Transformers: The Last Knight

They came for the All-Spark. They came for the Sun Harvester. They launched an invasion from the moon. They fought for The Seed. Time and time again the Transformers have come to Earth, their history secretly intertwined with that of humanity. But the relentlessness of their visits hides a deeper secret, one that now draws the wrath of the alien sorceress Quintessa – a creator of the Transformers – and the Autobot warrior enslaved to her will: Optimus Prime. Fugitive inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), Oxford professor Viviane Wembly (Laura Haddock) and eccentric historian Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins) must solve the Arthurian mystery of Earth’s importance, if they hope to save it.

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You know what’s both hilarious and depressing at the same time? Even Rotten Tomatoes, the Internet’s film review aggregator, has thrown its hands up in resignation at this one. “The Last Knight is pretty much what you’d expect from the fifth instalment of the Transformers franchise”. Because honestly, that’s it. That’s the latest edition of Michael Bay’s bot-battling, bolt-bashing, flatulently-explosive, bullet-haemorrhaging sci-fi disaster porn. That’s two-and-a-half hours and $217 million spent. On the big-screen equivalent of someone jingling keys in front of your face whilst a squad of wind-up monkeys continuously bash their symbols together in a circle around you, and the shipping forecast plays on the radio in the background. And we’re just resigned to it now, clearly. We accept this constitutes ‘fun, dumb cinema’ today. Never mind the fact that once upon a time, ‘fun, dumb cinema’ meant a genuinely good time at the movies and a healthy suspension of disbelief. Never mind however sensationally silly blockbusters got, you still got a real sense of the passion and effort their creators put into them. Jurassic Park. Independence Day. Even Bay’s own Armageddon! They were the real deal. This…this doesn’t even qualify as dumb. This is a lobotomy. This is brain death. An empty husk of a blockbuster practically begging for the franchise to be put out of a now utterly joyless existence.

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Sitting through just ten minutes of The Last Knight proves to be something of a memory test, in that you can’t ever remember exactly how things happening onscreen transpired based on scenes that preceded them, and even when you try to focus you find yourself piecing together visuals, beats and plot devices that are so tenuously linked that it’s like trying to recreate M.C. Escher’s ‘Crazy Stairs’ by just drawing zig-zags. A Suicide Squad-esque unveiling of Megatron’s evil Decepticon crew? He’s Megatron, he leads the entire Decepticon army. Why does he need a crew, and if they’re in human prison then they clearly aren’t the A-Team. An orphan ‘street smart’ girl who just sticks around Mark Wahlberg for the first half hour, then doesn’t, then reappears at the climax to…give a motivational talk to her pet robot? Even an entire storyline about Merlin’s bloodline and a secret society is just a flimsy rehash of The Da Vinci Code. And who in their right mind would look at a Transformers film and think “you know what this need? A little Dan Brown”. And what makes it all worse is how none of these things are done with even the faintest sense of effort and consideration. They just happen. Anything that isn’t an explosion is there to just pad out the runtime. And speaking of padding…

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Mark Wahlberg. Can he act? Does he act? In general, this is a debate in and of itself. Here, it’s a resounding no on both counts. His Cade is a nonentity. A walking, talking commercial for protein bars, tight shirts, and talking smack. Energetically dislikeable, thin-skinned, there simply is no reason why he needs to be in this film at all. Everything important that requires a human face ultimately ties into Haddock’s professor, who unsurprisingly is given little room to showcase her credentials beyond a sharp tongue which the ‘script’ rarely rises to meet. You’ll be scratching your head over how one ‘retort’ to Cade’s quips was supposed to show her as challenging and headstrong when her words are literally “would you rather I take this dress of?” Even the great Sir Anthony Hopkins, the latest in the franchise’s tradition of revered actors paid exorbitant sums to be exposition machines, is reduced to an eleven year-old’s caricature of an old English fellow ‘down with the kidz’, and Jim Carter (Downton Abbey’s Mr Carson) joins him at the bottom of that barrel of cringe as Sir Burton’s sociopathic Transformer butler. Imagine ITV’s Vicious if either Derek Jacobi or Ian Mackellan was a robot. Clearly, the writers did.

