ATOMIC BLONDE (2017) – Routine Actioner Falls Short

1

AtomicBlonde

It’s 1989, just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the Cold War is about to get turned on its head.  Spies are running this way and that, and secrets are more closely guarded, as no one knows what will happen after the wall falls.

It’s in this world, the frenetic days leading up to the tearing down of the wall, in both East and West Berlin, that ATOMIC BLONDE (2017) takes place.

MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is sent to East Berlin to help  fellow agent David Percival (James McAvoy) extract a man with the code name Spyglass (Eddie Marsan) who has in his possession a list of spies which if it falls into the wrong hands would compromise the intelligence agencies of the west, namely Great Britain, the United States, and France.

As such, the CIA is involved, as their man Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman) is working closely with MI6 operative and Lorraine’s superior, Eric Gray (Toby Jones).  Likewise, the French also have an agent on the ground in East Berlin, Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella), and they’re all working together— or are they?— to successfully get Spyglass out of East Berlin before his secrets fall into the hands of the heavy-handed KGB agents.

Further complicating matters is the knowledge that Spyglass has lost the list, but he also has committed it to memory, so the mission becomes twofold- get Spyglass out of East Berlin alive, and also find the missing list.  And oh yeah.  Someone in the operation is a double agent.  It’s a messy job in a messy city in an even messier time.

ATOMIC BLONDE is an okay movie but falls short of expectations and never really captures the insanity of the waning days of East Berlin before the wall came down, nor does it possess enough style to overcome its story limitations.

Kurt Johnstad wrote the screenplay based on the graphic novel series “The Coldest City” by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart.  One of the bigger problems I had with ATOMIC BLONDE is for a movie based on a graphic novel, it doesn’t boast the best visuals.  First-time director David Leitch starts off fine with some colorful and energetic opening credits, but after that there isn’t a whole lot visually that captures the graphic novel feel. It seems as if Leitch couldn’t make up his mind whether he was making a colorful adaptation of a graphic novel or a hard-hitting cold war spy thriller.

The film also did not grab me right away and took a while to get going.  The second half is definitely stronger than the first, and there is a brutal and well-executed fight sequence between Lorraine and several KGB thugs towards the end that is by far the best action scene in the movie.  But for the most part the action in ATOMIC BLONDE is standard and by the numbers.

Kurt Johnstad’s screenplay is also nothing to be excited about.  The dialogue is all rather flat, and the story is nothing we haven’t seen before.

ATOMIC BLONDE does boast a strong cast but even the presence of solid veteran actors doesn’t help all that much.

Charlize Theron is a wonderful actress, yet I think she was miscast here as MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton, as I didn’t find her all that believable in the role.  When she’s kicking the stuffing out of the KGB thugs, these scenes just didn’t ring true for me. Granted, she’s as beautiful as ever, but as the unstoppable indefatigable Lorraine Broughton, I wasn’t buying it.

I enjoyed Theron much more in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015).  Her performance in that movie was rugged and convincing.  Her performance in ATOMIC BLONDE is more like a Tom Cruise performance than a Tom Hardy performance.  The toughness and grit Theron showed in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD isn’t really on display here.

James McAvoy delivers a decent performance as David Percival, but in all honesty, it’s nothing I haven’t seen him do before. Plus, he looks like he walked off the set of SPLIT (2016) and simply put on a coat to blend in on the streets of East Berlin.

Sofia Boutella is okay as French agent Delphine Lasalle, and I enjoyed her more here than in her recent turn as Ahmanet the Mummy in the dreadful THE MUMMY (2017). But she was most memorable as the alien Jaylah in STAR TREK BEYOND (2016).

Veteran actors Toby Jones and John Goodman are on hand as the older agents in the proceedings, Jones representing MI6, and Goodman the CIA.  They are both solid in supporting roles.

In the key role of Spyglass, Eddie Marsen does a decent job.  I actually enjoyed him more in THEIR FINEST (2017), where he played a different kind of agent, one that represents actors, in that superior period piece comedy drama about making a propaganda film about Dunkirk.

Bill Skarsgard, the son of actor Stellan Skarsgard, is memorable as Merkel, one of Lorraine’s contacts in East Berlin. It’s a small role, but I thought he gave one of the better performances in the movie.  Skarsgard will be playing Pennywise in the upcoming remake of Stephen King’s IT (2017).

ATOMIC BLONDE is an okay actioner, but it never really gets into high gear, nor does it possess the pizzazz to sustain its two hour running time.  The script is meh, the dialogue standard, and the story is routine, and while the actors are all solid in their roles, none of them put this film on their backs and carry it to the finish line.  Also, director David Leitch does little to make this one visually exciting or cinematic, save for one extremely well-executed fight scene.

