Tag Archives: sequel

It (2017)

I wouldn’t call myself a coulrophobe, but I did name the 1990 It miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s famous novel as the number one film that scared the crap out of me as a kid. I know it probably doesn’t hold up over time and I would likely laugh at it now, though back in the day, Pennywise the clown definitely made me scared to go to the toilet at night.

And now, 27 years later, It is back! Directed by Andrés Muschietti (the dude who delivered the pretty decent horror flick Mama back in 2013), the new big screen version of It is fabulous and terrifying, not just bringing back memories I haven’t been able to forget all these years but also adding to them.

The storyline is I remembered: A mysterious clown named Pennywise suddenly appears in the tiny US town of Derry and kids start disappearing at an alarming rate. For some reason, Pennywise appears able to morph into whatever you’re most of afraid of (which in my case would just be him), and the only people who seem to give a damn in Derry are a group known as the “Losers”, seven kids with very different backgrounds and personalities.

The main difference is that the plot only focuses on the seven main characters as children as opposed to also depicting them as adults (as was the case in the 1990 miniseries). Smart move, because this provided flexibility to keep the film as a standalone if it didn’t achieve the financial success to warrant a sequel (more on this later). Besides, from memory, the children’s part of the 1990 It miniseries was much better than the adult’s part.

Despite my vague recollection of the miniseries, I can tell there are many differences to this film version. I haven’t read the book myself (the door stopper just looks too daunting to even attempt), but from what I have heard and read, it’s one of the best Stephen King adaptations out there, and that’s a huge compliment when you look at the list: Shawshank, Stand by Me, The Green Mile, The Shining. Misery, and so forth.

Despite having admittedly big expectations going in, I knew it was going to be hard for It to live up to what I hoped it would be. The early trailers got this thing hyped up to the extreme, and there were already talks of the film smashing box office records for both the horror genre and September openings before the first public screening.

The feeling that the movie would be unlikely to live up to expectations kept my emotions quite balanced going in. In the end, the film was much better than I thought it would be, largely because there was a surprising amount of heart thanks to the brilliant performances of the children. I didn’t think that I would be so invested in the fate of the children and their bond, nor did I anticipate that so much of the humour in the film to be effective (not all of it worked, but most of it did). There was a real Stand By Me vibe with the way the kids talked and cursed (yes, there’s plenty of cursing), as well as a Stranger Things vibe from the 1980s setting, the sense adventure, and depicting the story from the children’s perspective. All seven of the leads were amazing and believable, with Stranger Things‘ Finn Wolfhard (also the best name in showbiz) as the wisecracking Richie and Jack Dylan Grazer as hypochondriac Eddie being the standouts for me, though all of them appear to have stardom written in their future. but also not quite as scary as I hoped it would be.

On the other hand, the film was also not quite as scary as I hoped it would be. Make no doubt, it is indeed very scary, but not to the extent where I felt like I could not continue looking at the screen or squirmed in my seat. I don’t know why that was the case for me, though I do know that it’s definitely not the fault of Bill Skarsgard, who portrays a phenomenal Pennywise. From the look to the voice to the sinister creepiness, Skarsgard pulls it off to perfection. I really liked the fact that Muschietti was not afraid to push the boundaries by showing us brutal, bloody violence committed against children, which is typically taboo in almost all horror movies. I also liked that the horror comes from much more than just the monster, showing us that adults and bullies can be equally terrifying, if not more so.

One final positive is the way the film blended CGI with practical effects — it brought out a different, more unpredictable side to Pennywise, adding to the horror without going over the top.

I do wish I could have seen a little more of the adults and how they were reacting to the scary and mysterious things that were happening in Derry, but I understand why Muschietti left this part out given that the film had to develop 7 protagonists on a running time that’s already on the long side at 135 minutes.

 

At the end of the film, I was left wanting a sequel, which will definitely be forthcoming after It proved to be a monster hit by raking in US$123 on its opening weekend in the US market alone, crushing solid “expert predictions” of US$55 million. As at the time of this review, the film has already made more than US$210 million worldwide on a US$35 million budget.

