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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Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (Dead Men Tell No Tales)

The tide has never turned so against Captain Jack (Johnny Depp). With no ship, a bare bones crew (the ‘a few men short’ kind, not the seabed-marching undead kind), and by his own unwitting actions are the infamous pirate-hunter Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his crew of wraiths released from their unearthly prison. His only hope lies with finding the fabled Trident of Poseidon, the source of ultimate power over the sea, a relic also sought after by not only horologist Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), but the son of Jack’s old pirate comrade Will – Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites).

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Let’s parlay for a moment to get the question out that quite literally everyone is asking regarding this film: how on earth did we ever get from a theme park ride to a five-film franchise spawned by that ride? How is it possible for ten minutes of sitting in a boat watching animatronic figures firing cannons and drinking rum to fuel roughly eleven hours of cinema to date? Disney, you truly are the magic kingdom. Take that how you will, but with Pirates 5 it’s a reality the film constantly struggles to escape from. Like a broken compass or a sword without a wielder, there really is no purpose to its being, and yet what surprises most about the film is just how double-edged a sword it turns out to be. What makes for the largest crack in its hull is also, curiously, what keeps it afloat – its sense of resignation.

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Effectively a remix of Pirates 1 and 2, with occasional lashings of 3, Pirates 5 cherry-picks the strongest ingredients of its predecessors and blends them into a concoction which, whilst by no means surpassing or even equalling its ancestry, at least makes for a satisfying and memorable experience. Somewhat worryingly, it’s when the film tries to throw in something of entirely its own ingenuity that things get either weird or tedious. An irrelevant and random wedding ceremony. A pointless Paul McCartney cameo. Steering away from the series’ more melodramatic leanings and favouring a course of rapid-fire wit, the onus for carrying it all ends up resting once again with its characterisations, to varying effect.

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Depp’s Sparrow, who’s eccentricities belying a cunning and daring miscreant we all fell in love with, now seems to have been largely consumed by his own idiosyncrasies. From Han Solo to Jar Jar Binks, saved only by the occasional, faintly recognizable trace of former charismatic glory. Geoffrey Rush, conversely, is perhaps the franchise’s ultimate unsung hero for his relentlessly enthusiastic performances as Jack’s intermittent ally and enemy Hector Barbossa, and his presence here doesn’t disappoint for a second. Javier Bardem delivers a solid antagonist to the proceedings, but Salazar as a basic concept is so anchored to recycled Pirates villainy – half-Rush’s Barbossa debut, half-Bill Nighy’s Davy Jones – that he remains a shadow within the shadows of his precursors. Thwaites and Scodelario, almost shamelessly pushed on the audience as Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley 2.0, make for lacklustre companions. Scodelario’s Carina is at least a decent attempt at a more than two-dimensional character, but between the script’s faux feminism and a general overreliance on expository dialogue, both she and Henry tend to fade into the background amidst their fellow cast members.

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For all its flotsam and jetsam however, there’s no denying that Pirates 5 manages to capture something of an echo of what made the original such a success and so endearing to fans. It’s straightforward, visually impressive, decently paced with a series-high sense of humour and boasting several standout set-pieces, but above all there’s a certain heart to these seafaring tales that it at least pays honest tribute to. It’s been an oddity of the Pirates franchise from the very beginning: taking characters that aren’t necessarily all that interesting or substantial, and working just hard enough to make you feel a little something for them by the end. With the future of this franchise uncertain, Pirates 5 works as an adequate and fond farewell to the Caribbean and all its curses and cutthroats, like a short story or epilogue that revisits a familiar world and its inhabitants years later. At least, better it end like this than continue charting a course into undead franchise waters.

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Quality: 3/5

Entertainment: 3/5

Final Score: 3/5

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The Jungle Book

Let’s face it, as much as Walt Disney’s original remains a relentless classic, I don’t think anyone today can really qualify it as a particularly great film, and certainly not a good adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s collection of stories. It’s a grand old time certainly, and remains a good experience for any first time viewer, but leaves little incentive to revisit. Well, director Jon Favreau (Iron Man) has taken it upon himself to do just that, returning to both the animation icon and the original text to mine the magic of their respective imaginations, and the result is now here. In this age of Disney ‘reintroducing’ its most highly recognized properties, can ‘The Jungle Book’ tell a truly wild story?

Yes. Yes it can, and it does, relentlessly.

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Mowgli, a ‘man-cub’ raised by wolves in the dense Indian jungle, finds himself targeted by the feared Bengal tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba). Rather than see the pack that nurtured him divide over his fate, Mowgli sets out with the company of Bagheera the black panther (Sir Ben Kingsley) to find a sense of belonging elsewhere that will be safer for all. But no matter where the boy goes or whom he meets, including Baloo the bear (Bill Murray), Shere Khan will stop at nothing until Mowgli is dead.

Jungle_Book_2016_33This is not the same jungle you may remember, you may be starting to realize. It’s very familiar to be sure, with its colours and characters and colourful characters, but in translating the old story into cinema’s most realistic rendition yet, Favreau captures not just the magic and mayhem of past forays into this wilderness, but the mystery and menace that has always underlined Kipling’s creation. Just the very design of the environments in this film is spectacular, from Kaa the Snake’s (Scarlett Johansson) murky nest high in the trees to King Louie’s ruined temple home, everything a viscerally visual feast and all of it a testament to the potential of computer-generated world building. Frankly, it’s remarkable so much of the film can feel as warm and endearing and persistently family-friendly as it does given the engagement with a much more grounded and gritty view of jungle life. Dark, but not bleak, colourful but not cartoony, this may not be quite the same jungle anymore but it’s certainly a far richer and more engaging one.

