I have only ever seen one of the films Paul W.S. Anderson directed before Pompeii, 1997’s Event Horizon. It’s probably his most critically well-received work, but that’s not saying much, and some would regard me as lucky to have missed out on the perceived dross of Mortal Kombat, AVP: Alien vs. Predator and Resident Evil and its various sequels.
While critically-derided, Anderson’s films still appeal to a certain mainstream audience and often make their money back. While I believe audiences deserve and now look for more in their blockbusters, in the current movie environment you can see why people keep giving Anderson money to make film: his movies aren’t challenging, are easy to market, middle-of-the-road stuff; they’ll make a bit of money and few waves – mindless vanilla. Anderson’s done the same again with Pompeii – it’s not terrible, but it’s not good. In the end the most damming quality is its mediocrity – better to try and fail than just aim for safety.
Pompeii takes the best action and what have become Roman-period clichés and mixes them in with a good dose of destruction for good measure. It’s like a B-Movie version of Gladiator directed by Roland Emmerich. In fact it’s extremely similar to Gladiator for most of its first half – we get a hero (Kit Harington as Milo) whose family is killed, is left for dead and swears revenge. He becomes a slave, then a gladiator (named ‘The Celt’ rather than ‘The Spaniard’), and is taken from the provinces to Italy to be shown off by his new master. Here he befriends a black fellow gladiator, leads men to victory against the odds in an arena battle meant to kill him, and challenges the might of Rome represented by the man who ordered his family’s deaths (in this case Kiefer Sutherland as a former general turned Senator rather than the Emperor himself in Gladiator). Senator Corvos’s plan to kill Milo (who’s loved by the crowd) is however interrupted by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and it becomes a disaster survival movie. Along with these glaring similarities you get a healthy measure of poor, obvious or clichéd scripting – the ‘savage’ with a heart of gold who falls in love with his better, or lines like “you came back for me” and “you killed my family”.
All of this has the effect of making you remember how you enjoyed Gladiator and wished you were watching it instead. It’s very strange that they chose this as the story to tell. Clearly they wanted to make a movie that involved the eruption of Vesuvius, but they could have done anything, made any original or interesting story, but they didn’t, they cobbled something together from other parts. There’s not even any reasoning in the story itself, like the slaves being taken from Londinium to Pompeii to fight for no reason, the town just crowbarred in.
It’s a shame really because there’s talent in the cast that they could have done something with. I’m still undecided on the merits of Kit Harington but he brings a lot of good will with him from Game of Thrones. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje brings heart to his role of fellow gladiator Atticus, but Emily Browning is reduced to a helpless heroine and Jared Harris and Carrie-Anne Moss are completely underused as her parents. They’re given little to work with thanks to a poor, cliché-ridden script. Tropes can be indulged knowingly and a film still feel fresh and exciting, but that’s not the case here. Kiefer Sutherland is the one who’s given too much screen time, the role of villain Corvos one he never convinces in, while struggling with an accent that often makes him sound as if he has a mouth full of marbles.
Anderson’s direction is fine, just by-the-numbers, but the 3D is completely unnecessary, only serving to make the fight sequences harder to see and to allow the occasional flaming ball of rock to fly at the screen. What saves the film just the one star of complete indifference is the ending. It’s certainly not one I would have expected from Anderson and not one you would assume from this type of film. However, it merely makes the rest of the movie’s dull conventionality stand out all the more.
Starring: Kit Harington, Kiefer Sutherland, Jared Harris, Carrie-Anne Moss, Emily Browning
Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Released by: Icon Films
Runtime: 104 mins
Film Review: It Chapter Two
The sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans
The final installment in the It saga is a clever, scary, probably-too-long allegory about the power of friendship — complete with a 20-foot clown spider. Sure, it’s probably a half-hour longer than it really needs to be — but It Chapter Two is still a fantastic film that hits the sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans.
It’s a story about friendship, and just like the first film, it’s those relationships that make this story so compelling and keep it woven together in a way that you really care about what’s happening to all the folks Pennywise has been menacing across these two films. Sure, Bill Skarsgård’s absolutely terrifying performance as Pennywise is what puts butts in the seats, but at its heart, this is a story about the power of friendship to win out over pretty much anything. If we work together, we can overcome fear, loneliness, doubt, depression — and yeah — even a supernaturally godlike killer clown. Thankfully, all the blood keeps that message from getting too sappy along the way.
The first It in 2017 was a surprise, monster hit — but for good reason. The Stephen King adaptation by director Andy Muschietti is pretty much a horror masterpiece wrapped in a compelling coming of age story. Think Goonies meets a face-eating monster flick with jump scares galore to keep the blood pumping. But, despite a decently-closed ending to the first chapter, the story was always conceived as a two-part film run, which is pretty much the only way one could hope to possibly wrap up King’s massive tome (the studio actually briefly considered splitting Chapter Two into two films, because there’s just so much material).
It Chapter Two makes a wise decision to keep the stellar younger cast from the first film involved via ample flashbacks, while still providing space for the adult Losers to live and breathe (and, ahem, die) while bridging the gap between who they were and who they all grew up to be. It also embraces the inherent silliness and insanity of its premise to laugh, now seen through the lens of middle-aged adults as opposed to middle school minds. It’s a hard tone to hit, and it arguably might come off with more laughs than scares, but it’s true to the inherent madness of Pennywise.