Minute-for-minute and scare-for-scare, I found Annabelle: Creation to be the more frightening movie, but there is no doubt It is the superior film across technical aspects, from the direction and the cinematography to the script, dialogue, and performances. It’s up there as one of the best Stephen King adaptations and a lock to end up as one of the best horror movies of the year.

4 stars out of 5

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Guardians of the Galaxy was a huge surprise hit in 2014, one that I enjoyed a lot but didn’t love as much as most. It was fun, quirky, referential and vibrant, with a fantastic cast that catapulted Chris Pratt to superstardom. Naturally, this made me concerned about the inevitable sequel, Vol, 2,  because I knew it would be facing unreasonable expectations and must find ways to rekindle the magic of the original while also coming up with something fresh.

For the most part, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 lives up to the bare minimum of expectations without doing much more. It builds upon the mythology of the first film, giving us a new adventure with a more personal slant, further opportunities for character development and building team chemistry, and still plenty of nostalgia and irreverent humour to put a smile on our faces. Like its predecessor, Vol. 2 was a fun couple of hours, but it also did not wow me in the way the best Marvel films tend to do.

Set no long after the events of the original, the Guardians of the Galaxy — Peter Quill (Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Badley Cooper) and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) — are now working together to fight an inter-dimensional monster at the behest of the Sovereign race, basically a bunch of uptight people in gold paint led by the statuesque Ayesha (Aussie Elizabeth Debicki). When the Guardians fall out of favour with the Sovereigns, Quill’s adoptive father Yondu (Michael Rooker) is hired to capture them. This leads to an encounter with Ego the living planet (Kurt Russell), a celestial being who reveals himself as having a connection to Quill. By Ego’s side is Mantis (Pom Kleentieff), a socially awkward girl with emphatic powers and antennae on her head.

Guardians has a different vibe to the other Marvel films because of its unabashed wackiness and irreverent tone. Groot and Rocket aren’t supposed to work as characters, but they do because of the superb writing and direction of James Gunn, whose talents are again on full display here. With bright colours, well-choreographed comic book space action, likable characters, fast and furious jokes, classic 80s music, and the cuteness of Baby Groot, Vol. 2 is a light and fun popcorn experience.

The cast is of course fabulous. Pratt looks very comfortable as Quill and spews out a bunch of witty wisecracks, though the majority of the comic relief this time goes to Drax, especially in his interactions with Mantis. And while cute doesn’t usually do much for me, Baby Groot does have a few nice moments. Yondu gets a bigger role this time and Rooker really shines by giving the character a lot of heart. Bradley and Saldana provide more of the emotional punch this time around with their character arcs, in particular Gamora’s relationship with her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan).  That’s already a great cast, and I haven’t even mentioned legends Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone (who has a cameo), in their first reunion since Tango and Cash 28 years ago!

That said, I do have quite a few issues with Vol. 2. For starters, while I did laugh quite a few times at the gags, I found the humour a lot more hit and miss this time around, with some of the jokes coming across as too obvious. The biggest issue I had, however, was the actual plot, because it feels like not much actually happens. There’s a long lull after the Guardians encounter Ego, and I actually found myself a little bored by some of the slower sequences during this phase. It just didn’t feel like there was enough substance to justify a 136-minute running time.

So yeah, though I wasn’t disappointed in Vol. 2, I was hoping for a bit more. In terms of quality and entertainment value, the drop-off from its predecessor is not huge, but at the same time it felt like a somewhat safe sequel that does not go beyond to deliver what could have been a special experience. Instead, it’s just a solid albeit unspectacular continuation of the story.

3.25 stars out of 5

Alien: Covenant (2017)

Unlike the majority of the movie-going audience, I was one of those people who really enjoyed 2012’s Prometheus. While I acknowledged its flaws and all the nonsensical, I found myself captivated by the horror and action elements as well as the creature designs and mythology of the universe it had created.

