location it can’t help but feel shoehorned into this trailer. They even go as far as to reference a scene from the single best ‘Harry Potter’ movie (fight anyone who says otherwise) just to toy with my emotions.

But on the plus side ‘The Crimes of Grindelwald’ does feel much more focussed and driven than its predecessor, which spent far too long meandering around to feel urgently compelling. I also like the idea of exploring Newt more since we got fragments of character development but no cohesive arc in the first one, even though said fragments did seem interesting. The sheer creativity of JK Rowling’s world always shines through and if nothing else we’re sure to be in for a visual splendour of great production design and visual set pieces. I even found Johnny Depp as Grindelwald to be somewhat decent, even if I would trade him for Colin Farrell in a heartbeat.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Yes everyone probably wants to talk about the music choice for this trailer first, and I hate to give into a trope but I feel like I have to as well. While I had my doubts at first the gentle harmony that built in volume and impact to terrific effect. The editing did so much to complement the music choice and both actively raised the trailer to very impressive heights. Based on the trailer I can also praise ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ for its varied colour palette. The contrast of orange and teal may be a trope but it’s an effective one, and the constantly opposing cuts from each palette to the next make each individual shot stand out.

It was also upon watching this trailer that I realised for the first time just what an impressive cast this film boasts. The likes of Kyle Chandler, Sally Hawkins and Ken Wantanabe would be intriguing, but then you take into account Charles Dance, Millie Bobby Brown, O’Shea Jackson Jr and Thomas Middleditch as well just to make everything even better. But the real star is of course the titular king of monsters. Based on the trailer I worry that Michael Dougherty isn’t as restrained as Gareth Edwards when it comes to depicting the monster (something I greatly admired about the 2014 film) but then again he has earned the right to up the ante for the sequel so we’ll have to wait with baited breath.


Perhaps the biggest surprise of SDCC this year was the notion that a DC movie might be fun and uplifting again. Obviously Patty Jenkins’ ‘Wonder Woman’ conveyed that and then some, but it was sad to see the good will DC built with that film slowly seep away as the disaster that was ‘Justice League’ came and bombed. Luckily though, the folks at Warner Bros might have learned their lesson. The trick that DC seem to have finally tapped into is that they need only make good movies (an oversimplification I admit but stay with me). When so many studios are so far ahead in the Cinematic Universe game, it makes so much more sense for DC to just rely on telling stand alone stories and focus on making them and them alone into the best possible film they can.

‘Shazam!’ just looks like great fun, a superhero film directly about the demographic who can find the most joy in the genre. The trailer just carries this infectious energy that has me very excited to see what awaits. Zachary Levi is immensely charismatic in the lead role, and fits perfectly into what a kid’s concept of a superhero would be like. The costume is also so wonderfully cinematic yet comic accurate at the same time that it makes me smile all on it’s own.


Then there’s ‘Aquaman’ which…also pleasantly surprised me. Though I remain sceptical for the movie as a whole, I can’t deny that the trailer definitely swayed me to a more optimistic place. I’ll start with my biggest gripe in that I still fear Jason Mamoa’s iteration of the character just seems to bipolar for me to see him as an empathetic character. Even in the trailer he seems to be switching between the dark and brooding tone that reeks of being too desperate to disregard to inherent silliness of the character, to then lean completely into the ridiculousness and be pleasingly boisterous.

Putting that aside, the score alone seems to be very affecting. Within the trailer it creates a rousing sense of anticipation and awe inspiring quality.  I also love how James Wan has rendered Atlantis as a tactile world within this trailer. From a few shots alone he seems to have an explicit vision of what this environment is going to stir within its audience. The CGI leaves a little to be desired but I can forgive that for the overall feel and emotional weight of the trailer. If it’s main goal was to convince me that there’s a chance of an ‘Aquaman’ movie being a serious commodity then it succeeded as far as I’m concerned.

Wednesday 25 July 2018

Incredibles 2

"I have to succeed, so that she can succeed, so that we can succeed."

Pixar is certainly a very different company to the one that birthed Brad Bird’s ‘The Incredibles’ back in 2004. Though the animation powerhouse continues to deliver widely acclaimed content, their increased reliance on sequels has led to some questioning whether their creative intent is still artistically driven. It’s what makes the prospect of a sequel to ‘The Incredibles’ both intriguing and cautionary, for fear that it might not live up to its 14 year old predecessor.

