Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Buried within an eternal storm in the middle of the Pacific ocean, Skull Island has remained hidden for centuries – until emerging satellite technology uncovers this ‘lost’ island. Desperate to discover any precious resources before the Russians cotton on, a scientific team (led by John Goodman) enlists a tracker (Tom Hiddleston) and a military escort (with Samuel L Jackson in charge), attract a prize-winning photo journalist (Brie Larson) – and are soon neck-deep in all the horrors of the land that time forgot.

I think my only previous experience with King Kong was the 2005 Peter Jackson version, which disappointed me bitterly. My main issue with that one was the lack of fun – it was so reverential, so po-faced – and so dull. Seriously: this is a movie about a giant monkey, how can you be boring!??

Skull Island, however, seems to have learned from this – and goes in entirely the other direction. This is a monster movie, pure and simple: lots of things trying to kill all the interlopers, in various spectacular and/or gory ways. No one is safe on an island ruled by a building-sized gorilla – and really, you have to ask yourself how big the other fauna is… o_O

Much to my surprise, I ended up really enjoying this. It is so daft that it’s quite easy to just enjoy the spectacle, and try not to think too hard about the whole hollow earth theory, or man’s arrogant stupidity, or pretty much anything, really.

The cast are a mixed bunch, as are the performances. SLJ is always great value, and he goes for a more silent, eyeball-terrorising rage than often shown, which works well. Tom Hiddleston seems rather miscast to me, he just didn’t fit well. And I was more amused by seeing Toby Kebbell in human form given his previous turn as a (Planet of the) ape(s) than his role really merited.

The special effects go the same way: mixed. Largely good, but I’m sure there were a few moments that I would generously suggest were homages to Harryhausen’s classic claymation versions. Ahem.

Overall: manages to be my favourite version of Kong. The bar, however, was pretty dang low 😉

Released: 9th March 2017
Viewed: 10th March 2017
Running time: 118 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6.5/10

The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

Batman might be a dab hand at rounding up the bad guys, but he’s still battling that crippling loneliness. It doesn’t help that he’s too afraid of (more) loss to let anyone close – or, quite frankly, that he’s a mega-arrogant douche 😉 Thankfully, the Lego Movie series is here to help us poke fun at a rich, weird loner who likes to dress in black, and a whole pile of superhero memes along the way.

Plot-wise, the Joker is upset when Batman refuses to acknowledge him as his ‘main adversary’ (“I like to fight around”), and sets out to be, urm, more appreciated. This might involve a group of cross-movie super villains being rather superbly spoofed, but I’m not giving anything away 😉 Meanwhile, the unfortunately named orphan Dick Grayson is out to get himself adopted, while Bruce Wayne is a little distracted by the new police commissioner…

There’s not a great deal of substance to this movie, really, but it serves to be ridiculous and does so pretty well. The bulk of the humour actually comes from a host of rather throw-away moments and lines, such as referring to Daleks as “British robots – ask your nerd friends”, or the characters all saying “Pew! Pew!” as they fire their guns (that slayed me. Don’t ask!). There’s also some great lampooning of Batman’s history-on-screen, as well as the character in general.

If there’s a weakness, it’s the ‘real’ meaning of the movie, which is all about family and working with others and *yawn*. Not awful, but y’know – pew! pew!! 😉

Released: 10th February 2017
Viewed: 8th March 2017
Running time: 104 minutes
Rated: U (UK)

My rating: 6/10

Logan (2017)

By 2029 there are almost no mutants left. None have been born in the past 25 years, and those that were left… well, bad things happened. Even the legendary Wolverine, whose healing powers may or may not have once had him considered all but immortal, is sickening. Dying.

Perhaps the one thing keeping him going is caring for the frail Professor Charles Xavier, hidden away in the desert and force-drugged to try to suppress the effects of dementia on the most powerfully psychic brain on the planet. Like I said, bad things happened.

And then something shocking: a young mutant, a child. She’s in terrible danger – but can Logan be persuaded to help… and will that be enough?

I’ve seen and enjoyed all the X-Men movies over the years, but this is a beast of an entirely different colour. The moody tone of the trailers was spot on in preparing viewers for a dark, often emotional, final part of the Wolverine trilogy (although there is no requirement to have seen either X-Men Origins: Wolverine or The Wolverine, or indeed, any of the other X-Men movies, really, as long as you have a vague notion about the character) – and I’m going to say that this is the movie the character has deserved all along.