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This franchise has never pretended to be anything high-brow, or even somewhat cerebral. Transformers has always been the province of kids and pre-teens, action figure battles royale. The first film did a somewhat decent job of just being that. Simple, stupid, silly spectacle. Every sequel from then to now may have brought the franchise ever-closer to rock bottom, but each one still had at least something that amounted to a highlight. John Turturro. Stanley Tucci. Steve Jablonsky’s score. Dark of the Moon actually getting a little dark. Transformers 5 has all these… and amounts to nothing. It’s a film that doesn’t so much give up the ghost as laugh at you for thinking there was ever a soul to begin with. This isn’t the Transformers of kids and their action figures. This is the Transformers of the Saturday morning commercial break. It just wants to sell. Your entertainment be damned. And the fact that it’s stopped trying to be otherwise deserves a huge loss of whatever respect was still going for it.

Quality: 0/5

Entertainment: 0/5

Final Score: 0/5

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The Mummy

Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) is a US soldier-of-fortune (as in, spends more time looting treasure in Iraq than fighting insurgents), until he accidentally uncovers the prison-tomb of the ancient Egyptian Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), and frees her undead soul. Cursed as her ‘Chosen’, Nick’s only hope of both personal and global salvation lies with archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) and the resources of her enigmatic employer – Dr Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe).

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Look, there’s an elephant in the room here. In fact, it’s not an elephant in a room at all, but a bull in a china shop. It’s this incessant, ham-fisted agenda that every major film studio is attempting these days to have its own Avengers moment. All of Hollywood wants to replicate that superhero ‘shared universe’ formula, and we can’t exactly blame them. The Avengers was a phenomenal feat in film history. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is now the most successful film franchise of all time. The story so far with other studios, however, is not so rosy. An aborted Spider-Man movie-verse at Sony. Warner Bros has taken four films to finally have a knockout on its hands with a DC universe, whilst at the same time half-heartedly setting up a Godzilla/King Kong crossover. Now, Universal Studios wades into these waters with plans for its own ‘Monsters Cinematic Universe’ (or ‘Dark Universe), drawing upon its back-catalogue of iconic movie monsters (think Frankenstein, Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, etc.). Isn’t all this focusing too much, however, on a studio’s long-term plans and neglecting the film itself? Absolutely. Now if only someone had told the filmmakers that!

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An awkward mashup of the classic Hammer Horror, the adventurous spirit of the 90s Brendan Fraser blockbusters, AND laying the groundwork for some kind of League of Extraordinary Gentleman ensemble film, The Mummy is a mess. Forget the atmosphere and psychological chills that made 1932 a classic. It’s all about the jump-scares now, and the film doesn’t even make much effort to set these up properly half the time, whilst its sense of humour is no less sporadic and hit-and-miss. Ahmanet herself and all her demonic doings amount to little more than an Egyptian-themed retooling of your average Pirates of the Caribbean curse, despite Boutella’s indisputably committed performance that makes you kind of wish she had played Enchantress instead of Cara Delevigne in last year’s Suicide Squad (it wouldn’t have saved it, but it might have sprinkled something a little finer).

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Tom Cruise seems to simply be on an ego trip, an excuse to show him going toe-to-toe with gods and monsters instead of his usual fare of criminals, secret agents and terrorists. Either that, or this entire film is his audition tape for Nathan Drake in the upcoming Uncharted film adaptation (please don’t). Crowe as the infamously dual-sided doctor, whilst himself underwhelming, nevertheless strangely provides for perhaps the film’s more interesting ingredients. So much so that it begs the thought that this ‘Dark Universe’ might actually have the most potential (outside of the superhero market).

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Say what you will of the Fraser films, they were at least proudly silly adventure stories with dashes of horror and a relentless commitment to fun at the cinema. Cruise offers a lacking alternative, fundamentally indecisive about its own nature, which ultimately leaves next-to-no impression at all.

Quality: 2/5

Entertainment: 2.5/5

Final Score: 2.5/5

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Captain America: Civil War

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“We are all people trying to do the right thing”. Not the most soundbite-y statement on record, but in this instance it wasn’t superheroes Steve Rogers or Tony Stark who said it, but the very real FBI Director James Comey. Speaking recently amidst the agency’s intense federal court battle against Apple Inc. over a ‘master key’ for circumventing data encryption, the Director made sure to air a few other such sound-bites; “there are no absolutes in American life…there are costs to this new world”. He was right. And he was wrong. It was a case that caught the world’s attention, a seminal moment and a hot-button issue for our time, Fight Night: Round One – National Security vs. Personal Privacy. Marvel Studios’ latest epic may not be the most qualified to wade into such politically stormy waters, but that doesn’t stop it from deliberately, intelligently engaging with this conversation, and treating it as the serious issue that it is. It’s #TeamCap vs. #TeamIronMan. Hero versus hero. Friend against friend. “We are all people trying to do the right thing”. ‘Captain America: Civil War’ has the brains and the balls to ask, “…are we?”

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The Avengers have protected the world for four years, but every battle has left death and devastation in its wake. After a disastrous battle in Nigeria, the United Nations moves to impose a system of oversight against Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. With Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) leading those willing to comply, and Captain America (Chris Evans) championing their right to operate freely, the team descends into all-out war, a war that only intensifies with the re-emergence of the latter’s old war buddy-turned-brainwashed assassin (Sebastian Stan)

There simply isn’t another way of saying this; this film is Marvel’s ‘The Dark Knight’. This unprecedented franchise that was born back in 2008 with ‘Iron Man’, found its feet with ‘The Avengers’ in 2012, and has since been navigating its own sense of adolescence, has now truly reached adulthood. If superhero films were outlawed tomorrow (perish the thought), then the genre could not ask for a finer last hurrah. How is it that good? What makes this one so special, what sets it above cinema’s relentless plethora of live-action comic books? Because at its heart is the very same issue over which Apple Inc. and the FBI locked horns, the same question that has raged throughout our post-9/11 world: when liberty and justice come into conflict, how can the triumph of one not be dangerously detrimental to the other? The film masterfully balances both sides of the argument, carefully fleshing out every one of its extensive cast of characters and what motivates them to choose the side that they do, guaranteeing that whichever side you may root for going into the film, you will have changed your mind at least once by the end.

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The Marvel Cinematic Universe has always specialized in great character development, and here and now all that carefully crafted characterization pays off enormously. There’s a reason a lot of people have taken to calling this ‘Avengers 2.5’, considering the sheer number of heroes entering the fray (Thor and Hulk being the only exceptions), not to mention the seismic debut of two instant heavyweights: Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and Spider-Man (Tom Holland), both of whom steal so many scenes that any self-respecting crime-fighter would get on their case. Quite literally every single character has at least one moment of substance. Be they a partisan devotee like War Machine (Don Cheadle) or Falcon (Anthony Mackie), a wavering wildcard like Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) or just having their friend’s back like Spidey or Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), no one is even remotely surplus to requirement, and not one performance lets the side down. Even the film’s background antagonist, the mysterious and manipulative Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl), somewhat breaks Marvel’s pattern of lacklustre villains, although his manipulations themselves at times are a little glossed over and more scattered plot contrivances than anything else.

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For all its spectacle, star power and subtext though, make no mistake. This is unequivocally a ‘Captain America’ story, an identity it earns and retains by never losing focus on what drives everything: Rogers’ relationships with friend-turned-enemy Tony Stark, and old friend-turned-enemy-turned-friend-again Bucky Barnes. The chemistry here is second-to-none, and it shows with every plea to the other’s senses and every punch thrown. But as much as they all clearly want to build bridges, the widening ideological gulf outpaces them, and their fighting is all the more bitter because of it. Deserving of special mention is Robert Downey Jr., who delivers easily the best performance of his Iron Man career, possibly of his acting career full stop. The MCU has never shied away from giving its heroes deep character flaws, and Downey Jr. continues to prove there is no wannabe do-gooder more flawed than Iron Man.

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‘Civil War’ is the MCU at its best, its brightest, its darkest, its most gloriously fun and its most arrestingly serious. Frankly, it’s a struggle to even process the fact that a film like this can even exist, that it works as well as it does, and that it can resonate so profoundly with the state of our world today. Iron Man may have started this whole thing off, but Captain America has become the real heart of this grand story, a story that here draws to a close, for now. It’s not just a spectacularly entertaining kickoff to the blockbuster season, it’s an incredibly important piece of cinema, a film I think we all genuinely need right now. The number of people these days fretting that the world is spinning out of control, countries split down the middle over referendums and elections, elites too numerous to mention flagrantly enjoying zero accountability for their actions. In fifty years time, this film will be looked back on as one of the stories most telling of our times, unable to proffer solutions, but placing a reassuring hand on the shoulder saying simply ‘you’re not alone’.

Quality: 4.5/5

Entertainment: 5/5

Final Score: 5/5

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

You know you’re a Marvel film fan when you know to treat the end credits as but a short intermission, a chance to breathe in the wake of the franchise’s latest rollercoaster ride, before being sent on your way with a tantalizing taste of where the tracks are going next. Iron Man’s first silver-screen outing back in 2008 got the ball rolling, a post-credits cameo marking Samuel L. Jackson’s debut as the cyclopean spymaster Nick Fury (the ‘M’ to Tony Stark’s 007). You know what, I’m gonna link in the scene right here, take a look for yourselves:

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One tiny little scene, not even a minute long, but with one name and one line, the Marvel Cinematic Universe had its big bang. A franchise truly unprecedented in moviemaking history, each release both a solid story in its own right and a contributory chapter to a vaster narrative, each with its own little post-credits add-on to cement everything together and lay the foundations for events to come. We’ve seen rage-monsters wreck New York, fake-terrorists, gods and brothers locked in an almost-Shakespearean enmity and an alien invasion finally bring together Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Nine installments down the line, Marvel is still keeping things fresh, fun, fast and furious. Enter Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

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Super soldier Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), known to the world as Captain America, continues to adjust to life in the present day after having been frozen beneath the Arctic since World War II. Working for S.H.I.E.L.D, the secret organization under the directorship of Nick Fury, Rogers struggles to reconcile his understanding of right and wrong with today’s morally complex world, a struggle that is compounded when an attack on Fury himself suggests a conspiracy is at work from inside S.H.I.E.L.D’s ranks. Aided by fellow-Avenger Natasha Romanoff, aka. Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) and befriending veteran Sam ‘The Falcon’ Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Captain America finds himself fighting an enemy from his own past, returning to plague the present: The Winter Soldier.

 

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Romanoff: “Doing anything fun Saturday night?”

Rogers: “Well all the other members of my barbershop quartet are dead, so, not really”

Phase 2 of the MCU has wisely kept its sequels largely refocused on the separate stories of its lead characters, exploring the respective impacts on their lives of a post-Avengers timeline, and a reasonably winning formula it has proved with 2013’s ‘Iron Man 3’ and ‘Thor: The Dark World’. Here, the film certainly sets itself up along similar lines, and is in many ways much more of a direct sequel to the Captain’s first outing in 2011 than you might expect. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo, best known for their TV work on comedy series like ‘Community’ and ‘Arrested Development’, firmly expand their repertoire of genres by imbuing what could easily have been just another action-adventure blockbuster with a strong and enticing sense of intrigue, drama and thrill you’d more typically associate with the exploits of Jason Bourne than the Star-Spangled Man. No doubt a particular key to this effect is the way the filmmakers approach the underlying conflict of old vs. new, an accomplishment perhaps best illustrated by their subtlety when it comes to expressing Rogers’ feelings of displacement. A lesser director could have just hammered home the point that ‘he’s a man out of time’ through comedic character miscommunications or conflicting social expectations, all simply reemphasizing the same basic effect. The Russo brothers don’t make that point, they make you feel that point. The Captain visits the abandoned army facility that served as his training camp during the war, and you understand his sense of isolation and loss. He makes a list of cultural things he’s missed over the years, and you realize just how much he’s missed, and how earnestly he wants to feel he belongs again. There are elements of the ‘fish-out-of-water’ story, but watching that fish flail this time isn’t so funny as it is solemn, sincere, and surprisingly human.

