Rating: The Good – 76 Genre: War, Drama Duration: 130 mins Director: Joseph Sargent Stars: Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Kiera Knightley
Movies recounting humankind’s gruelling attempts to overcome nature’s obstacles tend to be either underproduced and rather dull affairs or overproduced and predictably brainless action movies so it’s a welcome surprise when we come across one that so effectively balances the internal and external factors to the story as much as Baltasar Kormákur’s film does. Couched in a comfortable budget, Everest captures the visceral wonder of the experience but maintains the writing and acting as its prize assets. And with a cast of A-listers all willing to do their bit for far less billing than their status normally demands, it pays dividends. Jason Clark hits all the right notes as the expedition leader and Josh Brolin and John Hawkes add handsomely to the medley of emotional tribulation while Jake Gyllenhaal, Sam Worthington, Kiera Knightley, and Robin Wright help shape both the story’s physical and personal contexts so that theme and drama meet harmoniously in the middle. Not everyone will be happy with Kormákur’s aversion to set piece action but those with an appreciation for attritional authenticity should find his adventure rather compelling.
Rating: The Ugly – 60 Genre: Crime, Action Duration: 109 mins Director: David Ayer Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Terrence Howard
Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a renowned badass leader of a crack DEA unit who are being assassinated one a time after they ripped off a cartel. Olivia Williams (in top form) is the investigating detective who gets caught up in the politics of the unit and the DEA to whom the unit are now pariahs. But the closer she gets to the case the more curious the actions of Arnie and his team become. A cracking premise, a cast loaded with talent (or at least personality), and a director coming off the back of an action classic, what could go wrong? Well, make Arnie your star, put him in the kind of dramatic role he was never going to pull off, acquiesce to the inane demands of the producers, and let it unravel from there. Such is the way of Sabotage.
David Ayer was never brilliant at writing plot and this one, though rooted in a worthy premise, is all over the place. Sure he may not have been helped by the studio’s interference but in choosing to reveal the plot gradually while not emphasising the mystery, he lets the movie meander forward with no sense of urgency for what’s to come. In the absence of a single star name, the tantalisingly cast team of Terrence Howard, Sam Worthington, Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway, and Max Martini might’ve been able to carry the film until the plot crystallised, but Arnie’s ubiquitous presence and the tendency for the movie to follow him exclusively, is like a wet rag on a fire and douses the potentially riveting cast dynamics. All we’re left with are some barely coherent testosterone fuelled exchanges and some interesting action sequences.
At a number of points the movie threatens to break free of its problems and turn into at least an entertaining actioner but the the lack of a clear plot stops even the most basic narrative from gaining traction. With less than clear directing, the supporting cast, led by the utterly manic Mireille Enos (what were they thinking?), implodes and the movie spirals. The makings of an excellent action movie lie within the carnage though and those moments (mostly those told in flashback) when the ICE team are doing their thing (expanding on a premise introduced in End of Watch) are worth the watch thanks mainly to the characters and dialogue of those moments (Ayer’s strong-point). In the end, however, it’s all a bit like Michael Mann’s (2007) Miami Vice. Great ideas, muddled execution.
Rating: The Bad – 28.4 Genre: Action, Science Fiction Duration: 115 mins Director: McG Stars: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin
One could argue that the Terminator franchise should never have moved into the future (outside of a few flashback/forward shots) because it was inside the audiences’ imagination that the horror of that world’s future was at it’s scariest. But if one must make a future-based prequel then all fans would expect the plot to that film to lie in the story that Reese told Sarah Connor in the parking lot during The Terminator. The story of how John Connor brought the last remnants of human kind back from the brink by organising them, teaching them to storm the wire of the camps, to smash those metal…. anyway you remember. In other words, the film would illuminate that which was alluded to in the earlier films. Terminator Salvation gives us none of that. Instead, it lands us right bang in the middle of the resistance’s campaign where Skynet is already on the back-foot and John Connor is merely a local commander who takes orders from a bunch of guys on a submarine. It then proceeds to give us some half-assed story of a half-man/half-machine (Sam Worthington) creation of Skynet (which wasn’t in any way referenced in the earlier films) and amazingly makes this machine the central character! Connor is relegated to a secondary character in this mess, Reese is turned into a whiny boy who in no way resembles the battle-hardened and gnarly Reese of the first film, and the film lurches forward on the steam of it’s own crap. It’s not even like the story was too great to pass up, it’s truly awful and riddled with the most inane plot holes like Reese not seeing anything strange in Worthington’s lack of awareness about, you know, the apocalypse! Or why Worthington wasn’t just programmed to kill Reese on first contact (?!!) or why John Connor, the man who believes he is the one true saviour of humankind, jumps out of a plane into a tsunami just so he can talk to those submarine guys! The list of plot holes is extensive and indicative of a film to which zero thought or consideration was given. On top of all this, Christian Bale speaks in his Batman voice (which isn’t even appropriate for the Batman films) and the director is someone who calls himself McG!
A paraplegic Marine takes his brother’s place on a mission to integrate with the indigenous life on dangerous planet. However, after becoming attached to a particular tribe he finds his former loyalties to the military tested as they take command of the mission and with it, a much sterner approach to the aliens.
Before anything else, one must firstly acknowledge the quality of this mega-blockbuster’s visual effects. With or without the 3D this film looks spectacular. The world of Pandora and the indigenous tribes are brought to life in such rich detail that you really do get the feeling that you are right there in the middle of everything. The action is also very good and there are some really well crafted action scenes that use the expanded physical possibilities of the alien world to great effect. Add the 3D experience on top of all that and this movie becomes an awesome visual experience.
However, despite all this, when one is forced to objectively review Avatar as a film, there can be no escaping the realisation that there are some fundamental and critical problems which even the visuals cannot compensate for. In many ways, Avatar is “Dances with Alien Wolves” but with inexcusable writing problems. The characters are all uninteresting (despite Sigourney Weaver’s best efforts) and are all variations on cliched action movie themes. The dialogue is clunky at the best of times and downright awful at others. The story is wafer thin with seriously trite plots and sub-plots. Concerning the wider plot, there are gaping holes in the logic and, as if to confirm the audience’s suspicions that the story was indeed an afterthought to an otherwise technological project, they come up with the idea of a magic tree to encapsulate a crudely conveyed hack environmental “message”. This hack emotionality and the battle sequences which attempt to drive it home like a rusty nail are certainly the most jarring problems with the movie. One of the most unforgivable things a film-maker can do is to disrespect the audience by trying to dupe the them into thinking the film is of weight when it’s really just a crass load of nonsense. It could be argued that Avatar imparts a simplistic “message” in far too childish a manner to be guilty of that crime and that the writers simply devoted too little attention to the script to be aware of the mistakes they were making. However, given that it took almost a decade to make this film, there can simply be no excuses for having overlooked something as crucial as the story.