At the end of the day, I expected more from ATOMIC BLONDE.  As it stands, it’s not bad, and it does remain fairly entertaining, but it’s not the in-your-face graphic novel interpretation it should have been.

It’s more sub-atomic than atomic.

—END—

 

 

JASON BOURNE (2016) – Fifth Film in “Bourne” Franchise Repetitive

1

jason bourne poster

Jason Bourne.  Jason Bourne.  Jason Bourne.

Does that sound repetitive?  Welcome to my problem with today’s movie, JASON BOURNE (2016), the fifth film in the Jason Bourne series, the fourth starring Matt Damon.

I mean, how many movies will it take for Jason Bourne to stop looking into his past and move on to something new?  Apparently more than four, because this is Matt Damon’s fourth turn as the character and he’s still searching for answers.  Yawn.

Which is too bad because I’m a fan of the Bourne series.  I loved the first one, THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2002) and enjoyed the next two as well, THE BOURNE SUPREMACY (2004) and THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (2007).  I even enjoyed the one without Damon, which starred Jeremy Renner, THE BOURNE LEGACY (2012).  That being said, with each  successive film I grew wearier of their plots which were pretty much variations of the same premise- Jason Bourne coming out of hiding to learn the truth about his past and make life miserable for whichever nasty good-for-nothing CIA chief  was in power at the time.

I’m sorry to say that this newest film in the series, JASON BOURNE– hey, how about that title?  Score one for creativity! Let’s call this one– Jason Bourne!— offers nothing new and  is exactly what I just described.  It’s just hard to get excited about a movie in a series with the same exact plot of the films which came before it.

So here we go.  In JASON BOURNE, former CIA operative Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is once more looking for answers about his past, this time about his deceased father’s involvement in his CIA recruitment.  So once again Bourne comes out of hiding, and this time the CIA heavy who’s out to stop him in order to prevent Bourne from exposing their secret programs is CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones).

Dewey is assisted by his young protege, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), although as the story goes along, it becomes clear that the two don’t see eye to eye, as Dewey sees Heather as inexperienced, and Heather views Dewey as a dinosaur, and so both deal with Bourne on their own terms.

They also have at their disposal an assassin named Asset (Vincent Cassel) who has a history with Bourne and is only too happy to be the man asked to eliminate the former CIA operative.

The plot in this one revolves around Dewey’s shady dealings with a young social media mogul named Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed).  Dewey basically wants to use Kalloor’s technology to spy on eveyone, and this secret alliance is endangered when Bourne in his search for answers about himself uncovers information about this union.

JASON BOURNE gets off to a rather slow start as the first half of this film could have been directly lifted from any of the previous films and I wouldn’t have noticed.  Nothing in the opening of this movie drew me in or got me excited about what was to come.  I felt like I was watching the films I had already seen.

Things eventually do get better as finally the film begins to take on its own identity.  About the time Bourne gets to London things pick up with one of the film’s better sequences where Bourne outsmarts both Dewey and Heather’s forces.  It’s also about the time when it’s clear that Dewey and Heather are not working together, which is one of the more interesting dynamics of the film.  And that’s because Heather is one of the more compelling characters in the movie, although she certainly is far from original.  Most of this interest comes from Alicia Vikander’s performance.

The cast is decent.  I’ve always enjoyed Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, but his performance here is like the rest of the movie:  nothing I haven’t seen before.  This movie is just screaming for a different plot.  Put Jason Bourne in a different situation, for crying out loud!  Have him try to save the world or something!  Does he have to be stuck in the same God-forsaken plot in every Bourne movie?  Apparently so.  There’s nothing wrong with Damon’s performance, but the character does the same things he did in the previous films.  He doesn’t even have any memorable lines.

The best peformance in the movie, hands down, belongs to Alicia Vikander as Heather Lee.  Vikander made a big splash in the science fiction film EX MACHINA (2015).  She also starred in THE DANISH GIRL (2015), and I liked her a lot in the underrated THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (2015)  She’s excellent here once again.  Granted, there’s nothing all that special about her character, Heather Lee.  But Vikander gives her a nice combination of icy professionalism with chiseled sexuality.

Tommy Lee Jones is actually very good as CIA Director Robert Dewey.  He makes Dewey quite the despicable villain, and he does it effortlessly, as you would expect from someone with Jones’ talent and experience.  It’s just too bad the character is the same exact type of CIA villain that all the Bourne films have had.