Fast forward now to Alien: Covenant, which is carrying high expectations given Ridley Scott’s return to form following The Martian. Whereas Prometheus tried to shy away from a direct connection to the Alien franchise, the title of this sequel indicates that they are fully embracing it this time. The trailers also showed that the movie appeared to be returning to the horror roots of the original. To be honest, even though I thought the trailers looked good, I wasn’t all that sold on Alien: Covenant because it felt like it was trying too hard to recapture the magic of the original, putting it at risk of resorting to cliches and thinly veiled homages.

Turned out I was wrong. Alien: Covenant is without a doubt a true sequel to Prometheus, but it also fails to duplicate the sense of genuine terror that made Alien so great and the awesome action that made Aliens an instant classic.

The story picks up about a decade after the Prometheus went missing, with the Covenant carrying a new crew and a whole bunch of colonists and embryos in cryosleep. The only waking member when the film starts is Walter (Michael Fassbender), an android with the same likeness as David from Prometheus. Naturally, stuff happens, and the crew finds themselves on a detour where deadly alien life may or may not be lurking.

The cast is led by the brilliant Assbender (he bends so much ass in this film) and Katherine Waterston as Daniels, with a surprisingly effective dramatic performance by usual stoner Danny McBride and the typically reliable Billy Crudup. There are about half a dozen other supporting characters, but none of them are particularly memorable, which is one of the key problems I had with the film. In fact, apart from Assbender, no one really stands out, not even Waterston, who falls way short of channeling her inner Ellen Ripley. Despite the similar height and the hair, it’s not even close.

You don’t need to have seen Prometheus to understand what happens in this film, though it certainly helps. That said, I can still imagine a lot of people being confused as to what’s going on with the plot, especially regarding what happened on the planet on which the characters find themselves on. Even I had to go back and read up on Prometheus again on Wikipedia to give myself a bit of a refresher on all the stuff about the mysterious Engineers and so forth.

However, the most important reason people will watch Alien: Covenant is for the horror/action, and the film does enough to satisfy, for the most part. Notwithstanding a couple of scenarios I found somewhat tacky, most of the horror sequences in the film deliver, with one in particular standing out from the first half of the movie. I liked that the film did not shy away from the gore and some very disgusting visuals, though I felt not enough time was spent on building up the suspense. I also enjoyed the evolution of the creatures throughout the film until we see the classic facehuggers and of course the first xenomorph. Kudos for using mostly animatronics for the creature effects as they simply look a lot more realistic than CGI.

So I found myself frightened, disgusted and excited at various parts throughout the 123-minute movie, but never truly terrified like I was for Alien or on the edge of my seat like I was for Aliens.  Considering it also had a plot that was probably more convoluted than necessary, a fairly predictable ending, and a lack of memorable characters, Alien: Covenant was clearly not as good as I wanted it to be. Despite enjoying it for what it was and being engaged all the way through, I actually think I prefer Prometheus more.

3.5 stars out of 5

PS: I just heard they are filming the sequel to Alien: Covenant starting next year.

Fifty Shades Darker (2017)

Fifty Shades Darker — or as I like to call it, Fifty Shades Boring-er — is the Fifty Shades of Grey sequel no one was waiting for. I won’t repeat my epic rant about the first film, but essentially, it was a piece of crap, and so I had zero expectations this time around. This was particularly so as I had read the second book and knew just how abysmal the source material is.

Fifty Shades Darker picks up shortly after the end of Fifty Shades of Grey. Protagonist Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) has split from her impossibly good looking, wealthy, controlling, and perverted boyfriend, Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). I think it had something to do with all the S&M shit he was into and some contract she had to sign so they could engage in kinky stuff. Whatever. She’s now working at some publishing company where her boss Jack (Eric Johnson) fancies her.

It’s not the most horrible premise, though it does not take long for the story to nosedive. You would think the film would take a bit of time before reuniting the lovers, to build up a bit of excitement and yearning. But of course they don’t. Every reason they broke up in the first place is quickly and conveniently thrown out the door despite there being no change in circumstances. The power of incredibly bland and boring sex can overcome all challenges.

