It’s a Classic: ‘Predator’

Looking at some of the best pop culture offerings in film, TV and comics…

“If it bleeds, we can kill it”

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A deadly foe – the technologically advanced and lethal hunter of ‘Predator’ (image credit: 20th Century Fox).

Year:  1987 

Starring:  Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Elpidia Carrillo, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, Richard Chaves, R.G. Armstrong, Shane Black, Kevin Peter Hall

Directed by:  John McTiernan / written by:  Jim Thomas & John Thomas

What’s it about?

An elite special forces unit find themselves being hunted by a deadly creature in the jungles of Central America…

In review:  why it’s a classic

An adrenaline induced and suspenseful science fiction actioner, Predator is the first – and indisputably best – entry in what would become 20th Century Fox’s other iconic SF creature franchise.  With a cast lead by action megastar Arnold Schwarzenegger and directed by John McTiernan (who would helm another classic the following year – Die Hard), Predator is highly entertaining.

The set-up is simple: a crack military team are sent into the guerrilla-infested jungles of Central America on a mission to rescue the crew of a downed helicopter.  Discovering the skinned bodies of their comrades, the team soon find themselves in a fight for survival as an alien creature, which collects the skulls of its victims as trophies, begins hunting them down.  The execution is superb, writers Jim & John Thomas, together with the cast, provide a troupe of tough but likeable characters:  team leader ‘Dutch’ is played assuredly by Schwarzenegger (quickly reaching the height of his superstardom at this point), ably supported by Carl Weathers as Dillon, a former colleague turned-CIA man with the roster filled out by Bill Duke as ‘Mac’, Jesse Ventura as Blaine, the late Sonny Landham as Billy, Richard Chaves as Poncho and Shane Black – future writer and director of 2018’s The Predator (and who also provided uncredited contributions to the script for Predator) stars as Hawkins.  Caught up in the terror is Elpidia Carrillo as Anna, a captured guerrilla who joins Dutch and his unit as they attempt to reach extraction.

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Action megastar Arnold Schwarzenegger leads the cast of ‘Predator’ as ‘Dutch’ (image credit: 20th Century Fox).

John McTiernan directs with confidence and skill, delivering scintillating and satisfying action.  Yet it’s the slowly unwinding element of suspense that makes Predator so engrossing, like Ridley Scott’s Alien, time is taken for events to unfold creating an increasing sense of unease.  The unrelenting heat of the jungle coupled with the conflict fermented by the interference of Weathers’ Dillon adds further to the tension.

Of course, Predator is nothing without its central threat and the Predator itself – created by the legendary Stan Winston and his studio (saving the production after a failed, laughably bad and unconvincing prototype was abandoned) – is as unique and memorable as the Xenomorphs of Alien and Aliens, remaining incredibly formidable and one of the greatest and most iconic creature designs in the history of film.  Just as Predator unfolds at a steady pace, the appearance of the lethal 7 foot-plus and muscular extra-terrestrial (played by Kevin Peter Hall), masked and equipped with an invisibility cloak, shoulder laser, razor sharp gauntlet blades and heat vision sensor is slowly revealed – the final unmasking saved until its climactic one on one showdown with Dutch in an exciting and rewarding finale.

Alan Silvestri’s thrumming, atmospheric and intense music score proves the perfect accompaniment to a true genre classic that would spawn numerous sequels, comic books, novels, video games and slews of merchandise that add up to a pop culture phenomenon.

Standout moment

After storming the guerrilla camp, Dutch and his team prepare to depart and head for extraction.  As Hawkins shares a joke with Billy, unbeknown to them someone, or something is observing…

Geek fact!

Martial arts star Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally brought in to play the Predator and participated in test-shoots before the initial creature design was abandoned.

If you like this then check out…

Alien : 20th Century Fox’s original lethal extra-terrestrial makes its debut in Ridley Scott’s equally suspenseful masterpiece.

The Terminator : Arnold Schwarzenegger plays another kind of hunter as the deadly time travelling cyborg in James Cameron’s landmark science fiction thriller.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

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Film Review: ‘Batman: Hush’

Warner Bros. Animation adapt another popular Batman story for the latest DC Universe animated film… 

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The Dark Knight Detective returns in the Warner Bros. Animation release ‘Batman: Hush’ (image credit Warner Bros/DC Entertainment).