 

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“This isn’t freedom. This is fear”

Much has been said of the film as a surprisingly hardball piece of political commentary. Whilst not an altogether unprecedented element in the franchise (‘Iron Man 2’s light exploration of the potential for an arms race, and the Captain’s own wartime efforts a thinly veiled satire of propaganda), nothing in the MCU to date has addressed anything of such relevance quite so directly as is done here with the issue of America’s hold on the global balance of power. “I thought the punishment usually came after the crime”, Rogers quips when learning of S.H.I.E.L.D’s heavily proactive mandate as a global peacekeeper/enforcer, Fury retorting how “S.H.I.E.L.D takes the world as it is, not as we’d like it to be”. In today’s world, where the ethics of drone strikes are hotly debated yet used no less prolifically, where surveillance has become so extensive and integral to daily life, law and order (especially in developed countries), and all of which we have assimilated as necessary evils into our consensus on what ‘freedom’ is, just what is there for Captain America to champion? How greatly has the world compromised on the very beliefs he once fought for? Has it all been worth it, and do we even fully realize the cost? All these questions and more come to bear on the narrative throughout, from the smaller moments fleshing out the conspiratorial atmosphere to the no-holds-barred open conflict. Indeed, the fact that Rogers utilizes his trademark vibranium shield as a weapon just as much as a protective tool can be taken as a fitting symbol of the political questions explored under the surface; defensive action vs. offensive action, where is the line drawn? It’s a vastly more complex and morally grey world Rogers is coming to terms with, and always the presence of the Winter Soldier provides a disconcerting reflection of the Captain’s devotion to duty, the specter of the fate that awaits him should he ever surrender his idealistic convictions.

 

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“If they’re shooting at you, they’re bad”

High-octane thriller though it might be, this is a superhero flick, and the promise of large-scale mayhem that goes with that fully delivers by far the biggest action sequences of Phase 2 to date. “It’s like Avengers 1.5”, Mackie remarks pretty astutely of the film’s combat and carnage production values. The return of flying aircraft carrier technology makes for some colossal climactic visuals, and battles in the streets offer up fast-paced, frenzied face-offs with bazookas, bombs, guns and knives coming at characters from all angles. George St. Pierre, in real life an actual mixed martial artist and three-time Welterweight Champion of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, makes for some outstanding physical verisimilitude as French-Algerian mercenary Batroc, and the filmmakers really show off what he can do in a wonderfully choreographed hand-to-hand fight scene with the Captain himself. Johansson’s Black Widow and Mackie’s Falcon further provide their own stunning and delightfully inventive displays of combative prowess, but come the inevitable-yet-nonetheless anticipated brawls between Rogers and the Winter Soldier, it’s an electrifying duel of completely equal skillsets. It’s surprising to think that despite eight films preceding this, we’ve actually had relatively little in the way of a thoroughly satisfying one-on-one punch-up (the best prior example to my mind being Hulk vs. Abomination back in 2008), but here it’s not much of an exaggeration to compare their confrontations to the likes of The Matrix’s Neo vs. Agent Smith or Pirates of the Caribbean’s Jack Sparrow vs. Barbossa, the nearest thing the MCU has given us yet to a Jedi lightsaber battle. In addition, for anyone and everyone in the know as to the Winter Soldier’s true identity, it just makes their second-act tussle all the more tense as that very revelation becomes set to be revealed to the Captain.

 

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“The price of freedom is high, and it’s a price I’m willing to pay”

Ever since Christopher Nolan’s ‘Batman Begins’ in 2005, a game-changing reboot that led to a pantheon of dark and gritty reinventions of well-known characters in cinema, ‘troubled’ and ‘flawed’ have been the go-to characterizations for big blockbuster lead characters. The trend has by no means gone away today, and so it’s all the more refreshing that in Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers we get a guy who is quite simply good. Rogers isn’t a man ‘haunted’ by past tragedy or misdeed. Any conflict and turmoil he may experience within cannot be said to actually come from within, but is simply the effect of his external environment. As superheroes in recent years go, this is a guy who’s actually pretty sincerely happy with who he is, someone you feel like you would actually look up to as a person. Evans has received some mild and scattered criticism for his portrayal of the character as being uninteresting, that the ‘goody-two-shoes’ act is less relatable, outdated even. Yes, Rogers is a consistently good guy, that’s who he is, that’s what he made of himself in his own time and that’s what he’s going to continue making of himself in the present. What does that really say though, that he really is an unbearably ‘perfect angel’, or just that his plain decency is all the more pronounced by his distinctly murkier new-millennium environment? However you answer that may well say more about your character than his. Evans was a perfect choice for the role from the outset, and he continues to bring the Captain to live with all the strength of character and virtue he deserves and needs when faced with the problems of today’s world.

