Tuesday’s Reviews – Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

Tuesday’s Reviews – Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed the first Kingsman movie. It was an insane but really enjoyable spy film that even managed to make Colin Firth seem edgy and cool. I never would have thought it was possible but I guess Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman did the same thing with Nicolas Cage in Kickass. Kingsman is one of those weird films that everyone seems to love. Even my mother watched it when it was on Netflix. It had the benefit of being batshit crazy, incredibly funny, and well-made. It was perfectly over-the-top and a perfect antidote for the decreasingly self-aware Bond franchise. In recent years, James Bond has gone from being a camp British icon to something of a Hollywood bad boy. He no longer feels the need for insane and unnecessary gadgetry and, instead, uses her sheer muscle mass and martial arts skills to get the job done. Kickass took us back to a time when spies were gentlemen carrying umbrella guns and exploding pens. It was great. So, I was pretty gosh darn excited by the prospect of the second one. Especially when it was announced that Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges and Halle Berry were all joining the cast as an American version of the UK’s Kingsman organisation. All 3 of those actors are, in their own way, incredibly talented. As you probably know if you’ve read some of my stuff before, I have developed a love of Channing Tatum since I discovered he has a sense of humour about himself and now I long to see all of his films. I swear it’s all about his comic timing… there’s definitely nothing of interest to me underneath his shirt. No way. Never.
The sequel to Matthew Vaughn’s 2005 spy film, Kingsman: The Secret Service doesn’t so much try to carry on the great things as it tries to overshadow them. There is no sense that the second film in the series is going to take things lying down. It is bigger, brasher, more violent and even sillier. Yes, that’s right, even sillier than a film starring an assassin with blades for legs. This one does star Elton John though. Considering how weird the first film is, it’was incredibly unlikely that I’d ever be able to sit and say the second film makes it look almost normal in comparison. But it does. The Golden Circle could certainly do with some refinement but it still contains the same breathtaking stunts and camera work that made the first film so entertaining. As long as your basic requirements for this film revolve around good guys kicking the arses of bad guys then it’ll be satisfying enough.

The Golden Circle sees the unlikely hero from the first film, Eggsy (Taron Egerton), coming up against a dangerous drug baron, Poppy (Julianne Moore), who is essentially holding the world’s drug users to ransom. When Eggsy has a near-death run in with former Kingsman applicant Charlie he finds himself on the tail of the Golden Circle; a drugs cartel who rules the world’s drug trade. When Poppy poisons her merchandise, drugs users all over the globe start showing signs of an illness which leads to a quick and horrible death. Poppy plans to make a deal with President of the United States but, after the rest of the Kingsman were taken out, Eggsy seeks help from his American counterparts, the Statesmen, to bring her down.

It is the introduction of the Statesmen that gives this film such a different feel. Once the majority of the orignal cast have been dispensed with, Eggsy is left with only Merlin (Mark Strong) for company. So we are introduced to American agents in the shape of Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry and Pedro Pascal. All these characters show great potential but they never quite excite as much as the original cast. There is a certain amount of chemistry missing between the newbies and the olds here. You’ll miss the interactions between Eggsy and his mentor Harry (Colin Firth) or his fellow new Kingsman Roxy. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Pedro Pascal’s face but even watching him utilise an electro lasso doesn’t make up for the absences.

There is a lot of bloat in this second film that really slows the film down. Not only have we got to go through the process of finding and introducing the Statesmen, which messes with the pace, but then we find out Harry is alive. It’s not exactly a spoiler because he’s been all over the promotional material but, yes, after his grizzly death in the first film Harry is back… kind of. I like Colin Firth in the first film but his return here takes way too much time away from the main story. It ultimately doesn’t add enough to justify lengthening the film that much. No matter how cool Firth looks in an eye patch.

It is not until late on that the film really gets going. After the opening fight scene, that’s where we see most of the super impressive and visually stunning fight scenes that the first film got so right. I mean, speaking critically, I could have done without the rehash of the original’s “manners maketh man” scene but Pedro Pascal is so phenomenally sexy that I can forgive it. It is these insane and completely cartoon-like fight scenes that make the Kingsman films so fantastic. The visual gags, stunts and CGI all come together to create something so absurd yet so appealing. The filmmakers know what they’re doing by now so they’re all pretty by the book but they will still capture an audiences’ attention.