Spoiler-free review

Starring (voices):  Jason O’Mara, Jennifer Morrison, Jerry O’Connell, Rebecca Romijn, Peyton List, Geoffrey Arend, Maury Sterling, Rainn Wilson

Directed by:  Justin Copeland / written by:  Ernie Altbacker / 81 minutes

What’s it about?

Pitted against some of his oldest and most dangerous foes, Batman soon finds himself facing a new enemy – the mysterious ‘Hush’…

In review

Batman: Hush is the latest DC animated film from Warner Bros. Animation, based upon the popular 12-issue story arc (written by Jeph Loeb, with art by Jim Lee) from 2002.  “Hush” is rightfully considered as one of the greatest modern era Batman stories in which Bruce Wayne faces a gauntlet of villains and a mysterious new nemesis – a manipulative, bandage-faced foe known as ‘Hush’ – whilst grappling with stark revelations from his past and the complications of a burgeoning romance with Selina Kyle/Catwoman.

This direct-to-video animated adaptation is an enjoyable one, doing a reasonably solid job of translating the source material to the screen and neatly condensing its elaborate plot into a relatively short running time of 81 minutes (around average for the DC animated films).  Certain elements of the original story are either trimmed or cut entirely but Hush generally feels cohesive and flows steadily without rushing through the narrative or unnecessarily dragging its heels.  Certain changes are made in order to service the adaptation or for creative reasons (mainly to fit Hush within the mainline ‘DC Universe Movie’ continuity) but for the most part they add a freshness to the story for those who have read the comics.  There is, however, one particular alteration that is likely to prove divisive and although it works for the film it arguably robs it of some of the emotional power of the original comic book story – leading to a fairly satisfying but less weighty finale that doesn’t quite measure up to the source material.

As with the comics, Hush places significant focus on the Batman/Catwoman relationship and that plays out as expected, as do several key moments fans will expect – the highlights undoubtedly being that iconic Bat/Cat rooftop embrace, Batman’s ‘tussle’ with Superman – the closest we’ve ever come to the epic conflict in previous DC animation Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part II – and of course, the Batman’s ragingly brutal and bloody encounter with the Joker (pushing the film’s PG13/15 certificate rating).  The inclusion of Bane adds to the drama and adrenaline, although it’s a shame he’s not much beyond a dumb, musclebound brute here, although we are provided with a narrative reason for the character acting less “eloquent” than fans may be accustomed to.

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The Bat and Cat in ‘Batman: Hush’ (image credit: Warner Bros/DC Entertainment).

The voice acting performances are fine, if a tad unexceptional.  Whilst no Kevin Conroy, Jason O’Mara (in his fourth solo outing as the Batman, following Son of Batman, Batman vs Robin and Batman: Bad Blood) is non-the-less reliable in the central role of Bruce Wayne/Batman and Jennifer Morrison is equally adept at delivering the requisite slinky, feline quality to Selina Kyle/Catwoman and the chemistry between the pair is adequate if unremarkable.  Peyton List does well handling two completely different roles – Poison Ivy and Batgirl, Jason Spisak eerily channels Mark Hamill as the Joker, alas Bruce Thomas isn’t the greatest fit for Commissioner Gordon, nor is James Garrett as Alfred (to be fair we have been spoilt by some real star casting in those roles previously).  On the plus side, Hynden Walch is superb as Harley Quinn as is Sean Maher as Nightwing and Geoffrey Arend delivers a pleasingly menacing Riddler whilst Maury Stirling proves a good choice for Bruce’s childhood friend, Thomas Elliott.  There’s also the welcome return of Jerry O’Connell as Clark Kent/Superman as well as Rebecca Romijn as Lois Lane and Rainn Wilson is once again suitably devious as Lex Luthor.

The style of Hush continues the pseudo-anime design of prior DC animation releases which may not be to everyone’s liking but gives an established and consistent look to the universe, although it lacks the detail and craft of Jim Lee’s comic book pencils.  Director Justin Copeland keeps everything tight and focused and delivers some strong and well-staged action scenes which is no small wonder given his experience as a storyboard artist on previous DC animation projects including Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, The Death of Superman and most recently, Reign of the Supermen.

The bottom line:  Batman: Hush is another entertaining Warner Bros/DC animation release that, despite a controversial alteration, does a good job of adapting the iconic comic book story.