And Vincent Cassel makes for a formidable foe for Jason Bourne as the assassin Asset, but since the title of the is film is JASON BOURNE, there’s little doubt as to which character will have the upper hand here.

JASON BOURNE was directed by Paul Greengrass, who directed the second and third films in the series, THE BOURNE SUPREMACY and THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM.  If he succeeds at anything it’s making the films look consistent.  The style for all these films is the same.

There are the expected action scenes, but I was actually disappointed with the film’s centerpiece action sequence, the high speed chase through the streets of Las Vegas, where they destroy about 50 million cars along the way!  Seriously, it’s insane how many cars they wipe out during this chase.  All without any bloodshed.  Imagine that!  I should have loved this scene, but it was edited with such quick edits that I often found the action happening too quickly, so much so that I almost had to turn away at times.  It was a case where I was noticing the camerawork which is not a good thing.  Had the camera moved in close to the action and remained there, rather than  cutting this way and that, the scene would have had a grittier more realistic feel.  As is, it plays like a swiftly edited television commercial.

The fight sequences were okay, but they certainly didn’t blow me out of the water.

The screenplay by director Greengrass and Christopher Rouse was meh.  The biggest knock against it is it’s just not original.  It’s a rehash of all Bourne films which came before it.  The dialogue is nothing special either.  Of course, their screenplay is based upon characters created by Robert Ludlum in his Bourne novels.   So, I suppose one could argue that they were simply being true to the spirit of the Ludlum novels by not shaking things up here in their latest Bourne movie.  I don’t know about that.

I do know, that this film would have been a better movie if, in the words of that other more famous spy from the other side of the ocean, its plot and its characters had been shaken, not stirred.

 —END—

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SPECTRE (2015)

0

This CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT review appeared this weekend at cinemaknifefight.com.  Guest reviewer Nick Cato and myself take on the new James Bond film SPECTRE (2015), as my usual CKF buddy L.L. Soares was off on another assignment.

 

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SPECTRE (2015)Spectre poster

Review by Michael Arruda & Nick Cato

(THE SCENE: An enormous room, ominously lit, with a long table in the center.  Around the table sit various assorted villainous types.  They are all engaged in small talk on such topics as world domination, espionage, and fantasy football.  The balcony above this scene is filled with onlookers. MICHAEL ARRUDA moves amongst them.  He speaks into the miniature microphone clandestinely planted near his mouth.

MICHAEL ARRUDA: Nick, you there?

(The balcony on the other side of the room is also filled with onlookers. NICK CATO moves amongst this group.  He speaks into his microphone.)

NICK CATO: Yes, I’m here.

MA: Any sign of him yet?

NC: That would be a “negative.”

MA: Well, he should be arriving any minute.  While we’re waiting, we can review today’s movie, but we’ll have to do it on the sly, since we don’t want to blow our covers.

NC: Sounds good to me.

MA: Welcome everyone to today’s CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT column. Today Nick Cato and I are reviewing the latest James Bond movie, SPECTRE (2015), which stars Daniel Craig as James Bond.  To do the review, we’ve chosen this location, the secret hideaway of that nefarious league of villains, S.P.E.C.T.R.E., which is why we have to remain incognito.  This group doesn’t take too kindly to uninvited guests.  And the big news tonight is the shadowy head of S.P.E.C.T.R.E is making an appearance, and so we’ll learn for the first time the truth behind his secret identity.

Nick Cato has joined me tonight because all this cool spy espionage stuff does nothing for L.L. SOARES, and he is off on another assignment.  So, thanks for filling in, Nick!

NC: Happy to be here. I’ll do my best to keep my voice down.

MA: Okay, let’s get started. SPECTRE is the latest movie in the James Bond series, a series that started way back in 1962 with DR. NO.  This is Daniel Craig’s fourth time playing Bond, and the thing I’ve enjoyed about the Craig films is they’ve all been connected.  They’ve featured a story arc which continues here with SPECTRE.  The original Sean Connery James Bond films sort of had an arc, as they were connected by the S.P.E.C.T.R.E. storylines which featured Blofeld as the main villain pulling the strings in multiple movies, but once Roger Moore took over the role the films largely became stand-alone movies with little or no connection to each other.  I’ve enjoyed that the Daniel Craig films have gone back to the notion of being linked to each other.

The events in SPECTRE follow the events in the previous installment SKYFALL (2012) directly.  Acting on a message which M (Judi Dench) left him before she died in SKYFALL,  Bond (Daniel Craig) once again goes rogue— he seems to do that a lot these days—- disobeying the orders of the new M (Ralph Fiennes) and taking matters into his own hands to learn what it is the previous M wanted him to learn. What he discovers is the secret organization SPECTRE.  How the deceased M knew about SPECTRE when she was absolutely clueless about them in the previous films is beyond me.