Immediately following the events of the first film, the Parr family find themselves living in difficult times as super heroes like themselves are still deemed illegal. But the family is then approached by a rich tycoon who wants to shine a positive light on superheroes, and decides to run with Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) as their best bet for good PR. As she fights crime and unravels plots, Mr Incredible (Craig T Nelson) is left to manage familial disputes at home.

One of the most remarkable things about Bird’s 2004 is its ability to multitask. Upon watching ‘The Incredibles’ for the first time you may be amazed at its stunning action sequences, emotionally resonant plot and mature themes. But on revisiting it you uncover the brilliant nuance in each interaction, the seamless way the narrative unfolds and develops with beautiful pacing, the hyper-efficient ways Bird establishes each character and that all important family dynamic that underpins the whole film. Achieving any one of these is difficult, but to execute all of them in such perfect unison as ‘The Incredibles’ is something else.

In many ways Bird’s sequel accomplishes the same task in that it does contain all of those impressive features from the first. The plot is involving and consistently intriguing, as well as highly entertaining. The characters are all well established and superbly developed over the course of the film. Furthermore the general dynamic of the family is still as prevalent as ever, with each character interacting in ways that uniquely benefit the story whilst making them stand out as individuals. It also goes without saying that Bird bestows a sense of kinetic energy to each and every action sequence with masterful effect.

So on that front ‘Incredibles 2’ certainly delivers on what fans of the original likely want in a sequel. What it lacks though is the ability to coordinate each of these elements and convey them simultaneously as the first did. At his best Brad Bird can strike the perfect balance between theme, character and action whilst using all three to complement and further one another. We’ve seen this in ‘The Iron Giant’, ‘Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol’ as well as ‘The Incredibles’ of course. In ‘Incredibles 2’ these elements are present but somewhat out of synch, being developed independently of one another rather than simultaneously.

It’s as if each consecutive scene has a different goal in mind, and though the film weaves them together as best it can, the overall structure and pace of ‘Incredibles 2’ doesn’t lend itself to dual storytelling. Even on its most basic level the narrative can’t quite render the superhero actions of Elastigirl with the domestic duties of Mr Incredible as being truly linked. They each unfold separately and only seem to converge in the third act. One scene can be funny, another can be dramatic and another can be thrilling. But rarely does a scene do more than one of these at a time.

There’s also less nuance to how the characters develop and how the family’s dynamic unfolds. At certain points ‘Incredibles 2’ risk being either too overt or too ambiguous in its characterisation. There were times when I found myself questioning why certain characters were acting the way they did in a particular moment, to a point that even if the overall intention is made more clear in retrospect, the moment at hand can’t quite convey what drives each decision.

Thankfully what isn’t lacking is the amazing talent of the voice cast, with Craig T Nelson and Holly Hunter seamlessly returning to their roles. It’s not just their individual performances that stand out, but their brilliant chemistry is just as terrific. Their interaction creates a grounded, believable relationship that serves as a through line for the entire movie. Pixar also cast this instalments new characters with pitch perfect precision. The ever brilliant Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener are (no susprise) still brilliant in their respective roles. Also, as well as losing none of his directing prowess, Bird has lost none of his voice talent as he reprises the role of Edna Mode and brings her to the screen in all her glory once again.

Though the action is thrilling it does lack a sense of escalation that was also perfectly paced in the original. Once again it comes down to the movie struggling to convey multiple ideas at once, as each action sequence is impressive but hardly ever seems to contribute or further the narrative in a truly dynamic way. Even the final conflict only serves to resolve the plot rather than wrapping up any character arcs in a meaningful way. Each characters arc is resolved by that point but only through dialogue rather than action, which makes the super powered scenes feel somewhat obligatory.

Likely to please any fan of its predecessor, ‘Incredibles 2’ isn’t quite as polished or refined, but still possesses all of the charm and entertainment value of Bird’s 2004 film.

Result: 7/10

Wednesday 4 July 2018

Ocean's 8

"Is it genetic, are the whole family like this?"