Batman: Hush is available digitally now with Blu-ray and DVD releases to follow in August.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Have You Seen… ‘The Andromeda Strain’?

Film and TV you might not have checked out but really should…

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Dr. Mark Hall (James Olson) and Dr. Jeremy Stone (Arthur Hill) investigate in ‘The Andromeda Strain’ (image credit: Universal Pictures).

Year: 1971

Starring:  Arthur Hill, James Olson, David Wayne, Kate Reid

Directed by:  Robert Wise / written by:  Nelson Gidding (based on the novel by Michael Crichton)

What’s it about?

A group of scientists are brought together to investigate and contain a deadly extra-terrestrial virus before it spreads…

In review – why you should see it

Based on the hit 1969 novel written by Michael Crichton (who would subsequently write and direct Westworld and later on pen arguably his most successful literary work: Jurassic Park), The Andromeda Strain is a science fiction thriller that concerns the efforts of a scientific team to contain the outbreak of a biological infection when an unknown micro-organism is returned to Earth from space.

Produced and directed by Robert Wise, who previously helmed SF classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (and would go on to direct Star Trek: The Motion Picture), The Andromeda Strain is more of a cerebral and speculative affair as opposed to a pacey, action-packed and crowd-pleasing adventure.  So, whilst it may seem lethargic and ponderous to a modern audience – and it most definitely has a slow-burn, intellectually-driven quality to it – the ideas and scenarios it presents are non-the-less intriguing and even a little terrifying.

The main cast comprises Arthur Hill as Dr. Jeremy Stone, James Olson as Dr. Mark Hall, David Wayne as Dr. Charles Dutton and Kate Reid as Dr. Ruth Leavitt – specialists assembled by the U.S. military to retrieve a downed satellite thought to have brought a mysterious contagion with it from a small isolated town in New Mexico whose population, with the exception of a young baby and homeless man, have all died.  Transported to an advanced, multi-level underground laboratory facility known as ‘Wildfire’ (equipped with a nuclear self-destruct system), the team find themselves pressed into an increasingly desperate race against time to understand the source of the contamination – codenamed ‘Andromeda’ – and how to combat it, discover the reason why the two survivors were unaffected and prevent any possibility of a wide-spread pandemic.

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The ‘Wildfire’ team assemble to assess the threat of the contagion (image credit: Universal Pictures).

The story unfolds steadily and, again, although the pacing may be challenging to some (the sequences depicting the various decontamination procedures the characters undergo might be particularly testing for those of that disposition), it’s the interplay between the key cast members (the highlight of the group undoubtedly being Kate Reid’s grouchy Dr. Leavitt) and the ideas and themes posited in The Andromeda Strain that make for an often fascinating watch.  There’s the obvious scientific interest in terms of how the team apply the expertise of their various fields in the study and diagnosis of the infection (and the technology and methods employed to carry out their work) but there’s also an ethical and moral standpoint as the true purpose of the military’s project ‘Scoop’ and the Wildfire facility become known and a strong philosophical component as the identity of Andromeda as a living alien organism is discussed, as is the “what if?” theory that the infection may simply be a method of one life-form attempting to establish communication with another.  Yet, it’s the overall lethal nature of the micro-organism’s biology that facilitates the terrifying aspect of The Andromeda Strain and the possibility that despite all the technology, knowledge and skill available at our disposal the fate of the human race may be sealed by the inability to control something it doesn’t understand.

As a production, The Andromeda Strain though quaint by today’s standards holds-up well for its time and is especially noteworthy for the effects work designed by 2001: A Space Odyssey’s Douglas Trumbull (who would collaborate with Wise again on Star Trek: The Motion Picture) and the inventive use of the split-screen technique in a number of scenes.  The set designs are straightforward and have a believably utilitarian and functional quality that, despite the hi-tech nature of the equipment, adds a sense of authenticity.

Working from Nelson Gidding’s screenplay, Robert Wise directs with efficiency and attention to detail, rising to whatever is required, building a feeling of eeriness in the earlier scenes with Hill and Olson as their protective-suited characters explore the corpse-littered New Mexico town (enhanced by Richard H. Kline’s cinematography) whilst proving equally adept when cranking up the tension and suspense as the film’s frantic final act unfolds.  Gil Melle’s unconventional soundtrack adds a suitable touch of techno-electronica to a thought-provoking and enjoyable science fiction film from a bygone era.