I can’t say that I liked this film more than the original but I did like this film. Well, most of this film. There is a horrible, creepy and unnecessary plot strand that sees Eggsy have to plant a tracking device in an incredibly intimate area that just feels misjudged…. especially in this current climate in Hollywood. However, the rest of the film is silly and funny enough to keep fans of the first film relatively happy. Even if Channing Tatum is horribly underused and overdressed for the duration.

TBT – X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

TBT – X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

It’s been just over 10 years since Brett Ratner’s addition to the series of X-Men films that Bryan Singer started back in 2000 and, without meaning to be too dramatic, it’s still painful that this film exists. I know that Days of Future Past went and deleted it from the film canon but that doesn’t make it any easier. I vividly remember going to see this film with my friends: I was 18 years old, full of hope and excitement at what the next instalment would bring. I left feeling utterly depressed and glad the whole thing was over. A lot of my sadness at the time revolved around the casting of Kelsey Grammer as Beast. I’ve always loved the character of Beast and was glad that he was set to be involved in this film. As a firm lover of Frasier I even, initially, didn’t mind the casting of Grammer; I mean Hank is an intelligent and peaceful creature so I could see where they were coming from. Upon leaving I was bemoaning the fact that Beast had been so utterly wasted. As the years went by my hatred for this film only grew and, had it not been for the even more appalling X-Men Origins 3 years later, I could easily say this was worst film in the whole franchise. And, for once, I’m not just being melodramatic.

I’m so irrationally angry at this films existence that I imagine writing this review is going to be hard so I’m going to simplify it and break it down into the good and bad points.

First, the good:

  • The Cast

This film’s cast does have quite a few plus points as the rest of the films have. Ian McKellen is always a delight as the villainous Magneto and, no matter how much better J Law is at acting, I think Rebecca Romijn will always be the ultimate Mystique. She’s sexy, weird and dangerous instead of endless inspiring and preachy. In terms of the rest of the cast, most of the regulars are just phoning in what little they get to work with but, alongside newcomer Ellen Page as Kitty, the main highlight has to be Famke Janssen as Jean Grey/Phoenix. She gets short shrift in terms of the Dark Phoenix narrative but Janssen is fantastic in the moments she gets to unleash the Phoenix. We deserved more of her.

  • Action sequences

Whatever you may think about Ratner’s directorial style you cannot deny that his action sequences are memorable. Yes, this isn’t always a positive (see the floating house/Xavier shaky jowls moment) but the danger room sequence and final Phoenix showdown are both pretty spectacular.

  • Political Elements

The film’s narrative isn’t exactly strong but there are some aspects that work really well. The attempt to bring in the political elements with the cure provides an emotional struggle for the mutants. It follows the strong human vs mutant struggle we’ve seen in previous films and provides some decent moments. Angel’s storyline, though rushed, has some great moments and Beast’s internal struggle works great (particularly when added to the similar themes in the prequels).

Now the bad:

  • It’s just not very good

There is a lot of shitty parts of this film that stand out. The continuity is all over the shop and the editing is just awful in places. This film isn’t all about the detail it’s just about getting the story told in the most exciting way. Day quickly becomes night, cars have lights on to make shots better and things aren’t where they’re meant to be. It all just shows a lack of finesse and care that these films had under the watchful eye of Bryan Singer. Plus, who ever cast Vinnie fucking Jones needs to get sacked. Hearing his awful cockney accent shouting “I’m the Juggernaut, bitch” was something nobody needed or wanted.

  • Too many characters

There are just too many characters stuffed into this thing that nobody really gets the development they deserve. Even big players like Jean don’t get enough to do and she spends most of her time standing behind people looking bored. The new guys are introduced and ignored until they are needed for a cool shot or funny gag later one. We needed to get to know these characters and care about them instead of see one execution of their power near the end of the film. We needed more Hank for fuck’s sake.