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For all its tantalising environments and effects however, this film was always going to live or die on its characters. Here, above everything else, is where this film really hits it out of the park, a triumph it owes in equal measure to the aptitude of its cast members and the brilliance of the visual effects which bring these characters to remarkable photorealistic life.

It’s probably safe to assume that Baloo is and always has been Bill Murray’s spirit animal, so naturally does it feel to hear his voice come out of that oversized snout. To be fair, pretty much all of the animals (characters or background) are blown up a few sizes and the result is doubly effective, giving us a clear look at their incredible detail whilst subtly capturing a sense of a child’s perspective, to whom all such birds and beasts may feel somewhat giant, especially in such situations as Mowgli finds himself. Kingsley too is an exceptionally fitting voice for Bagheera, arguably adding greater emotional depth than Sebastian Cabot ever did, and the film certainly affords more opportunities for action and heroism than he was previously known for. Likewise, Christopher Walken as King Louie the ‘Gigantopithecus’ (since orang-utans aren’t actually native to India) was a brilliant casting decision, although you may be surprised just how much he tones down his distinctively peculiar intonations in favour of conveying a very real threat to Mowgli and co.

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Gone also is the slippery charm of Kaa the ‘Sounds Suspiciously like Winnie the Pooh’ serpent, in its place the sufficiently sultry hiss of Scarlett Johansson’s predator, and with the bonus of an added subplot centring on Mowgli’s wolf comes the talents of Lupita N’yongo as Raksha. I never thought a wolf could pack an emotional punch. But when it comes to determining the real show-stealer here, no one can top Idris Elba and his astounding performance as the malevolent, malicious Bengal tiger. No more of George Sanders as just a Bond villain in fur and stripes, this film lets Shere Khan be a true beast in every sense of the word, and Elba brings to the game such a powerful sense of the tiger’s rage, its relentlessness, all barely contained beneath a veneer of a cold and calculating mind. The film does little in general to shy away from the brutality and danger of life in the jungle. Shere Khan is that peril incarnate, and his threat almost single-handedly drives the entirety of the film. I’ll be the first to admit that beforehand I thought Benedict Cumberbatch would be the obvious choice after his turn as J.R.R Tolkien’s gold-hoarding dragon. Now I know I could not have been more wrong.

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And last but absolutely not least is Mowgli himself, Neel Suthi making his feature film debut at just ten years old. This kid I guarantee you will be on rising star lists everywhere over the next couple of years. He. Is. Mowgli. In fact, even that is a bit of a disservice to him as the original Mowgli was to be fair little more than a whine factory, and ironically enough never felt like the main character in his own film. With Suthi in the role, this is the best onscreen Mowgli yet. His is a far more heroic Mowgli than we’re accustomed to, one with an acute sense of responsibility for his actions, who actually listens to his peers and elders without immediately jumping into a petulant strop, though before you may think the film has portrayed him as unrealistically capable beyond his years, Suthi is just as competent at conveying that wide-eyed wonder of a child out in the wide world. His is a Mowgli to truly root for, a Mowgli with genuine emotional depth, a hero with problems but more importantly a resolve to overcome them. Walt Disney himself, who died during the production of the original animation, could not have created a finer role model for younger audiences.

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Is the film perfect? No, like most films. Ironically, as well suited as Bill Murray is to Baloo, strangely enough his performance seems to lack some of the palpable energy that made the character as kinetic as it was under Phil Harris, and that’s including the film’s somewhat shameless flirtation with that iconic tune about the good life he leads. At least that one has a sense of purpose and a place within the broader goings on of the film, unlike another musical moment that enjoys next to no setup, has no purpose outside of fan service, and ultimately detracts from the scene in general. And if there is anything negative to be said about Suthi in the role of Mowgli, it can be entirely confined to the sentiment that as enthusiastic as his efforts are, singing may not be in his future.

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Aside from these minor issues however, Favreau’s ‘The Jungle Book’ is a pure delight. At a running time of 1hr 45mins, the story never feels at all bloated and the pacing keeps things going at just the right speed. What changes have been made from the animated version will vary in noticeability depending on your own familiarity, but not one of these changes impacts negatively on the production, indeed they often mark substantial improvements or inspired alternative ideas. The elephant patrol of Colonel Hathi may be missing for instance, but don’t worry. The film uses that particular herd in an especially memorable and outright beautiful manner. If anything, whilst Shere Khan embodies the danger of the jungle, the elephants are its majesty.

We all love the original for the cabaret extravaganza it is, but at long last we have an adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s fantastically imaginative landscape that feels sincere, faithful, fun and above all in this day and age it feels worthwhile. We’re seeing a lot of remakes and sequels and reboots these days and whilst the scarcity of originality in the film industry remains an issue, it’s films like this that remind us of the potential every film has to at least have a refreshing and different take on its subject, even if the subject has been done before.

Quality: 4/5

Entertainment: 4/5

 

Final Score: 4/5

Patchman

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