Geek fact!

The Andromeda Strain would once again be adapted as a television mini-series in 2008, produced by Ridley Scott and with a cast that included Benjamin Bratt and Lost’s Daniel Dae Kim.

All images herein remain the property of the copyright owners and are used for illustrative purposes only.

Film Review: ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’

Peter Parker packs his web-shooters as he heads to Europe for Spider-Man’s latest adventure…

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Spider-Man returns to the big screen in ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ (image credit: Sony Pictures/Marvel Studios).

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Tony Revolori, Cobi Smulders

Directed by:  Jon Watts / written by:  Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers / 129 minutes

What’s it about?

Embarking on a school trip across Europe, Peter Parker is called upon by Nick Fury to help battle a new threat…

In review

The cap to Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Spider-Man: Far From Home is the sequel to 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming and follows the enormously successful Avengers: EndgameFar From Home, whilst an entertaining comic book romp isn’t as good as Homecoming, or Sony’s Marvel Studios-less Academy Award winning triumph, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

On the positive side it’s generally fun, humorous, heartfelt and offers a reasonable measure of spectacle and excitement striking the right sort of tone in the wake of Endgame.  Tom Holland once again proves he’s perfect casting for this iteration of the teenage Peter Parker – a.k.a. our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man – and brings the same commitment and likeability to the role we’ve already seen in Spidey’s previous MCU appearances.  Holland is, again, well-supported by Zendaya’s wonderfully amusing ‘MJ’ and Jacob Batalon’s reliably hilarious Ned, Peter’s best friend.  There are equally pleasing returns for Jon Favreau’s ‘Happy’ Hogan as well as Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May and Tony Revolori as the bully we all love to hate – ‘Flash’ Thompson.  Samuel L. Jackson brings gravitas and star-power as he reprises his role as the ever-popular Nick Fury (with his right-hand women, Maria Hill – played by Cobie Smulders – at his side once more).  Yet, it’s Jake Gyllenhaal (at one point under consideration to replace Tobey Maguire as the titular web-head) who arguably steals the show as the world’s newest heroic figure and a new mentor for Peter, Quentin Beck, otherwise known as ‘Mysterio’.  Gyllenhaal and Holland have solid chemistry, bolstered by some nice scripting that leaves the viewer invested in their relationship.

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A new hero in town – Peter Parker (Tom Holland) meets Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal) a.k.a ‘Mysterio’ (image credit: Sony Pictures/Marvel Studios).

To say too much about the plot for Far From Home would lead to spoilers but the basic premise sees Peter enlisted by Nick Fury to team-up with Beck/Mysterio to battle a new threat in the form of powerful and destructive entities called ‘Elementals’, but Peter, on a European school trip and pining after MJ (facilitating a number of sweet moments between the two) just wants to live the life of a normal teenager, leaving him torn between using his gifts to help keep the world safe and just being an average 16-year old.  As such, Far From Home functions more as a teen road trip rom-com than an actual full-on Spider-Man adventure.  There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that and it’s great for exploring and developing the characters but previous, prior MCU, Spider-Man films were able to achieve that whilst still delivering a more satisfying interpretation that genuinely felt like an issue of The Amazing Spider-Man.  Despite some decent action set-pieces (accompanied by some great visuals), there’s just something absent from Far From Home to make it a real “classic” iteration of Spider-Man.  It also feels a little overstretched during its first act and the pacing tends to suffer as a result and whilst those action scenes offer the requisite popcorn spectacle, they are driven by the effects leaving the sense of jeopardy and tension lacking.  The humour is pretty much on point but there are times when it seems to override everything else, as if serving to paper over some of the narrative cracks.

Spider-Man: Far From Home, if not a contender for the best big screen outing for Marvel’s wall-crawler (or a top-tier MCU entry for that matter) remains an enjoyable enough diversion and provides some interesting set-up for the character’s cinematic future and that of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The bottom line:  A fun comic book adventure with some great cast performances, Spider-Man: Far From Home leans more towards teen-romance and comedy hijinks over delivering a truly classic big screen outing for Marvel’s iconic web-slinger.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is in cinemas now.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Film Review: ‘X-Men: Dark Phoenix’

It’s farewell to the ