Humanity has always been fascinated by the idea of greater beings that threaten and challenge our status as apex predators of Earth. In film, we’ve visited the notion of giants on our planet from The Lost World in 1925 and King Kong in 1933, to the myriad of Greek Gods and mythologies that have continued to dominate our celluloid imagination. Some have been greater successes than others, but there hasn’t been much change to the idea or belief that maybe that there are monsters, Gods, and Titans that will someday rise from the depths, or the skies, to put humanity back into its place. 2014’s Godzilla proved that audiences were still hungry for Japan’s great monster, wiping away the sour taste of 1998’s hyper-Americanized entry and continuing on the idea that once humanity’s moralistic compass had gone so far out of whack, there are forces out there that will ultimately right the wrongs.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters does not stray too far from the successful 2014 formula; doubling down on the true to the original homage that was so forgotten in 1998. King of the Monsters follows on from the events of 2014, pressing forward the idea that Monarch (the secret organization that has known for decades of the existence of Titans) needs to be held accountable for the emergence of Godzilla in 2014 that left San Francisco in ruins. From here we meet our human protagonists, led by Kyle Chandler’s Dr. Mark Russell (animal behavior and communication specialist), Vera Farmiga’s Dr. Emma Russell (a Monarch paleobiologist and environmental activist), and Millie Bobby Brown (their daughter). Their lives were irreversibly upturned by the original attack (leading to the death of their son) and have found themselves splintered across the globe.
What we learn is that Dr. Emma Russell has nearly perfected a tool that enables communication with the Titans (called ‘Orca’) that she originally developed with her husband. The tool is a MacGuffin of sorts that leads to the inevitable rise of these titans from their slumber. (Minor spoiler) Dr. Emma Russell takes cues from a certain galaxy conquering despot and believes that a solution to humanity’s problems can be solved by eradicating and restarting the population alongside these titans. Enlisting the work of eco-terrorists (their leader portrayed with Charles Dance-like precision by … uh … Charles Dance), her plan to unleash these beasts to cleanse the Earth is met with resistance from her husband, the military, and Monarch. It leads to wild globetrotting goose-chases, futuristic tech that give the Avengers a run for their money, and the opportunity to see the reason we all bought a ticket to this flick in the first place- Godzilla stomping a mudhole in other kaijus.
There is some subtlety lost in comparison to Gareth Edwards’ direction in the first film as new director Michael Dougherty opts for the blunt hammer routine. But these ground shattering battle scenes are by far the film’s strengths. Much of the titans clash in a symphonic crashing of orchestral soundtracks that is both moving and beautiful. Godzilla moves as the orchestra bellows and howls while the percussions thunder, exploding on screen as he battles King Ghidorah across planet-wide destruction. It is, however, plagued by the dumb humans who are reminiscent of children clanging away on triangles and tambourines in the audience of the philharmonic orchestra. By the film’s end, we care much more about Mothra than we do about the majority of the human characters. It isn’t too much of a deterrent- the film’s strengths outweigh the weaknesses. The humor is in check and doesn’t fall into bad Michael Bayisms that plagued the Transformers series, and in the end, our lust and hunger for kaiju destruction are more than satisfied.
Some argue that in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thanos did nothing wrong. Similarly, in the case of King of the Monsters, there will be many who argue that Dr. Emma Russell is not wrong in her desire to reboot the Earth and reset humanity. That is the moral question the film does pose, whether or not we’ve reached our capacity and ability to survive as a species on our limited Earth. Our fascination towards higher beings is also scratched to destructive proportions in the film. Asking again the question of our place in the universe amongst the leviathans in our mythical imaginations (the film does well in teasing the connection of these titans to ancient Eastern and Western lore). Godzilla: King of the Monsters doesn’t quite have the heart that Godzilla (2014) had, but it doesn’t fall off the cliff the same way Pacific Rim: Uprising did after the first film.
As a singular outing, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is the beautiful, symphonic destruction of humanity, one that only becomes unglued by humanity itself. As the middle part of this impending trilogy and a date in the proverbial ring with Kong looming, it is also Hollywood’s big-budget reminder that everything bad that ever happens to us is really only our own fault.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is in cinemas now.
GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS
Directed by: Michael Dougherty
Written by: Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Kyler Chandler, Bradley Whitford, Zhang Ziyi, Charles Dance, David Strathairn, Aisha Hinds, Sally Hawkins, Ken Watanabe
Distributed by: WarnerMedia / Legendary Pictures
Run time: 132 minutes
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