April 2021 Roundup
Godzilla vs. Kong
Warner Bros. Pictures // Directed by Adam Wingard // Starring Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Eiza González, Julian Dennison, Demián Bichir
The Monsterverse has had its ups-and-downs but now comes the biggest battle of them all - Godzilla vs. Kong. Two big boys going at it to claim Titan bragging rights. Surely this would be a non-stop, epic, gigantic action-fest? Well, not entirely but it is still pretty good. The key thing is it’s a versus film that actually delivers on the VERSUS aspect, the titular characters have more than one battle leading up to the standard city-smashing finale and each fight feels satisfying in terms of ferocity and size. The two Titans live up to expectations here. The biggest worry was the human side of the movie and, mercifully, the human element is marginally better here than in the predecessor Godzilla: King of the Monsters due to the emotional attachment Kong forms with a particular character that acts as the heart and soul of the movie to great effect. That being said, no actor here really covers themselves in any glory, and an entire subplot featuring Millie Bobby Brown, Julian Dennison, and Brian Tyree Henry could pretty much be thrown out of the movie entirely - it’s redundant and packed with poor acting. It felt like the studio wanted a two-hour movie to add to the scope and scale of the movie hence this awful subplot existing (let’s not even begin with the dialogue throughout…). There are some good visuals, especially regarding the Hollow Earth sequences, however, the climactic battle (as seen in the trailers) set in the ridiculous neon-lit city felt a bit cheap looking, it felt very much like Wingard wanted an ‘iconic’ image but it really just feels forced as a location. Overall, Godzilla vs. Kong is a movie that I can acknowledge has plenty of flaws but it gave me a good time watching it which is really all I wanted going in.
Netflix // Directed by Ricky Staub // Starring Idris Elba, Caleb McLaughlin, Jharrel Jerome, Byron Bowers, Lorraine Toussaint, Clifford "Method Man" Smith
Netflix’s Concrete Cowboy succeeded immediately for me - it opened my eyes to the stories of the concrete cowboys of Philadelphia, an urban African-American horse-riding culture, that still endures to this day. Ricky Staub’s attempt at Neorealism carries a genuine air to it, the movie feels real at times, and there’s a documentary-type feel that is helped by having genuine concrete cowboys appearing in place of trained actors alongside the always-dependable Idris Elba and the impressive duo of McLaughlin and Jerome. Initially, the first act didn’t fully entice me but when the father-son dynamic delivered by Elba and McLaughlin really kicks in, the movie is elevated greatly - there is one great monologue from Elba that carried real weight and provided the most emotional part of the movie. We spend the majority of the movie with McLaughlin’s Cole as he struggles to adapt to his new life having been expelled from the big city by his mother and this provides an interesting dichotomy between his acceptance of the cowboys and his need for something bigger. As a whole, Concrete Cowboy is well-written, if not overly original, and well-shot but the third act switches the authentic feel for something more mundane and the movie suffers because of it but not to the point of derailing the movie. Concrete Cowboy provides a very decent spotlight for a community suffering in modern times and delivers an equally decent movie out of it.
Universal Pictures // Directed by Ilya Naishuller // Starring Bob Odenkirk, Aleksei Serebryakov, RZA, Michael Ironside, Colin Salmon, Christopher Lloyd
Bob Odenkirk as a brutal, arse-kicking action hero? I never knew I needed this until now. Honestly, that was what held me back initially, the idea that Nobody was just a lame attempt at a John Wick movie (the same creative team worked on both movies) but how wrong I was. Nobody is brimming with excellent, intense action sequences (hello awesome bus scene), a wonderfully curated soundtrack, stylish visuals (DoP Pawel Pogorzelski crafts some surprisingly beautiful shots of the city at night), and a believably tough Odenkirk as our flawed hero. Flawed is the keyword here, for as much as Odenkirk’s Hitch gives out, he receives back, he certainly isn’t untouchable which only allows us to connect further with him as the protagonist. He’s a family man first and foremost and the movie goes to good lengths to highlight the mundanity of Hutch’s ‘real’ life to allow his alter-ego to shine through so successfully when it does. The only real negative of note is that there isn’t really anything particularly original in Nobody, from the revenge-fueled plot to the devious Russian bad guys, it's all been seen before but, honestly, it feels fresh in this instance. Bloody, crowd-pleasing, brutal, and fun, Nobody is a surprisingly great action movie. Watch out for a near-film stealing, shotgun-toting Christopher Lloyd also...
Lionsgate // Directed by Doug Liman // Starring Daisy Ridley, Tom Holland, Mads Mikkelsen, Demián Bichir, Cynthia Erivo, Nick Jonas, David Oyelowo
Stuck in development hell and mired with production problems for over four years, it genuinely seemed as if Doug Liman’s Chaos Walking would never see the light of day but, now, it is upon us. It’s a sci-fi story in which Holland’s Todd Hewitt is led to believe all women were wiped out by a virus that bestowed the Noise - a strange phenomenon that makes every thought or feeling accessible to any other human or creature - upon the surviving men, a belief he holds until he stumbles across Daisy Ridley’s Viola. Chaos Walking holds an intriguing premise but one that is never fully realised - there is so much that could be explored regarding the Noise that goes untouched (until the story requires it in unearned moments) and the movie really only touches upon the central idea that men's innermost thoughts are now exposed. Narratively, it’s fairly bland despite some decent worldbuilding and the effects of the reshoots are noticeable but…but...I didn’t dislike what I saw. In fact, I was consistently engaged with what was happening without ever being fully engrossed. The presence of Ridley, Holland, and Mikkelsen helps the movie massively and all three deliver solid performances with their varying levels of depth and development. The occasional flashes of action are decent and whilst the story is standard but efficient, Chaos Walking is certainly watchable and contains a few notable moments - it sidles up nicely next to recent YA offerings such as The Darkest Minds and The Mortal Instruments and has more to offer going forward - just don’t expect a sequel any time soon. It's an uneven final product that's janky, simmering, formulaic, and sensitive all at once but one that's perfectly watchable.