NC: At first this bothered me to no end, but in a way it gives Dench’s M more mystery, which is kind of cool. Perhaps she did know about them but has only revealed them now that she was gone for her own safety? Or am I grasping at straws here?

(A Scarecrow stuffed with straw brushes by NC.)

After Bond watched the video she had made for him before she died in SKYFALL, he says to Moneypenny, “She wasn’t going to let death get in the way of doing her job.” Ha! Gotta love that line.

MA: In the previous Craig films, one of the more intriguing plot points was the underground organization that seemed to be behind every crime Bond was trying to thwart. They were all powerful and nearly invisible, and the prior films in the Craig series did an excellent job creating this group, giving us bits and pieces of their existence and activities, but never allowing Bond to discover who it was he was up against.

That changes in SPECTRE, as Bond learns that this group has a name, and its name is SPECTRE.  He also discovers the man running SPECTRE, Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), who, like everything else in the Daniel Craig series, has a personal connection to James Bond, which of course, makes Bond’s mission in this one more personal, as if saving the world wasn’t enough.  It only remains for Bond to learn what Oberhauser is up to and then of course to stop him.

I liked SPECTRE well enough, but there were also an awful lot of things about this one I didn’t like.  To me, the best thing SPECTRE has going for it is its cast.  All the players here do an excellent job.  But the direction here by Sam Mendes, who also directed SKYFALL, is nothing to write home about.  There are some decent action sequences, but none that I would call overly memorable.

NC: I will say I thought the opening sequence in New Mexico was very well done, and one of the better Bond openings. Not only do we get a nifty assassination that ends with a building nearly crushing 007 to death, but a wicked brawl aboard a whirling helicopter above a crowded plaza. It was almost like a 2 for 1 action blast that led into what I thought was a great looking opening credit sequence, although I could’ve done without Sam Smith’s dull song.

MA: Oh my gosh! Talk about lackluster songs!  It was about as exciting as a lullaby!

But you’re right about the opening sequence. It was well done.

But the weakest part of SPECTRE is the script.  Now, this movie is written by four screenwriters:  John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Jez Butterworth.  All these guys have strong resumes, including having written several other Bond movies.  A movie written by these four guys has no business being as tepid as this one is.

NC: No argument there. The plot is thin considering how many people worked on it.

MA: Let’s start with the basic revelation regarding SPECTRE. Seriously, is that really much of a surprise?  I mean, am I the only viewer who when watching the previous Craig films thought that the sinister organization operating in those films sounded an awful lot like SPECTRE?  I certainly expected that to be the case.  Likewise, seriously, the revelation about Oberhauser’s true identity, is that that much of a shock?  No.

NC: For crying out loud Michael Meyers made fun of the sibling thing in his third spy spoof GOLDMEMBER (2002). They could’ve at least made Oberhauser his third cousin or something.

(Mini-Me emerges from the crowd and starts humping MA’s leg.)

MA: What are you—?  Get off me!

(DR. EVIL appears.)

DR. EVIL: Mini-Me, stop humping the movie critic’s leg. It’s friggin embarrassing! (Pulls Mini-Me off MA).   How am I expected to take over the friggin world when I have to keep chasing you around all day?  No.  I don’t want to hear it.  Zip it!  Zip!

NC: Hey, Mike?  Everything okay over there!

MA: I’m fine.  Just a “little” inconvenience, that’s all.

(Mini-Me flips MA the bird.)

MA: Anyway, the problem with SPECTRE is in terms of surprises, that’s pretty much it.  I kept waiting to learn what it was that Oberhauser and SPECTRE were up to.  What was their grand scheme?  And every time they came close to uttering it, the plot would switch back to James Bond.

NC: Yep. An attempt to make Spectre more mysterious, but they’re mysterious enough.

MA: The scene in the room with all the SPECTRE villains is a nice microcosm of the entire movie. We wait for Oberhauser to finally show up, to shed some light on his intentions, and just as it seems he’s going to, he looks up at James Bond and pretty much says “gotcha!  We know you’re here!”  Bond responds by hightailing it out of there.  I’m glad he knows Bond is there, but I wanted to know what he was doing there!  This film never gives him or SPECTRE anything worthwhile to do.

The plot point of controlling information did little for me and reminded me somewhat of the plot in the Pierce Brosnan Bond film TOMORROW NEVER DIES (1997) in which

Jonathan Pryce played a villainous media mogul who was all about— controlling information.

NC: Exactly. And as much as I like Christoph Waltz, I thought Pryce filled that type of threat better.

MA: Agreed. I’ve always thought Pryce was one of the more underrated and underappreciated Bond villains.  Part of that, I’m sure, is TOMORROW NEVER DIES isn’t the best Bond movie.

SPECTRE also is all over the place in terms of tone.  It starts off being very playful, and a lot of the early scenes and dialogue in the movie were reminiscent of the Roger Moore Bond films, which is completely unlike the dark tone of the previous Craig films.

I did like that it opened once more with the signature gun barrel sequence. This is the first time this was used in the Craig films.

By the time the film reverts to its darker side later in the movie, it unfortunately has to contend with the lame SPECTRE storyline. The previous films did a phenomenal job with this all-powerful organization which operated from the shadows, generating a feeling of chaos that ironically is completely absent from SPECTRE.  Furthermore, we finally meet the leader of this group, Oberhauser, and he’s about as effective a villain as Dr. Evil.  Strangely, I was disappointed with all the SPECTRE stuff in this movie.

NC: Weird. My favorite thing about SPECTRE was how the title organization was portrayed. They came off as all-knowing as super sinister.

MA: Really?  I didn’t find them that sinister at all.  I remember in the previous Craig films Judi Dench’s M running around like a chicken with its head cut off, lamenting that she had no idea who these people were, and she was shaken because this organization had people inside MI6, people she thought she trusted.  I didn’t get that sense of inflicted chaos here in SPECTRE.

NC: I did. I’m starting to think YOU are part of Spectre.

And while I wish Christoph Waltz had more screen time, I thought he made a nice throwback-type villain and head of Spectre. Sure, he reminded me, too, of Dr. Evil with his typical Bond villain outfit and eventual facial scar, but the sequence of him happily torturing Bond with that robotic contraption made him seem free of conscience and totally evil. Okay, maybe he was a lot like Dr. Evil, but not as funny.

MA: I just wanted him to do more.

Like I said, I wasn’t all that impressed with the direction by Sam Mendes. There were some memorable scenes, but not a whole lot.  There’s a vicious fight sequence on a passenger train between Bond and a huge assassin Hinx (Dave Bautista) which is clearly an homage to the similar train fight sequences in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963) between Sean Connery and Robert Shaw, and in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) between Roger Moore and Richard Kiel’s Jaws character.  In fact, the character of Hinx here reminded me of Jaws, as he was Bond’s main adversary for most of the movie and like Jaws, would walk away from obvious death situations.

NC: I liked Hinx a lot. Actor Dave Bautista has an awesome, intimidating physical presence and I too immediately thought of Jaws from THE SPY WHO LOVED ME. I was actually waiting for 007 to use a lamp or other electrical device to shock him off the train, but how Hinx ends up being dispatched was well done (and ironically reminded me of JAWS (1975), although I’m pretty sure that wasn’t Mendes’ intention).

MA: That’s pretty funny. I hadn’t thought of that.  Hey, you never know.  That might have been a little in-joke.  And who starred in JAWS?  Robert Shaw, who fought Sean Connery in the FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE train fight!

(Captain Quint from JAWS stands from the table.)

QUINT: Here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged women!   (Sits back down.)

NC: I just hope Kevin Bacon doesn’t show up.

MA: SPECTRE is full of the signature Bond chases and action scenes, but for the most part, they seemed to simply be going through the motions.  There was a lot of “been there, done that” going through my head as I watched this movie.

NC: While I agree, that is what I liked about SPECTRE. During SKYFALL I think Mendes tried too hard to make things a bit different, and I found myself incredibly bored. This time, it felt good to get back to Bond basics, and I especially liked the car chase between 007 and Hinx. I thought it was fun to have Bond’s car a prototype and not fully functional, making him rely more on his driving skills than the gadgets, something that hasn’t been explored in the franchise since 1981’s FOR YOUR EYES ONLY.

I also like how we’ve seen gadgets and props from past Bond films in these four Craig outings, and I think fans of the series will get a real kick out of the toy 007 gets at the end of SPECTRE.

MA: The bulk of this film takes place in London, which was similar to SKYFALL, and I found this a disappointment since most Bond films take place all over the world, and while there are other locations in SPECTRE, the bulk of the action takes place, as it did in SKYFALL, around the MI6 building in London.

NC: I wasn’t bothered by that. There was plenty of travel and action around the globe.

MA: This is Daniel Craig’s fourth turn as James Bond. I’ve been a big fan of Craig in this role, but I have to say, with each successive film I’ve liked him less.  I loved the way he portrayed the character early on.  There was an edge he gave to Bond I hadn’t seen since the Sean Connery days.  Each time he has played the role he seems to have given the character less and less of this edge.  It’s almost as if he’s not as interested in the role, which according to media reports, is true.