Sadly, the script follows the novel written by EL James quite closely and sabotages itself at every possible turn. It creates potential scenarios for tension and then quickly resolves them in the lamest ways you can think of. Each plot point comes and gets immediately resolved one after the one in a linear fashion until the excruciatingly bad and suspenseless “cliffhanger” ending. I can’t say much more than that without spoilers, but you get the gist.

The biggest sin Fifty Shades Darker commits is that it is insanely boring. It is one of the flattest films I’ve seen in a long time, with no ups or downs or changes in direction or tone. It just plods along in a straight line with very low stakes and somehow manages to sustain that for a ridiculous 131-minute running time. There is just no tension between the leads and no character development. It even throws in a few poorly executed and lame thriller movie cliches in an attempt to “spice things up”, but the results are laughable. The kinky stuff also falls into the category of boring. For all the hoopla about the books, the sexy time in the movies is anything but sexy. You could find more titillating action on just about any cable TV show these days. It really is astonishing that the film is directed by James Foley, the same dude who gave us the explosive Glengarry Glen Ross!

The acting—well, it’s not atrocious, I suppose. Dakota Johnson does her best, though Jamie Dornan clearly looks like he’s not having a good time. It’s as though he knows he made a big mistake in signing up for the role. He can’t hide it. The other supporting actors (Rita Ora, Luke Grimes, Marcia Gay Harden, Max Martini) return to fruitless role, while Kim Basinger goes through the entire film with a look which suggests that she feels torn between the paycheck she received for her performance and knowing what a shit film she’s in.

So yeah—shitty story, boring as hell, lame sexy time, and barely acceptable performances. Fifty Shades Darker is the gaaaaarbage everyone expected it to be. That said, I actually think the movie is an improvement on the book. At least the script not as diabolical as the source text, which is absolutely all over the place, waffles on, and has downright embarrassing dialogue all the way through. The film appears to have tried to pare these things back to the best of its ability. The scary thing is that the third book, Fifty Shades Freed, from memory at least, is the worst book of the trilogy. Can’t wait to see the adaptation next year.

1.25 stars out of 5

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

I remember in 2014, I went into this Keanu Reeves movie that seemed to pop up out of nowhere. There was very little advertising and not even an announcement or trailer until just a month or two before it was released. It was called John Wick.

No one expected John Wick is tear it up at the box office, earning nearly US$90m worldwide on a US$20 million budget, and transforming Keanu into the best middle-aged action superstar since Liam Neeson in Taken. And for once, John Wick did not feel like just yet another movie trying to mimic Taken — it had its own story hook and visual style, inventive action sequences, and created its own mythology with the “Continental”, essentially an assassin hotel.

In all honesty, while I liked John Wick, I wasn’t quite as enamored with it as most others who thought it was one of the best action movies ever. I believe one of the reasons is because the film was already so hyped up by the time I got around to it. So this time, though I knew the reviews were great, I avoided trailers and reading about the movie, and went into John Wick 2 with tempered expectations.

And wow, I absolutely loved it!

Continuing on almost immediately from the end of the first film, the titular John Wick begins the story by trying to get his car back from a Russian mobster played by the awesome Peter Stromare. So it’s crazy action from the get-go and things only get more insane when Wick’s past comes back to haunt him. It’s a one-man-against-the-rest premise like Die Hard, except for John Wick, the dangers lurk wherever he is in the world.

John Wick 2 is still ultra-violent and super stylish, with loads of action that utilises minimal cuts and immersive camera work. At times it feels like you are watching the best adaptation of a first-person shooter (or over-the-shoulder) video game ever, and at others it’s as though you are watching a comic book come to life on the big screen. It is no wonder that director John Stahelski was hired to help out on the brilliant action sequences in Captain America: Civil War.

I used video games and comic books to describe the sensibilities of John Wick 2 because it’s the type of film you need to suspend a lot of disbelief. Apart from cranking the action and the stakes up to 11, the film also builds on the assassin mythology from its predecessor, extending beyond just the Continental to a whole world of assassin services. It’s fascinating and loads of fun, but only if you buy into. I compare it to the latest entries in the Fast & Furious franchise, in that if you don’t accept it for what it is, you’ll be rolling your eyes throughout the entire film, but if you do, you’ll have a whale of a time.