Warner Bros. Pictures // Directed by Simon McQuoid // Starring Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Tadanobu Asano, Mehcad Brooks, Ludi Lin, Chin Han, Joe Taslim, Hiroyuki Sanada
Given the low bar set by 1995’s Mortal Kombat and the video game genre in general, Mortal Kombat was well-placed to be a successful adaptation - especially after the excellent final trailer that dropped. However, we live in the franchise era now and this version of Mortal Kombat is absolutely a setup for future installments which is a risky strategy given the precarious nature of the previous genre offerings and this acts as both a burden and a reason for optimism. On the one hand, Mortal Kombat is a highly flawed, almost-disappointing affair but one that could be enhanced by the future installments that are teased throughout - it’s the first part of a series. The action is frenetic and violent when it happens - we’re presented with a great opening action sequence that immediately sets the tone - and, yes, there are some brutal kills and fatalities that will please fans of the games. The characters are all uniformly ‘fine’ with Josh Lawson’s charismatic loudmouth Kano stealing the show but it’s the protagonist Cole (Tan) that proves to be the weak link in the chain - the character is written in such a vanilla and uninspiring manner it makes his inclusion as a new, original character baffling. Basically, Kombat = good, Mortal = not so much. The writing throughout is pretty much what you’d expect it to be but there are some decisions that knock the movie down - the idea of champions having to find their powers felt strangely similar to 2017’s Power Rangers and just wasn’t a necessary amendment to include. There was, however, more than enough here to keep me satisfied and interested in between the strange narrative decisions and the protagonist being a bit naff but Mortal Kombat is certainly better than I originally thought it would be though it did leave me with the nagging sense of wanting a bit more.
Love and Monsters
Netflix // Directed by Michael Matthews // Starring Dylan O'Brien, Jessica Henwick, Boy, Ariana Greenblatt, Michael Rooker, Dan Ewing
A Netflix fantasy-action-adventure movie generally sounds like a particular version of hell ergo my hopes weren’t high for Love and Monsters. It follows Joel (O’Brien) who sets out to find his old girlfriend Aimee (Henwick) in a devastated world that’s been overrun by giant mutated creatures. Hopes weren’t high but how wrong could I have been - Love and Monsters is awesome. It’s a charming, inventive, and self-knowingly silly movie that’s bursting with heart and some decent PG-13 horror moments anchored by a surprisingly confident performance from Dylan O’Brien - he’s at once anxious, wimpy, confident (at times) and a fool in love but all that combines to create a protagonist that you genuinely want to succeed in his quest. Henwick’s Aimee is assured and far from simply being a dame waiting for her prince - their chemistry crackles and the romance is mature and well-handled. The real star of the show, however, is Boy, the Australian kelpie that Joel befriends on his journey, the impossibly cute dog that is afraid of no giant, bloodthirsty beast - twice Boy had me out of my seat fist-pumping the air. I’d die for that dog. The creatures themselves are imaginative and well-conceived, the FX work is great for a low-budget affair and the rogues' gallery kept the adventure exciting and unpredictable (to a point). Is there a deeper meaning to Love and Monsters? No. Do I care one bit? Not at all because the movie is a wonderfully fun and thrilling adventure that surprised and delighted me at almost every turn. As emotional as it is enjoyable, Love and Monsters is a real winner.
A Quiet Place Part II
Paramount Pictures // Directed by John Krasinski // Starring Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Djimon Hounsou
A Quiet Place came out of nowhere and silently became one of the best horrors in recent years and all with such a simple premise - keep quiet and you may survive the mysterious beasts that have ravaged the planet. With it’s financial success, it was a given that a sequel would be greenlit and it has arrived in the form of A Quiet Place Part II. The main bulk of the story is set a year after the events of the first movie but we do have some well-handled backstory and exposition to kick things off. From then on, Emily Blunt’s Evelyn must keep her children Marcus (Jupe), Beau (Woodward) and Regan (Simmonds) alive and they stumble upon the assistance of the ambiguous Emmett (Murphy) along the treacherous path. The surprise element of the original was crucial to its success and Part II can’t quite replicate this, the situations and scares feel familiar which is disappointing but the power of the performance from Simmonds (who, really, is the lead here) elevates the familiar and retains the human drama that worked so well previously - the incoming Cillian Murphy is also strong, his character adding some mystery and uncertainty to the established family structure. That’s not to say that there aren’t effective and tense sequences because there really are, it’s just that they’re not as effective as we’ve seen and some come about due to daft character decisions that feel forced. The apocalyptic landscape is again captured well, there are some real The Last of Us vibes to be found in some of the journey scenes and the sound design remains on point - regardless of whether sequences feel as tense, the use of sound is wonderfully realised. It’s clear we are getting a third installment to the series which will keep the studio financiers happy but Part II, despite it still being a very respectable sequel, does raise the question of how much fuel is left in the tank?