What’s different? That emotional content. The serious tone and added ‘reality’ of the struggles of aging, even as a ‘superhero’. It’s admittedly a less ‘fun’ movie than its predecessors, but wow it hits in the feels (as the young people say ;)).

There’s still a lot of action, of course, and the use of a 15 certificate ups the blood and gore factor significantly – again, that (and the profuse swearing) probably add to the realism of the piece: there’s nothing coy about those famous claws going through a man’s skull, splattering brain about the place.

The story is also surprisingly satisfying, I felt. There are thematic similarities to previous installments, perhaps.

Overall, this swaps cheerful for powerful, but man what a way to end an era of X-Men movies!

Released: 1st March 2017
Viewed: 3rd March 2017
Running time: 137 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 8.5/10

Assassin’s Creed (2016)

In 1492, the war between the Templars and the shadowy Brotherhood of Assassins is reaching a peak. The latter are guardians of the ‘Apple’ – a Mcguffin with the ability to remove mankind’s free will- while the former are keen to get their hands on it to ensure world peace – via perfect obedience from the entire world.

Fast forward a half century or so, and the Abstergo company has developed the ‘Animus’, a machine capable of unlocking genetic memories. Their aim is to use the descendants of the Assassins to ‘remember’ the Apple’s last hiding place, but so far they have found every memory ends in death before the answer is revealed.

The last hope is Cal (Michael Fassbender), an inmate on death row. Can the memories of his ancestor, Aguilar (also Fassbender, with brown contact lenses), lead the company to their prize – and Cal to his own answers? More to the point, will he survive the process – physically or mentally?

Reviews have been rather shoddy for Assassin’s Creed, and to be honest I can see why people are picking holes in the movie. The plot is tenuous to say the least (although it does have some cool ideas) with holes to drive a truck through if you want to go looking for them. On the other hand, it looks *amazing* and is crammed full of action – and I mean, who doesn’t like a bit of parkour!?!

I’ve never played the game(s) this is based on (and hey, there was a warning sign!), but it’s quite clear that there’s a lot of effort gone into making it look similar and/or tie-in with the game. I read that the game is praised for historical detail, which perhaps explains why the 15th Century scenes are in subtitled Spanish – not quite what you might have expected!

Aside from the fighting, the acting is all a little bit moody-stares and not much else. Alas, this doesn’t work well for leading lady Marion Cotillard, who doesn’t get to fight and is lumbered with a career-low script. I confess to being a little confused at her character ‘development’. At least Fassbender gets to distract a bit with physicality ::ahem:: 😉

This isn’t going to go down as the movie that breaks the curse of video game to screen adaptations, but if you go in expecting it to be pretty dire you might just be pleasantly surprised. I got what I was after: mindless fun and some really great visuals. Sometimes there’s a place for that!

Released: 1st January 2017
Viewed: 13th January 2017
Running time: 115 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10

The Accountant (2016)

Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) is an accountant. No – don’t run away yet! As the posters for a movie with a less-than-exciting title were keen to show: this CPA is rather mean and carries a VERY large gun!

There’s always something extremely satisfying about seeing the bad guys get their comeuppance. When the ‘hero’ is someone marginalised by society, getting his own back at the ‘bullies’, all the better. Because Wolff is autistic, you see: a genius with numbers, but thoroughly mystified with people (and quite frankly aren’t we all, at least sometimes!).

Through flashbacks – relatively well done, spread throughout the movie – we see glimpses of Wolff’s childhood: freaking out over a missing jigsaw piece, diagnosed as having ‘more in common with Einstein’ (although in the trailer, I think that particular lined failed to make the movie), and his father’s extreme ideas on ‘normalising’ his son in preparation to function in the world.

And it kind of works: Wolff trains himself to make eye contact once in a while, to parrot the small talk that people seem to expect, and all manner of ‘normal’ behaviours he fundamentally just does not ‘get’. With his ‘unique set of skills’, and via circumstances revealed only as the movie goes on, Wolff has become the go-to man for mobsters, criminals, and warlords with money woes, which brings him – or rather, the shadowy presence he maintains – onto the radar of the US Treasury Department.

At the same time, he’s called in to a legitimate case when a large robotics firm thinks it may have some cash irregularities. But strangely enough, it’s this un-shadowy job that seems to come with more dead bodies than even Wolff is used to…

I was pleasantly surprised by The Accountant – it was highly entertaining, but also just a little bit clever. Affleck is pretty good in the role (and in interviews points out that it took buddy Matt Damon two films – Good Will Hunting  and Bourne – to cover the same ground as he gets into this one!), with some great support from JK Simmons and Anna Kendrick. I can’t really pass comment on the portrayal of autism here, but I definitely sympathised with the character a great deal.