I was surprised just how much of the original cast returned, including the super assassin played by Common, the car repair dude played by John Leguizamo, and the friendly neighbourhood cop played by Thomas Sadoski, as well as the Continental’s Ian Mcshane and Lance Reddick. Notable newcomers are Riccardo Scamarcio and Aussie DJ Ruby Rose (who is just about everywhere these days), while those looking forward to a Matrix reunion between Keanu and Lawrence Fishburne will finally have their wish granted.

As for Keanu, he’s still Keanu. John Wick doesn’t have a lot of lines, but the lines he does have are delivered in the classic Keanu style — ie, pretty badly. Nonetheless, the physical stuff Keanu pulls off is absolutely astounding, and apparently the film went out of its way to ensure that the physics of the action is as close to reality as possible. It’s a strange form of surrealistic realism that works and makes John Wick the kind of unique universe I’d love to return to.

On the whole, even though it’s only February, I’ll be surprised if I end up watching a better pure action film than John Wick 2 this year. So if you’re old enough and can stomach the violence, do yourself a favour and check out a John Wick 2 with a big bag of popcorn.

4.5 stars out of 5

Finding Dory (2016)

I’ll be the first to admit that I was never the biggest fan of Finding Nemo. Don’t get me wrong, I quite liked it — it was cute and amusing and all that — but I was just stunned by how much everyone else absolutely loved it. And so I was not particularly excited when they finally announced, after what felt like forever (13 years, in fact) that the sequel/spin-off, Finding Dory, was finally going to be released. I actually wasn’t even going to see the movie but my kids wanted to, so we all went.

As the title suggests, Finding Dory is all about tracking down the lost regal blue tang with short-term memory loss voiced by Ellen DeGeneres from Finding Nemo. It was of course not hard to get the ball rolling given Dory’s mental ailment, and this time it’s up to Nemo and his dad (again voiced by Albert Brooks) to track him down. Added to the all-star voice cast include Ed O’Neill as an octopus who has lost the tentacle, Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy as Dory’s parents, Ty Burrell as a beluga whale, and Idris Elba and Dominic West as sea lions, plus Sigourney Weaver, Bill Hader, Kate McKinnon, Allison Janney, Willem Dafoe, Brad Garrett and Stephen Root. Holy crap that is a great cast.

Like its predecessor, Finding Dory is an adventure comedy that teaches us to about friendship and to believe in yourself and who you are. And like its predecessor, it’s also absolutely fine as an animated film. It’s beautifully animated, with a smorgasbord of bright colours and wonderfully rendered textures. It has a good handful of good laughs, solid one-liners, quirky characters, and a good dash of poignancy. 

But also like it’s predecessor, Finding Dory didn’t really wow me — and for me there were no expectations to live up to. I didn’t remind it and you could even say I enjoyed it, but I certainly wouldn’t put it on the same level as say the Toy Story franchise or Up. It just didn’t affect me the way those films did.

My kids actually said they enjoyed it, though my elder son was disappointed there were no sharks like the first one, while my younger son fell asleep just before the climax (granted, it was a matinee screening). And as a true barometer of their interest, neither kept talking about the movie or re-enacted scenes from it for days afterward like they have for other films. Like father, like sons, I suppose.

As I have said many times before, I’m usually not the biggest fan of animated films, so take this review with a grain of salt. But I have to call it as I see it and declare that Finding Dory for me was just an above-average film experience that won’t have me running to get the Blu-ray any time soon.

3 stars out of 5

Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)

Quick, think of one horror sequel that’s better than the original. I bet you can’t.

Well, now you can. Ouija: Origin of Evil is a damn miracle. While the first one was an absolute travesty to cinema, earning a spot on my “10 Worst Movies of 2014“, the sequel is actually a pretty solid little horror movie with some wit and some scares.

