Hopes were high that this film might finally crack the curse of movies based on videogames. There may have been some hits (like Tomb Raider or the Resident Evil franchise), but none has ever been critically acclaimed. So perhaps reuniting the cast and director of 2015's Macbeth might finally break the cycle. But while there's plenty of whizzy stuntwork, this film never finds a story or characters to grab hold of the audience.
In present-day Texas, death row prisoner Cal (Michael Fassbender) is executed by lethal injection and wakes up in a gloomy fortress towering over Madrid. He's been saved by shady businessman Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), whose daughter Sofia (Marion Cotillard) is a scientist experimenting with DNA memory. Rikkin needs Cal to travel back into his own history using a mechanical contraption called an Animus to find out where his 15th century ancestor Aguilar (also Fassbender) hid the Apple of Eden, which holds the key to controlling human will. But Cal discovers that he is the last in a long line of Assassins who have sworn to protect the apple from Knights Templar like Rikkin or his imperious supreme leader Ellen (the fabulously gloomy Charlotte Rampling).
The idea is a clever one, and director Justin Kurzel keeps the visuals grounded with action that feels earthy and real rather than digitally manipulated. Indeed, the combination of sleek sci-fi thrills with medieval fantasy horror is very cool. But there's one huge problem with the premise: all of the big fight sequences and eye-catching parkour acrobatics take place in distant history. Cal can experience these things, but he can't actually do anything, so there's no peril involved. Instead, we get endless explanations of the technology and historical inter-connections, which never quite make sense regardless of how much the characters talk about them.
Continue reading: Assassin's Creed Review
After the more thrilling Insurgent, this saga reverts to the talky style of the original Divergent movie, constantly explaining this post-apocalyptic world's convoluted mythology before indulging in whizzy action that has little to do with the story or characters. It's a strange step back for a franchise that has such a strong cast and high production values. And this movie also feels frustratingly incomplete, because it's only based on the first half of Veronica Roth's third and final novel (a fourth film, Ascendant, is due next year).
When we last saw our hero Tris (Shailene Woodley), she and her hunky boyfriend Four (Theo James) had overthrown the nasty Erudite leaders to create a "factionless" society in Chicago under new leader Evelyn (Naomi Watts), Four's mother. But Evelyn's willingness to indulge in military excesses causes a rift with the more peace-loving leader Johanna (Octavia Spencer), sparking a civil war. Bored with this, Tris and Four free Tris' brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) from death row and escape over the walls out of Chicago along with cohorts Peter and Christina (Miles Teller and Zoe Kravitz). Fleeing into the fringe, they encounter a peaceful, futuristic community called the Bureau of Genetic Welfare, run by David (Jeff Daniels). There they learn new facts about their past, but they're unable to ignore the unravelling situation in Chicago.
As in the first film, this script is over-packed with long conversations about the society's complicated set-up, and the Bureau has its own set of issues. Some of this information provides welcome context to the earlier films, but the screenwriters also hold back a lot of key details for next time, so this episode is oddly inconclusive. And that also makes it feel dull and contrived, especially since it leaves the characters' motivations so badly muddled. There's also the problem that these movies continually steal ideas and imagery from other films (this time it's Mad Max and The Truman Show).
Continue reading: The Divergent Series: Allegiant Review
Like James Bond, wilfully anonymous driver Frank Martin is reborn as a new actor without any fuss, shifting the tone of the franchise from Jason Statham's knowing wink to Ed Skrein's stone-faced glower. But even though the new film is a lot less camp, it's still deliriously preposterous, pinging between dimwitted dialogue and jaw-droppingly silly action. It's utterly inane, but never dull and often very funny, sometimes intentionally so.
Skrein's Frank is still based on the French Riviera, where he has three simple rules to ensure plausible deniability about whoever or whatever he carries around in his shiny, seemingly indestructible Audi (product placement alert!). Then he's contacted by high-class hooker Anna (Loan Chabanol), who has escaped from her Russian mafioso bosses and is out for revenge. She hires Frank to carry her and a mini-UN of angry ex-prostitutes (Gabriella Wright, Tatiana Pajkovic and Wenxia Wu) to a variety of heists aimed at top Russians, with their final sites on kingpin Karasov (Radivoje Bukvic). When Frank balks at this, the women kidnap his father (Ray Stevenson) to force him to comply, and soon both dad and son are in the middle of the action themselves. Chases in cars, motorbikes, planes and boats ensue, as gangsters shoot at them and the police try to catch them.
Basically, this is a series of elaborately staged set-pieces held together by the bare hint of a plot, as this quartet of scantily clad women take on the macho thugs who have enslaved them. In the middle, Frank looks like a model in his sleek suit, while his dad provides some comical relief. It never makes much sense at all, and the action sequences aren't particularly well staged, relying on lots of slow motion to make everything look achingly cool. But there's a level of inventiveness in the mayhem that keeps us watching, as well as laughing along with everything that happens.
Continue reading: The Transporter Refuelled Review
Aside from impressive 21st century digital effects, this new take on the Moses story pales in comparison to Cecil B. DeMille's iconic 1956 version, The Ten Commandments, which is far more resonant and intensely dramatic. Biblical epics are tricky to get right, and Ridley Scott certainly knows how to make them look and feel terrific (see Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven), but his films are generally about the spectacle rather than the human emotion. So this version of the biblical story will only appeal to viewers who have never seen a better one.
It's set in 1300 BC, when the Israelites have been in captivity in Egypt for 400 years. Now rumours of liberation are circling, centring on Moses (Christian Bale), the adopted son of Pharaoh Seti (John Turturro), raised as a brother alongside the future Pharaoh Ramses (Joel Edgerton). When it emerges that Moses is actually a Hebrew, he is sent into exile in the desert, where he finds a new calling as a shepherd and marries his new boss' sexy daughter Sefora (Maria Valverde). Moses also has a run-in with the Jewish God, who appears in the form of a young boy (Isaac Andrews), challenging Moses to free the Israelites. As Moses attempts to spark a slave revolt, God sends seven horrific plagues to convince Ramses to let his people go.
The script struggles to have its cake and eat it too, finding rational explanations for the plagues and miracles while still maintaining God's supernatural intervention. It's a rather odd mix that demonstrates just how compromised the movie is: it's a big blockbuster rather than a story about people. Several elements work well, such as depicting God as a boy, although the screenplay never manages to make much of the female characters. And only Ben Mendelsohn manages to inject any proper personality as the weaselly overseer of the slaves. Bale and Edgerton both catch the complexity of their characters' situations, privilege mixed with personal revelations. But Scott is more interested in parting the Red Sea than taking them anywhere very interesting.
Continue reading: Exodus: Gods And Kings Review
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