The adult cast is also a home run by and large. James McAvoy makes for a capable adult Bill; Jessica Chastain is the embodiment of adult Bev; James Ransome nails grown-up Eddie; and Isaiah Mustafa does a capable job providing the necessary info-dumps as adult Mike. But the real breakout is Saturday Night Live alum Bill Hader as grown-up Richie. There’s scattered buzz that Hader could be worthy of an Oscar nomination for his performance, and he deserves every bit of it. We knew Hader had comedy chops, and he uses them plenty to keep this dark tale from getting too dark, but he really taps into the emotion of what it’d be like to go through something so traumatizing. And the moments that break Richie will almost certainly break you, too.
As for the changes to King’s original novel, sure, they’ll certainly be noticeable for fans. That said, the book itself — especially the ending — is absolutely wild and arguably impossible to adapt in a way that could work on the screen. The ending on-screen largely stays true to King’s themes built into the novel, and for the story that’s been told across these two films, it really does work. Hell, even King himself shows up in a cameo to make a joke about just how hard it can be to get an ending right.
Thankfully, despite a few bumps, It Chapter Two pretty much nails the landing. In a world filled more and more with King adaptations, this two-film run will stand as one of the best.
It Chapter Two is in cinemas now
IT CHAPTER TWO
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Written by: Gary Dauberman
Cast: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Bill Skarsgård
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Run time: 169 minutes
Film Review: Hobbs & Shaw
If you’ve already got the volume at 11, you might as well blast it to oblivion
It is hard to believe that 2001’s The Fast & The Furious was just a film about the underground culture of street racing. Fast forward nearly 20 years later and the films have gotten so ridiculous that the only logical next step for the film series is to blast it into space. Our endless appetite for the series has seen us grown accustomed to cars taking planes out of the sky (Fast 6), cars jumping from one building to another (Fast 7), and cars being remotely controlled to act like a pack of mechanical wild dogs (Fast 8). Ridiculous is not a barrier the film series will ever brake for and so it brings us to this, the biggest spin-off the series has seen, Hobbs & Shaw.
When the chemistry between The Rock and Jason Statham proved magic in Fast 8, it only took The Rock butting heads with Vin Diesel to see that logically, the series needed a freshness to it. Who better than Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham? Well, as Hobbs & Shaw proves, if you’ve already got the volume at 11, you might as well blast it to oblivion as the film cares not for subtlety, pouring gasoline on the fire. The film sees the addition of Idris Elba as supervillain Brixton Lore and the effervescent Vanessa Kirby as Hattie Shaw, the sister of Statham’s character. Both characters fit in superbly well to the colorful, over-the-top personas of the series, but with one difference; they haven’t worn thin yet and are extremely likable. The film benefits greatly from the absence of Vin Diesel’s dopey head and the majority of the dopey Fast “family”, instead taking the Fast and Furious formula and giving it a spit shine, turning it sideways, and sticking it right up… well, you know the drill.
Hobbs (Johnson) and Shaw (Statham) play the unlikeliest (but most charismatic) buddy cop twosome since the days of Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte. Unexpectedly, this film is really quite hilarious- with the two swapping one-liners and jibes that keeps the film light and funny. The two are tasked with stopping global genocide at the hands of the megalomaniacal terrorist organization known as Etheon. The “face” of Etheon is superhuman Brixton Lore (Elba), an agent left for dead and turned into a weaponized cyborg-esque villain using genetic engineering. He’s the “black Superman” as he says, and he’s got an array of tech and gadgets (including a transforming, autonomous motorbike that would have found itself at home in a Transformers movie) that are part of Etheon’s plan to rid the world of the “weak”.
Etheon are after a deadly virus that is in possession of Hattie Shaw and what ensues is the expected cinematic equivalent of flexing your muscles and undoing the top few buttons of your blouse soundtracked to explosions, fast machines, and zippy dialogue. Director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2) keeps things by the book, and visually it’s all very on brand with the film series. But it is the chemistry and likability of the stars- namely Kirby, Statham, and Johnson- that keeps Hobbs & Shaw light on its feet, big with its set pieces, and never a chore. Kirby, in particular, has shown that her action chops are as deadly as her acting chops (is it too late to make her Black Widow? Or maybe just put her in all the action films). She never spends the film waiting to be rescued and is often the one quelling the childish, but hilarious quarrelling between Statham and Johnson.
The film trades the tired Fast family for real blood family, and while we still get the whole “family” and “heart” spiel that Vin Diesel loves to harp on about in these films, there is definitely a welcome change to the last few films. In fact, the Fast films haven’t been this fun in a long time. Unlike the last few, Hobbs & Shaw knows that the stakes of the film are global, but never does it take that too seriously and we the audience never feel too burdened by the ridiculousness of it all. There are some great cameos (two unexpected stars pop up that add the right comedic touches, plus Helen Mirren is always brilliant) and while the changing of scenery to Samoa is reminiscent of the previous Fast family vacations to South America et al, there’s something spiritual about this trip.
In the end, you don’t even have to turn your brain off because the film is soaked in charm and lightness that makes for a fun, smart enough romp that keeps its two-plus hour run time feeling like quite a breeze. Hobbs & Shaw is what this film series desperately needed. And while we can’t say the appeal will still be there when we’re inevitably sitting through Hobbs & Shaw 2, 3, 4, 5… we can say that for now, we’ll live this life one spin-off at a time.
HOBBS & SHAW
Directed by: David Leitch
Written by: Chris Morgan, Drew Pearce
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby, Idris Elba, Helen Mirren
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Run time: 135 minutes