I totally forgot about the plot of the original, so it came as a surprise to me that Origin of Evil is actually a prequel of sorts (like the title wasn’t a subtle hint). Set in 1965, it’s about a widow (Elizabeth Reaser) who stages seances at her house with her two girls (Lulu Wilson and Annalise Basso). After incorporating a Ouija board into their seances, it later turns out that the younger daughter can contact the dead, and presumably their dead father.

But of course, spirits can be conniving, and soon the family finds itself battling a demonic presence in their house. As with all supernatural films, a priest (Henry Thomas — yes, Elliott from ET!) gets involved before things spiral out of control in a climatic finish.

Perhaps it’s because Ouija has set the bar so low that I enjoyed Origin of Evil this much. I liked the 60s setting, which looked nostalgic and felt authentic. Director Mike Flanagan, who has done some very solid horror work in the past like Hush and Oculus infuses the production with a sense of class and confidence, with none of the  silly “here we go” vibe of its predecessor. Rather than relying solely on jump scares, the film adopts an effective blend of atmosphere through creepy moments and character interactions. It’s also great that the characters mostly act like normal human beings rather than typical sceptics who won’t believe what’s happening right before their eyes.

Elizabeth Reaser (you may remember her as the mother vampire in The Twilight Saga) and young Lulu Wilson both deliver strong performances that are significantly better than anything you’ll see in the original film (even though Olivia Cooke is very talented). It’s amazing how much scarier a horror movie is when the acting is actually believable.

As stereotypical of such horror movies, however, Origin of Evil loses the plot in its third act and gets pretty ridiculous, though I’ve realised since that this was because it had to match the storyline of the original film. That said, the movie is already so much better than I ever thought it could be. Even though it’s not a top tier commercial horror flick like say The Conjuring, I would say Origin of Evil is good enough to land firmly in that second tier occupied by movies like Insidious).

3.5 stars out of 5

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)

 

The first Jack Reacher film received mixed reviews and complaints about the casting of Tom Cruise (since the character is supposed to be 6’5″ in the books), but I was one of its biggest advocators. It was well-paced, intense, and Bourne-like in terms of some of the action sequences. It built the character of Jack Reacher into someone who could carry a film franchise, and I was looking forward to what dangers and mysteries he would face next.

For those who have seen the trailers, you’ll know the movie starts off with a promising bang, reminding us that Reacher is a deadly weapon and a genius detective who likes to teach bad guys a lesson. The narrative then takes Reacher to his old military headquarters to meet with Major Susan Turner (played by Colbie Smulders), but when he gets there she finds out that she’s been arrested. Of course, there’s some kind of conspiracy involved, and Reacher becomes embroiled in it and must figure out the mystery before it’s too late.

Sadly, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back ended up being really flat and just a notch or two down in every category. Reacher is less charismatic and likable this time around, and the plot simply isn’t very interesting. There are way too many thriller cliches — especially when it comes to an annoying young girl who may or may not be Reacher’s daughter (Danika Yarosh) — and the action itself is uninspiring.

Colbie Smulders tries really hard to infuse some energy, but even Tom Cruise looked a little tired. It’s a little bit of a shock because Cruise always has so much bouncy enthusiasm, and filmmaker Edward Zwick is clearly capable given his strong CV (Legends of the Fall, The Last Samurai, Courage Under Fire, Love and Other Drugs). For some reason, however, the movie lacked the same kinetic energy that director Christopher McQuarrie was able to give to the first Jack Reacher and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

While it’s not terrible, there’s also nothing about Jack Reacher: Never Go Back that is memorable. I’m hoping this was an anomaly and the franchise can get back on track if they proceed with a third film. It has made US$160 million on a US$60 million budget thus far, so it’s definitely possible that Jack Reacher WILL go back after all.

2.5 stars out of 5

Assassin’s Creed (2016)

I don’t like to just accept the word of other people when it comes to shit movies. I have to experience it for myself before I can call a movie shit. And so, despite the negative reviews, I decided to throw down some cash to watch Assassin’s Creed, the long awaited adaptation of the popular video game franchise that I have always wanted to but never played. And NOW, I can finally say it: Assassin’s Creed is indeed shit. Very shit.

Like Warcraft before it, Assassin’s Creed was hailed as the possible saviour of the future of game-to-film adaptations. There was certainly every reason to be optimistic: It is directed by Aussie filmmaker Justin Kurzel, who first shot to fame with the harrowing true story Snowtown. Kurzel has a way with gripping storytelling and a flair for visuals, and seems to always manage to bring out the best of his actors, as he did with Michael Fassbender (henceforth “Assbender”) and Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard in Macbeth. And guess who also stars in Assassin’s Creed? Yes, Assbender and Cotillard, plus Academy Award winner Jeremy Irons, Silver Bear winner Charlotte Rampling, Brendan Gleeson and Omar Little himself from The Wire (ie, Michael K Williams). So you know they had every intention making a great movie.

Sadly, it feels like Assassin’s Creed to was doomed to failure from the start. Sure, the visuals are great — it’s exactly as how I imagined an adaptation would look from the snippets of the game I’ve seen. The action is solid (though not spectacular — I felt it could have been more inventive and there was a lot of killing but not much “assassinating”). The performers do their best to give emotion to their wooden lines of exposition. However, nothing could save Assassin’s Creed from its ridiculously silly and non-sensical premise and convoluted plot.

I haven’t played the game so I don’t really know how much the script is based on the game, but essentially, there is some ancient mystical item called the Apple of Eden (roll eyes), which contains the genetic code for free will. You read that correctly. The Knights Templar want it for world domination, and the Assassin Order (why not just call it Assassin’s Creed?) are a clandestine group sworn to protect it. I could probably work with that premise, except they chose to set the film in the present day and have a scientist (Cotillard) send a descendant of one of the assassins (Assbender) — who, by the way, looks exactly the same as his ancestor — back to the past using some sci-fi machine to access his “gene memory” so they can trace the Apple of Eden back to the days of the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century. Yeah.

I knew the film was in trouble right from the opening text explaining the above premise on the screen. It’s just too non-sensical and unnecessarily complex for a movie like this. Kudos for making everyone speak Spanish for the 15th century scenes, but apart from that, the decision to have this dual timeline made it virtually impossible for Assassin’s Creed to be any good. Knowing that everything you see from the 15th century has already happened and cannot be changed (it is, after all, just “gene memory”) really saps the excitement and tension out of it. And let’s face it: None of it makes any sense. The modern rock music choices were also quite jarring, kind of like how Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit was blamed for ruining Pan in 2015. Rather than wasting all this time on this split/dual timeline, they could put more effort into character development, of which there was virtually none to speak of.

As I mentioned earlier, Assbender and Cotillard do their best, though all throughout they had this sad look on their faces that screamed, “This isn’t working.” I actually whispered to myself during the movie, “What the f*&% is going on?”, and, I kid you not, only to hear Assbender’s character say the exact same line just seconds later.

Some ideas work well for games but stink for movies. I’m more convinced than ever that Assassin’s Creed is a perfect example of this. The filmmakers were probably afraid of offending the game’s fanbase and tried to mirror the premise as closely as possible. It’s a fatal mistake that crushed any opportunity for the movie to succeed. Instead of a film that gives hope to future video game adaptations, Assassin’s Creed should make film studios very, very afraid. If all this talented cast and crew can produce is an incoherent, ludicrous, lifeless piece of garbage, what chance does everyone else have?

1.5 stars out of 5

PS: I forgot to mention the anti-climatic ending that presumes a sequel is coming. Assassin’s Creed has made around US$150m off a US$125m budget, so that should (with the addition of marketing costs) equate to a loss that will keep everyone safe from a sequel.

Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

independence_day_resurgence

As a big UFO and alien buff growing up, the original Independence Day should have been just my kind of movie. I remember Will Smith punching out an alien, Bill Pullman doing his cringeworthy Braveheart speech, and Jeff Goldblum doing Jeff Goldblum things, but I don’t remember loving the movie. A reasonably enjoyable popcorn flick is about as far as I would go.