NC: It’s beyond obvious Craig isn’t interested in playing Bond anymore, and after his recent appearance on the Stephen Colbert show I’m sure of it. I think the problem is CASINO ROYALE (2006) was such a dark, gritty entry to the 007 world it has been too hard to capture that same spirit. That said, I did enjoy SPECTRE more than Craig’s middle two turns as Bond.

MA: I thought QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008) kept that same dark spirit alive.

Even more disappointing was Christoph Waltz as Oberhauser. Truth be told, it’s not so much Waltz’s fault as the writers’, who gave this character so little to do.  He’s also just not as menacing as I expected him to be, and Bond seems to gain the upper hand a little too easily.  Of course, the big news here, and I’m not sure if this qualifies as a spoiler, is Oberhauser’s true identity.  Again, this is a no brainer and really shouldn’t be a spoiler or come as any surprise.  I mean, the head of SPECTRE in the Sean Connery films was Blofeld.  Why would it be any different today?

The rest of the cast, however, is very good. I really enjoyed Ralph Fiennes as M, Naomi Harris as Moneypenny, Ben Whishaw as Q, and Rory Kinnear as Tanner, all of these folks reprising these roles from SKYFALL.  The scenes featuring these characters were among my favorite in the movie.

NC: Ralph Fiennes is not only perfect as M, he truly reminded me of an actor from the Connery era films. Major kudos to the producers.

MA: Yeah, I really like Fiennes in this role.

Andrew Scott, who played Moriarty on the TV show SHERLOCK (2010-2014) is memorable as C, a British official who wants to shut down MI6 because he thinks it’s an outdated agency.  Likewise, Dave Bautista makes for a memorable assassin Hinx, and his scenes are among the film’s best as well.  Bautista, of course, played Drax in Marvel’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014).

Lea Seydoux is beautiful as the latest Bond girl, Madeleine Swann, but the plot point involving her character and James Bond I didn’t buy at all. We’re supposed to believe that they have real feelings for each other, but I didn’t sense anything special about their relationship, and when the story makes it clear that their relationship is more than just physical, I was left scratching my head.  Craig’s Bond shared much better chemistry with Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd in CASINO ROYALE (2006).

NC: I didn’t buy their romance either. I did like Madeleine Swann’s bad ass character, especially the scene on the train where Bond realizes he doesn’t have to teach her anything. But their falling in love seemed to happen too quickly, and while I don’t want to ruin the ending, I just find it hard to believe Bond would do what he did due to a woman.

MA: I agree.

NC: I know that sounds sexist, but it’s just not in his character. I did like Monica Belluci as Lucia. She looked as beautiful as ever (she was 50 when they filmed SPECTRE) and like Waltz, is given just way too little screen time, although it does fit the need for the part.

MA: Overall, SPECTRE isn’t bad, but I just found the writing to be glaringly subpar in this one.  The story didn’t wow me, and the dialogue I found flat, especially Bond’s dialogue and Oberhauser’s.  I enjoyed the plot of SKYFALL better, and I thought that Javier Bardems’ Silva was a more interesting villain than Christoph Waltz’ Oberhauser.  I did enjoy the ending to SPECTRE better than the ending in SKYFALL, but that’s not saying much.

Strangely, my favorite of the Craig films might be the one that most people tend to like the least, the second one, QUANTUM OF SOLACE.  That was a tight, compact hard-hitting thriller.

I have to say, while I liked it, SPECTRE is probably my least favorite of the Daniel Craig James Bond movies.

I give it two and a half knives.

What did you think, Nick?

NC: It’s easily my second favorite of Craig’s 007 films. I doubt anyone will top CASINO ROYALE, which I truly believe is one of the best in the franchise and one of the best reboots of any series there is.

MA: It is an amazing reboot, that’s for sure.

NC: I agree SKYFALL had a better plot than SPECTRE, but it bored me and I found it lifeless. With everything SPECTRE has going against it, I found myself constantly entertained, which enabled me to forgive many of the quirks we mentioned.

MA: Yes, there were certainly parts of SKYFALL that bored me, and it’s a very uneven Bond film, but the parts that worked I liked a lot, better than most of SPECTRE.

NC: I would like to see if the next 007 caper involves Spectre, as I’d like to see if they’d be in the forefront or once again completely in the shadows.

MA: I wouldn’t mind seeing another plot involving SPECTRE.

NC: And as far as Daniel Craig, I love him as 007, but if the ending of SPECTRE is any indication, this may very well be his last turn at bat. I remember Pierce Brosnan would say how tired he was getting of playing Bond, too, during the end of his tenure, and Craig seems to have the same aura lately.

SPECTRE is full of holes, but it’s just so much fun I give it three knives. Here’s hoping Bond’s 25th film keeps the party going.

(The conversation in the room ceases, and a man enters the room and sits at the head of the table. The lighting is such that we cannot see his face, but it is clear by the reaction of everyone in the room that he is the head of the organization.)

NC: It looks like the moment we’ve been waiting for has arrived.

MA: Yep, he’s here.  Hopefully we’ll learn his true identity.

MAN AT HEAD OF TABLE: I am here to teach you all about chaos and horror.

MA: Here goes.

(The light shifts and gradually illuminates the man at the head of the table to reveal— L.L. SOARES smoking a cigar.)

MA: No!  It can’t be!

LS: Who did you expect?  Some guy holding a white pussycat?  Okay, minions, the beer is on the house!

(Everyone cheers.)

-END-

© Copyright 2015 Michael Arruda and Nick Cato

 

KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2015) Is Polished Entertaining Fluff

0

Kingsman PosterMOVIE REVIEW:  KINGSMAN:  THE SECRET SERVICE (2015)

By Michael Arruda

 Matthew Vaughn wrote and directed KICK-ASS (2010) and X-MEN:  FIRST CLASS (2011), two of my favorite superhero films of recent years, so when I learned that he was writing/directing KINGSMAN:  THE SECRET SERVICE, my interest in this flick went way up.

I’ll say right now that KINGSMAN:  THE SECRET SERVICE is not as good as KICK-ASS or X-MEN:  FIRST CLASS, but it comes close.  Its action scenes look like a video game and are about as compelling, and its story is about as believable as a SPY KIDS movie.

The Kingsmen are an ultra-secret British spy organization even more mysterious than MI6.  The film opens in the late 1990s as a mission goes wrong and Kingsman Harry Hart (Colin Firth) is saved by a young protégé who gives his life to save Harry.  Harry later visits the agent’s wife and young son and tells them he owes them a debt, which years later the now young adult son Gary (Taron Egerton) collects when he finds himself in jail after stealing a car.  After Harry arranges for Gary to be released, he then goes about grooming him to become a future Kingsman.

Of course, you’re not just selected to become a Kingsman, you have to compete for it, and so Gary finds himself competing against other recruits in a series of tasks which are overseen by their trainer, who goes by the code name Merlin (Mark Strong).

Meanwhile the rich philanthropist Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) has caught the attention of the Kingsmen because of his connection to the murder of one of their agents who had been trying to rescue a kidnapped scientist Professor Arnold (Mark Hamill).  Harry, whose code name is Galahad, is assigned to the case and begins to infiltrate the empire of Valentine in order to learn what dastardly plot he has in store for the world, and it’s a doozy.

Of course, things don’t go as planned and before you can say Sir Lancelot young Gary finds himself as the world’s best chance for survival, and suddenly it’s up to Gary to save the day, with a little help from Merlin and Gary’s friend and young Kingsman agent, Roxy (Sophie Cookson).  Wait a minute.  Shouldn’t she be a Kingswoman?

Anyway, at times I really liked KINGSMAN:  THE SECRET SERVICE, and other times not so much.  In spite of this imbalance, it’s got enough good things going for it- strong direction, a clever script, and an excellent cast to tip the scale in favor of my recommending it.

First off, the cast is the best thing about KINGSMAN:  THE SECRET SERVICE.  Colin Firth is excellent as Harry Hart/Galahad.  He’s British to the core and makes the perfect gentleman spy.  While there are plenty of James Bond references throughout this movie, Firth’s performance calls to mind another fictional English spy from the 1960s, Patrick Macnee’s Mr. Steed from the TV show THE AVENGERS (1961-69).  Firth’s suave and debonair demeanor is reminiscent of Macnee’s Mr. Steed in that classic TV show.

Samuel L. Jackson chews up the scenery as mastermind supervillain Valentine, and he’s just as good as Firth if not better.  Jackson speaks with a lisp and gets to deliver some of the best lines in the movie.  One of the funnier bits in the film is that both Jackson’s Valentine and Firth’s Galahad are movie buffs and they exchange barbs about the old James Bond movies, which are quite funny.

The film is very cognizant of its origins and how it owes a lot to the James Bond films of old.  As such, it has a good time making jokes at its own expense, poking fun at itself, its characters, and its plot.  However, this only goes so far and on its own isn’t enough to make this film an instant classic.