  • Terrible treatment of existing characters

Ratner was brutal in this film when it came to killing off existing characters. Not brutal in terms of number, per se, but in the way he did it. There was no respect for the key characters here and they are completely turned around from the people we know already. Xavier’s characterisation here is completely different to the one we knew and he spends most of him time being a huge dick. It’s almost a relief when Jean kills him off. But then she does and in a really understated way. However, he gets more of a look in than Scott who, thanks to James Marsden’s desire to follow Singer to Superman Returns, gets killed off in the most pathetic way about 10 minutes into the film. Then there’s fucking Rogue who went through 2 films worth of struggling with her identity only to get rid of her powers so she can have sex with Bobby. What kind of fucking crazy message is that to give young girls? Get rid of your uniqueness in order to land a guy: fuck that! It’s a horrible use of these characters.

  • The rushed Dark Phoenix Saga

X2 remains the best film in the franchise in my opinion and it so expertly set up the Dark Phoenix Saga that fans eagerly awaited X3. Of course, The Last Stand managed to fuck that up by gluing this story onto the end of the main mutant cure narrative. This means we only get about 15 minutes of real Phoenix force before everything is resolved. Considering this is such a huge event in the comics, The Last Stand really doesn’t do it justice.

  • Too much Wolverine

By this point in the trilogy it had become clear that Wolverine was the most bankable member of the cast and, as such, Fox had made him the main character. Which is kind of crazy. It also meant that almost every emotional aspect of this plot fell back to him instead of the people it should have done. Xavier’s death: how does Logan feel? Jean’s descent into evil: how does Logan feel? Mutant cure: how does Logan feel? Who gives a fuck!? I want to know who thought it was a good idea to take the Dark Phoenix Saga out of Jean Grey’s completely and give the emotional resolution to fucking Wolverine? I love Hugh Jackman’s portrayal as much as the next guy but this shouldn’t have been his movie.

Conclusion:

By no means is The Last Stand the worst films ever made nor, thanks to fucking Origins, is it the worst X-Men film ever made. The problem remains that it was much worse than the two films is followed. Bryan Singer had made something great with his first two films. He not only set about placing X-Men firmly in Hollywood but also showed the great potential for superhero movies. Arguably, the focus of modern cinema could have been very different without them. So Ratner’s shitty attempt to follow in his footsteps is all the more painful because of the reputation he fucked with. Still, there are some positives. Mostly nothing to do with Ratner but, still, it’s good to know that we can find hope in anything.

Cloud Atlas (2012)

Cloud Atlas (2012)

Writing this blog only makes me realise just how little I’ve read of contemporary writers and I end up feeling like the biggest failure of a Literature graduate. Whilst I’m sat here with an insane amount of knowledge about novels of sensibility, I can’t even remember the last Man Booker Prize shortlisted novel I read. Thanks to some quick Wikipedia-ing I’ve discovered that it was the 2007 shortlisted On Chesil Beach(which is only because I adore Ian McEwan). I own a lot of the novels but just haven’t got round to reading them yet (not even The Sense of An Ending which is fucking tiny). I’m so ashamed. Given this fact, it will come as no shock to you that I have yet to read David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. However, I have enough of an awareness of the basic details surrounding its structure and content to understand why it was referred to as one the many, so-called, “unfilmable” novels. So it was always going to be a massive undertaking for Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski’s to create something worthy of the Richard and Judy Award winning novel.