 

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“Are you ready? For the world to see you as you really are?”

One of the many unexpected bonuses in ‘The Avengers’ was the brief insight into the history of Natasha Romanoff, the highly trained spy/assassin codenamed The Black Widow. Here, not so much ‘sidekick’ as a fully-fledged comrade, Romanoff’s character continues to be fleshed out amidst the chaos and conspiracy, and every step of the way Scarlet Johansson excels in every department. If ‘Casino Royale’ had featured the first female James Bond, Johansson’s Romanoff would have been it. Cool, calm and collected in even the hottest of situations, it hits home all the more just how serious and sinister things are getting when even the Black Widow needs to take a few minutes to process it all. Every bit the partner Rogers needs to get him to grips with how things are and ground him from his forlorn nostalgia, an experienced killer faintly opening her mind to the possibility that her future isn’t and shouldn’t necessarily be dictated by her past, Johansson is inarguably one of the film’s greatest strengths. With ‘Avengers 2’ supposedly planning to expand further on her character specifically, is it really so outrageous to hope for a film of her own come Phase 3?

 

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“I never said I was a pilot”

If his demeanor on the red carpet at the film’s LA premiere is anything to go by, Mackie seems like a pretty cool guy who knows something pretty cool when it comes his way, and Sam Wilson’s military alias as ‘The Falcon’ is very cool. Aiding Captain America on a world-saving mission would be most likely to either utterly faze or over-enthuse anyone, but Wilson takes it all in his stride (indeed his casual acceptance of Rogers as a living anachronism makes for one of their earliest bonding moments), or ‘glide’ as the case may be. His getup, a pair of retractable wings built into a jet pack, with guns. Tell me that isn’t cool, and tell me Wilson doesn’t know exactly how cool it is. Mackie clearly revels in this role, providing Evans’ Rogers with a sense of ‘brothers-in-arms’ and trust he hasn’t felt fully and sincerely since the company of his renowned Howling Commandos. Wilson isn’t all quips, quick-wits and wings though, the film taking substantial time to establish his history as both a veteran and as a PTSD councilor, a smaller but no less effective illustration of the side-effects of US military proactivity nowadays. Here too, Mackie turns out a solid effort of bringing sincerity and solemnity to the role of a man who’s a soldier first, and an awesome flying superhero second. If Rogers should ever decide to hand over his shield, Wilson would be one hell of a candidate to carry it on.

 

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“You need to keep both eyes open”

Samuel L. Jackson really can’t do wrong. He’s been in a few misfires, sure, and one or two very dirty bombs, but nothing can faze his talent and sheer being, so nothing can stop him. CA:TWS marks his sixth appearance as the ultimate espionage badass Director Nick Fury (not counting a brief cameo in the MCU’s spinoff television series ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D’), and he’s in for a very different ride this time around. We’ve seen Fury as the mysterious spymaster, we’ve seen him as a faintly Machiavellian guide, as a mentor, a commander and a fellow soldier. When the man who was arguably the epicenter of Phase 1’s ‘Avengers Initiative’ is suddenly at tremendous risk, you know the MCU is really shaking things up. Whether or not they go so far as to ‘pull a Ned Stark’, you’ll have to find out for yourselves. Samuel L. Jackson is the Nick Fury, so much so that animated series featuring the character are now basing their portrayal on him. I need say nothing more, except keep your eyes peeled for perhaps the best Pulp Fiction reference ever made in a film.