As far as gender swapping reboots go, ‘Ocean’s 11’ seems more open to that possibility than other franchises. As a series it’s always held a more playful tone which can be built upon in any way by the filmmakers. The 1960 original was little more than an excuse Frank Sinatra and co to hang out and drink for a few months, whereas Soderbergh’s two sequels were the indie director experimenting in regards to how far he could delve into experimental filmmaking under the fa├žade of a blockbuster. The 2001 film ‘Ocean’s 11’ is the only substantial benchmark this latest instalment has to live up to.

Freshly released from prison, career con artist Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) has her eyes set on what will be the biggest heist of her life. Hoping to get away with $150 million worth of jewellery she assembles a team made up of the best people in the field. The task is elaborate, risky and has been in the planning process for five years, eight months and 12 days.

Another benefit that ‘Ocean’s 8’ has is that the fanbase of this franchise are evidently not whining man-children who seem to think that the release of a movie no one is forcing them to see is destroying their childhood, or at the very least way less than the ‘Ghostbusters’ franchise seemed to have. Soderbergh’s ‘Ocean’s 11’ is unquestionably great, and any attempt to reinvigorate this series will not eradicate the original. If anything it’s very clear that the makers of ‘Ocean’s 8’ adore that 2001 film, if anything perhaps a little too much.

‘Ocean’s 8’ certainly succeeds at being a fast paced and thoroughly entertaining piece of genre filmmaking, mimicking the playful attitude of Soderbergh’s heist classic excellently. But where it falls short is how it comes across as a hollow recreation rather than a unique product of its own. Rather than embrace its own identity the movie just tries to recreate the pace, structure and general style of ‘Ocean’s 11’. It’s not just the overall narrative or broad stylistic choices either, quite often the movie’s very shot composition is practically identical to the set up Soderbergh employed back in 2001.

The only area in which ‘Ocean’s 8’ fails to match the atmosphere of its predecessor is in the little transcendent touches that have made ‘Ocean’s 11’ ageless. They are not even touches that I necessarily noticed prior to watching Gary Ross’ film. You won’t find moments of beauty like the Vegas fountains in this movie, everything is efficient and to the point but loses some of that wonderful depth in the process. It takes the broad strokes of Soderbergh’s film and repainted it with some surface details. But there’s no substance to make me see ‘Ocean’s 8’ as the individual entity it wants to be (side not, am I mentioning the name Soderbergh too much for a movie he has nothing to do with?).

So if I can only judge the surface elements as inherently new factors within this movie, what does ‘Ocean’s 8’ have to offer? Well those surface elements in question are highly entertaining. In choosing a cast to lead this caper the filmmakers have done a spectacular choice. The group has a wonderfully engaging dynamic and each member has enough individual presence to set themselves out as memorable aspects of the ensemble.

Sandra Bullock manages to ground Debbie Ocean in a way that makes her place within the movie act as a unifying force. All of these differing personalities never feel at odds when Debbie is there to provide a sense of cohesion as she gradually assembles her team and brings her plan into action. Cate Blanchett is as charismatic as ever, and Sarah Paulson makes for a fantastic addition as well. There’s also a lot to be said at how well Anne Hathaway plays what is essentially a riff on the way most people seem to perceive Anne Hathaway. Whatever the trope is actually designated as, she fills the role perfectly.

In fact the way ‘Ocean’s 8’ seems to actively flaunt it’s own breeziness makes me wonder if the film ever aspired to reach the heights of its predecessor anyway. The overall pace and structure of the film is so light and playful that it’s hard not to be swept up in the caper and not worry in the slightest regarding a lack of depth or development. There’s a noticeable affinity for light storytelling throughout the movie. It aspires to be popcorn entertainment and achieves that moderately well, so while I could raise issues relating to a discernible lack of substance I also have to wonder if there’s any real point. It’s simply not what the film aimed to be.

After all what else are the ‘Ocean’ movies if not a conceptually pleasing idea elevated by style more than anything else. It’s that area where the stellar chemistry between the cast and lavish production design that surrounds them. The locations, sets and costumes are all wonderful to behold and help make the movie a visual treat. While the cast never fail to make each scene feel engaging just for their presence alone.

Stylish and upheld by its stellar cast, ‘Ocean’s 8’ may be lacking that extra something special to elevate it beyond simple entertainment, but it still offers plenty of fun.

Result: 6/10