Mark Strong, as always, is very good as Merlin, the agent who is in charge of training the young recruits and who by the film’s end finds himself with his two newest agents in the daunting position of having to save the world.

Interestingly enough, both Strong and Firth appeared in the substandard Nicole Kidman thriller BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP (2014) last year, and while both were fine in that movie, they’re better here in KINGSMAN.

Michael Caine adds class as the Kingsman’s patriarch agent, Arthur, and in a surprise bit of casting Mark Hamill shines in a brief role as Professor Arnold.  It’s a very small role, not enough for Hamill to make much of an impact in this movie, but when he’s on screen, he’s really good, and I couldn’t help but wonder, where has he been all these years?  Yeah, I know, he’s been a very successful voice artist for animated cartoons over the years, but it sure would have been nice to see him in more movies.

But what about the young cast members?  The leads?  After all, the film is mostly about young Gary (Taron Egerton).  Egerton isn’t bad, but the problem is he’s surrounded by some excellent actors, and sorry to say, he’s outclassed by them throughout.  I found myself wishing this movie was more about Colin Firth’s character.

Sophie Cookson is also very good as Roxie, Gary’s chief rival but also his closest friend— can anyone say HUNGER GAMES?  But she too is outclassed by the veteran cast in this one.

The most interesting of the young characters is Sofia Boutella as Gazelle, Samuel L. Jackson’s right hand woman and chief assassin.  She sports a very deadly— and razor sharp— pair of metal legs that can slice a man in half, which she does in this film.

So, I enjoyed the cast, but the story not so much. The biggest problem was I never really believed any of it.  The Kingsman as a concept is believable enough, but when we see these guys in action, their fight scenes look like video game sequences.  It’s all stylish and polished, but it looks oh-so-fake.  KINGSMAN:  THE SECRET SERVICE definitely has a plot, but its action sequences pretty much all fall flat.  They look great, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t look real.

As I said earlier, there are plenty of James Bond references, especially about how outlandish the old Bond films were, but even those films had action sequences that looked believable.  They were epic and grand in nature.  There isn’t anything epic about KINGSMAN.  And when Colin Firth goes into action mode and wipes out an entire church full of people, there is nothing believable about it.  It looks fake and phony.  Pass me the controller please so I can have a turn.

Even KICK-ASS was more believable than KINGSMAN.  There was a grittiness and realism in KICK-ASS that in spite of its farfetched superhero plot worked.  That is completely gone here.

Like KICK-ASS, KINGSMAN is rated R, and so there’s plenty of blood in the action sequences, but unlike KICK-ASS, none of it looks real.  Again, with fake looking violence, the action scenes in this one were a disappointment.

It’s also rated R for language, and this is mostly because of Samuel L. Jackson’s Valentine’s colorful vocabulary.

Director Matthew Vaughn has made a movie in KINGSMAN that looks good, but it’s not quite the complete package as KICK-ASS or X-MEN:  FIRST CLASS.  Those films had pretty much everything.

The other problem I had with KINGSMAN is it never builds its suspense.  From the get-go, we see the Kingsmen in action.  There are stylish fights before we even know who we are supposed to be rooting for.  Plus, the film’s climax, while it’s certainly not a dud, isn’t overly exciting either.

The screenplay by Vaughn and Jane Goldman, who also co-wrote KICK-ASS and X-MEN:  FIRST CLASS with him, is based on the comic book “The Secret Service” by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, and it runs hot and cold.  For the most part, I liked it.  I enjoyed the characters and I enjoyed the film jokes, especially about the Bond films, but where it lacks is it never reaches out and grabs its audience with conviction.

The training sequences of the young agents were reminiscent of THE HUNGER GAMES where the young adults/teeny boppers have to compete against each other to make the grade, and only one of them is chosen, and oh yeah, if you fail you go home in a body bag.  You fail.  You die.  Sort of.  The film kind of cops out on this part later.

But a large chunk of the movie was about this training, and I can’t say that I liked this plot point all that much.  Every time the film dealt with the cadet training, I wished for more scenes with either Colin Firth or Samuel J. Jackson.

I never once feared for the characters’ lives, which is strange since characters do die in this film.  But I didn’t fear for them because I never really believed in what was going on, and for me, at the end of the day, if I don’t believe it, I don’t really enjoy it.  That being said, KINGSMAN has such a talented cast, as well as director and screenwriters, that the talent here actually overcomes the film’s shortcomings.  It’s just that with a credible story, this one could have been that much better.

Still, it’s all rather entertaining and is one of the more enjoyable pieces of fluff I’ve seen in a while.  I just wish it had been less fluff and more grit.

—END—