 

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“To build a better world, sometimes means tearing the old one down. And that makes enemies”

So much has been said of Robert Redford in this picture that I’m not gonna hammer it all in again. His casting in part a nod to his reputation in the 1970s for thrillers the likes of ‘Three Days of the Condor’, Redford’s senior S.H.I.E.L.D leader Alexander Pierce exudes political charm and charisma, as well as provides a greater insight into the actual structural composition of S.H.I.E.L.D that has formerly maintained a great level of ambiguity as to how it organizes itself. Steve Rogers thought Fury’s motives and actions were hard enough to understand, but Pierce is a whole other level, and therein lies the source of much of the film’s intrigue.

 

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“Most of the intelligence community doesn’t believe he exists. The ones that do call him the Winter Soldier. He’s a ghost, you’ll never find him…”

“He’s fast… strong… and has a metal arm…”

There’s little to be said about the eponymous threat the film pits against Captain America without giving the game away, but in avoiding spoilers it’s oddly appropriate to be complicit in maintaining his mystery. For being a character whose name is in the title, the Winter Soldier has a surprisingly limited screen time, and is treated with surprisingly restrained flair. There is no grand entrance, no establishing of any particular ‘rivalry’ or ‘competitiveness’ with Rogers, no ‘monologuing’. The Winter Soldier simply appears into the story practically out of nowhere, and every entrance is handled just as suddenly and unexpectedly as an encounter with a ghost. Part of me actually started thinking about Javier Bardem’s acclaimed Chi-gurh in ‘No Country for Old Men’, that sense of the villain being but a force of nature simply being aimed at the protagonists by something greater. Despite the limitations though, Sebastian Stan makes a very fitting casting choice for the role, his eyes blazing with the Winter Soldier’s sheer drive for his mission, equal parts unsettling menace and sobering tragedy. The rest is classified.

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Nine films down, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe is showing absolutely no signs of entropy. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a breathtaking and thoroughly compelling thrill ride from the very start, and by the time credits roll the MCU has dealt itself a serious game-changing development that is sure to have far-reaching implications for its other contributory franchises, not to mention advancing things only considerably for next year’s grand reunion in ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’. Captain America is completely out of his comfort zone, and he’s more than welcome to stay.

 Quality: 5/5

Entertainment: 4/5

Averaged Out: 4.5/5

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(P.S. For fans of TV’s ‘Community’, you’re in for a serious treat)

Non-Stop

It’s hard to say what would make the more appropriate title for this high-altitude thriller. To its credit, ‘Non-Stop’ is suggestive of the aviation environment (as well as a self-assured nod to its own perceived momentum). Alternatively, ‘Liam Neeson Is Tired Of Your Shit’? Well he certainly spends a good amount of time throwing frosty looks at other characters for acts of stupidity and/or abrasiveness. The internet memes practically create themselves.

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Neeson expands his gallery of middle-aged mavericks with alcoholic US federal air marshal Bill Marks. Midway through a transatlantic flight, he receives a chilling threat; unless $150 million is transferred to a specific bank account, a passenger will die every twenty minutes. Someone on that flight boarded with a plan, everyone is suspect and everyone is a victim-in-waiting, with Marks himself both pawn and player.

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Bill Marks: “I hate flying. The lines. The crowds. The delays”

Jen Summers: “I always kinda liked it. Six hours. One seat. Nobody can get to you”

The premise alone is a recipe for instant-classic thriller; mixing ‘whodunnit’ drama with time-ticking action and conspiratorial twists that should bring more than enough to the table for a 1hr, 45min sitting, and the buildup certainly delivers. Whether it’s the Sherlock-aping ‘text in mid-air’ visuals or Neeson’s underlining his jaded figurehead with an emotional vulnerability perhaps more overt than has been his norm, tension abounds and intrigues. Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery and Lupita Nyong’o (now Oscar-winner) provide the rest of the star power, but the film does woefully little to justify their casting with fleshed out roles and characters.

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“I’m not hijacking this plane! I’m trying to save it!”

Ultimately, the verdict for a film like this hinges on the payoff, and it’s a disappointingly shoddy landing for a film with initially skyrocketing potential. A magic trick without the prestige, for want of true brains Non-Stop could have done with a layover in the drawing board.

Quality: 2/5

Entertainment: 3/5

Averaged Out: 2.5/5

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Patchman