I suspect some people might find bits a little predictable – I had guessed a few things quite early on, but am pretty good at not letting that spoil the movie for me – and I did feel that a lot seemed to happen right at the very end, and yet nothing that could have really moved any earlier without interrupting a pretty decently-told story.

Much, much better than Jack Reacher, imo – recommended!

Released: 4th November 2016
Viewed: 4th November 2016
Running time: 128 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 8/10

Doctor Strange (2016)

Brilliant-but-arrogant neurosurgeon, Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), loses the fine motor control in his hands and thus his career in a car accident. Exhausting even experimental western medicine, a tip off about a ‘miraculous’ cure sends him to Kathmandu. Even as desperate as he is, can this logical, conceited doctor get his mind around the mystical?

Well, obviously he does or the poster doesn’t make much sense! As he immerses himself in training – and turns out to be as precocious and almost as hubristic as ever – he soon finds that there is a bigger purpose for these centres of magic than just teaching spells, and when they are threatened so too is the whole world.

There’s a similarity in this set up, I think, to that of Iron Man (2008), which of course kicked off the modern ‘MCU’ all those years ago: rich, arrogant man is humbled before learning to be brilliant at something else which can save the world. However, unlike Tony Stark, this is magic not technology – I almost said ‘something new’ for the universe, but of course we’ve already met the likes of the Scarlet Witch (Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)).

So, does it work? Better than Bandwidth Cumberbunny’s American accent, which barely managed to stay on the right side of movie-killing distracting. He is a good fit for the role, otherwise, which is just as well as I’m not really sure any of the other characters are given enough screen presence to make that much of an impact. That role falls to the visuals – which are stunning, it’s just a shame that Inception got there first, albeit not to this scale.

One big plus is the humour, which is rife throughout the movie – I can see the lessons being learned from both previous Marvel and DC movies on this being a necessity. Alas, while I was chuckling a lot, there were more than a few times that it all felt very forced in, which was more than a little jarring.

Still, I have a lot of love for the MCU movies, and will forgive a lot in the name of sheer entertainment value. However, I can understand that ‘superhero fatigue’ has beyond set in for a lot of people, and I’m not sure this is the movie to turn that around. For the rest of us, though: it’s a lot of fun!

Released: 25th October 2016 (UK)
Viewed: 28th October 2016
Running time: 115 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7.5/10

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)

Jack Reacher left the army for the life of an off-the-grid drifter. He’s impossible to find, tough as nails, and sharp as a tack. So when he sticks his nose into an internal army investigation that might just be a cover up for something much bigger, the attempt to stop him needs some drastic measures. Like, bringing in another former army man turned renegade killer (because, yes, our ‘good guy’ very much is a killer!) and threatening the daughter Reacher never knew he had – or, does he?

Set up for murder and arrested himself, Reacher breaks Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) out of military jail, and rescues the possible-offspring. It’s not long before he realises that solving the case whilst being hunted by some ruthless baddies is the easy bit: dealing with a 15 year old and a woman just as capable as he is might be the bigger challenges!

I suspect the best way to enjoy the Jack Reacher movies is to never have read the books. I hear this one has a fair few differences from the source material – possibly improving the plot/pacing/ending – and I’m not talking just about the loss of a foot of height in the leading character. Still, I have yet to try the novels, and Tom Cruise can certainly kick ass (and run. A lot!). Whether that’s enough to differentiate this from other action movies… hmm, not so much.

So what we’re left with is a perfectly serviceable action fest. No fast cars/motorbikes for a change, just a lot of running and punching and that sort of thing. Whether that appeals or not is, of course, entirely your choice.

The addition of ‘character expanding’ elements like the stroppy teenager (not *too* irritating, but borderline!) and a female Major with a hair-trigger reaction to sexism have their pluses and minuses. The latter is one rather shoe-horned in scene, imo, although letting Smulders kick some serious butt all over the place (and not wearing a ton of makeup or skimpy clothing whilst doing so!) is its own message. As for the family angle – yeah, fair enough. It is, apparently, the reason this so-so plotline was picked for this second Reacher outing – and I think it’s safe to say there will be a third.

Released: 20th October 2016
Viewed: 21st October 2016
Running time: 118 minutes
Rated: 12A- should a movie with a man beating another man to death really get this low a rating?! o_O

My rating: 6/10 – nothing amazing, but reasonably polished for a popcorn action flick