It’s fairly difficult to summarise the plot of Cloud Atlas as the narrative is made up of several plotlines set across six different time periods. These short tales move us from the South Pacific in 1849, to the UK in the 1930s, followed by a quick stop in San Francisco in the 70s, then modern day England before finishing us off with two glimpses into the near future. The two directing teams divided these six narratives between themselves with the Wachowski’s taking the two futuristic plots and the earliest one; leaving Tykwer to work with the three ‘modern’ storylines. The effect of this split is interesting but a little jarring thanks to the contrast in styles. The Wachowski’s bring their usual focus on visuals and style which often feels in conflict with Tykwer’s championing of character and drama.
Of all the sections, it is the vision of the Korean future that is the most disappointing and that’s even before you consider implications of the awkward feeling you get from seeing make-up required to make British and American actors look more Korean. Taking inspiration from classic science-fiction such as Blade Runner, this CGI backdrop and uninspiring revolution plot have less humanity and emotion than the clone-workers it depicts.  
In fact, both of the later storylines fall short of their potential and the tale of a post-Fall tribe does get fairly tedious; despite seemingly being placed in the role of primary tale. No time is given to introducing the main characters and exploring their motivations. We see Zachry (Tom Hanks) conversing with an invisible-to-everyone-else figure but this is just left undeveloped. Unlike the Neo-Seoul section, where you could comfort yourself that time that could have been spent on character development was put into CGI, the post-Fall tribe has very little going for it expect an underused group of cannibals.
It is the 1936 narrative that is the most engaging: following a young musician (Ben Whishaw) as he attempts to make a name for himself. He does this by taking a job as … to struggling composer (Jim Broadbent). Whishaw and Broadbent are both incredible performers and really sell their roles as tortured artist and desperate wash-up.
Broadbent is next seen in the modern day tale included for a bit of light relief. Taking the tone and look of a classic Ealing comedy, publisher Timothy Cavendish finds himself on the run from a group of angry Irish men. Going to his brother (Tom Hanks) for help, he is double-crossed and shut away in a nursing home. I think Tykwer handles this section well enough but, as with the rest of the vignettes, there is an undeniable sense that everything we are watching is just aimless.
This is not a film to promote developed story or character but a film that celebrates wigs, prosthetics and make-up. In order to project the themes of destiny and soul mates, the fairly small main cast have been placed in multiple roles throughout the film. It is an interesting concept but there are some weak points within the cast that means, no matter how visually different they appear, many performers just don’t convince as their various personas. Tom Hanks, for example, plays a role in all six stories but it is almost impossible to see anyone other than Tom Hanks on screen. Whether he is covered with facial hair; wearing 70s glasses and a turtle neck; sporting a shaved head, goatee and diamond earring; or covered in futuristic tattoos, you can still only see Tom Hanks playing dress-up. Perhaps this is just one of the inevitable problems that would arise in such an ambitious mission.
After all, adapting David Mitchell’s literary masterpiece was never going to be an easy task and certain sacrifices and changes were going to have to be made to make it work on screen. The most obvious these can be seen within the overall structure and the way the different strands flow into one another. From what I can tell with my limited knowledge, one of the reasons that Cloud Atlas worked so well as a novel was down to its structure. The narrative set furthest into the future acted as the central piece and the other stories fell into two halves on either side of it. This means that each narrative leads into the next with the aid of discovered written accounts of the events. This helps to highlight one of Mitchell’s central themes: the interconnectivity that can occur through literature.
The directors chose to have the individual stories cutting back and forth seemingly at random. I have to admit that this works at certain points because it becomes even more obvious where events are mirrored in each story. However, this lack of definition ultimately just has the effect of making the linear structure much more confusing. You don’t stick with one plotline long enough to really get to grips with the events taking place. There is never enough time to get to know the characters and, therefore, connect with them. Any relationship or romantic feeling that develops just feels superficial because there is no time to explore it. Cloud Atlas relies on ambiguity to keep the plots moving and it is difficult to fully connect with a single strand let alone the whole tapestry. The endless cutting back and forth is, in a sense, blinding and the overall impact of each story is lessened. It just seems like a waste.
It was always going to be a fairly epic undertaking in adapting this novel but getting rid of the rigid structure has only made it more difficult. I imagine the decision was made because someone important decided that an audience wouldn’t be able to keep up with what was going on if there was any length of time between the start and conclusion of each tale. It is a ridiculous decision that, rather than making the film more accessible, often makes it harder to take in everything that is happening. Filmmakers need to stop believing that the majority of audiences are slobbering idiots who can’t follow a storyline unless their attention is constantly being grabbed by dramatic events and pretty colours.
I applaud the film-makers for taking on this task and I have to say that Cloud Atlas is certainly not the worst film ever made. It is a solid attempt at making a complicated literary vision work as a live-action adaptation. There just isn’t enough finesse on show here. Having three different directors working on six separate storylines just makes the overall film appear disjointed and unsteady. It is something that would have worked better in a more episodic form instead of trying to cram so many themes, characters and scenarios into one 172 minute long film. Unfortunately, this production was never going to live up to its extremely high expectations or sense of self-importance. What we have is a film that talks about big game but, when it comes down to it, has a great deal less to offer.