Accordingly, apart from a little dash of nostalgia I didn’t really want anyway, there really was no reason for me to see Independence Day: Resurgence, especially not 20 years later. Sure, they brought back all the main cast sans Will Smith (maybe they refused to let Jayden Smith play his son in this one), but they also brought in charisma wormhole Liam Hemsworth as the new “younger generation” lead and replaced the wonderful Mae Whitman, who played Bill Pullman’s young daughter in the first time, with skinny blonde Maika Monre (even though I really liked her from The Guest and It Follows).

As expected, Resurgence was not very good. I don’t think it’s as vomit-inducing as what I’ve been calling it, ie Regurgitation, but it’s just a silly, special-effects heavy, overstuffed money-grab that fails to recapture any of the “event film” magic of the original.

I’ll start with what I liked about the movie. The end. Just kidding, there was a little bit more than that. I liked how the story built on the events from the first movie 20 years ago, creating an alternate timeline where humans have blended their own technology with alien technology to build a nice-looking future world where people can travel to the moon and back in seemingly minutes or hours (depending on what is most convenient for the plot), and there’s also world peace with no ethnic or religious conflict. That sounds like a much better world than the one we live in now.

The special effects are so very well done even by modern standards, and I’m glad that the film doesn’t take itself very seriously at all. It’s a movie that knows how silly it is and plays along with its tongue firmly in cheek at times without spiralling into a complete farce.

Having said that, Resurgence just doesn’t feel nearly as fun as it’s supposed to be. It gets off to a poor start with Hemsworth establishing himself as a douchey space pilot protagonist dating the ex-president Whitmore’s (Bill Pullman’s) daughter (Maika Monroe), who is now all grown up and a confidant for the current president (Sela Ward doing her best Hillary Clinton impersonation). Oh, and Will Smith’s dead (his photo is on the White House wall as a reminder), but his son (Jessie Usher) just happens to have grown up to be the best pilot in the country (and since this is the United States, the planet, but most probably the entire universe). In other words, the near-apocalypse 20 years ago had no impact whatsoever on nepotism.

The rest of the cast is also impressive, but none of Vivica A Fox, Charlotte Gainsbourg or William Fichtner have meaty enough roles to really offer anything worthwhile. The only guy who really seems to be a genuinely positive influence on the film is good old Jeff Goldblum. Though he churns through the same schtick as most of the roles he plays these days, he at least adds some levity and sense of fun with his quirkiness and one-liners.

Another really annoying part of the movie is the obvious product placement, in particular from China, from Chinese milk beverages to QQ (messaging service) to the somewhat arbitrary inclusion of Chinese actress Angelababy. She’s not bad in this, but her presence is awkward and an unnecessary distraction because her character is poorly written – though that’s pretty much like everyone else.

The biggest issue I had with Regurgitation is its inability to generate a care factor. Director, co-writer and co-producer Roland Emmerich has always had a thing for world-ending visuals (The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, etc), and in this regard he doesn’t disappoint, but his history developing characters worth rooting for has been a lot patchier. Regurgitation is not one of his stronger efforts. Hemsworth is smug, Pullman looks too exhausted for anything except limping his way to an easy paycheck, and Jessie Usher doesn’t come close to exuding even half the charisma Will Smith did.

Consequently, most of the first half of the movie is rather unengaging as we wait for the inevitable alien invasion, serious carnage and of course, famous landmark damage. And when it arrives, most of it is nothing we haven’t seen before. It gets more exciting once the CGI-heavy spaceship battles begin (largely because human technology is much more advanced than what we’re accustomed to seeing), though things eventually plunge into a wild and laughable climatic sequence that tests the limits of how much ridiculousness audiences can bear. I guess it’s no less insane than humans using a computer virus to defeat an advanced alien species like they did last time, but saving grace for the human race this time is telegraphed far too early. Oh, and I love how mere seconds can expand into a seemingly infinite amount of time when the story calls for it. The problem with all of this is that at no stage does it actually make you feel like humanity is in any real danger.

I’m actually less critical of Regurgitation than how I make it sound in this review. The second half of the film is dumb, popcorn entertainment I didn’t really mind. But then again, it might just be because the first half lowered expectations too much.

2.5 stars out of 5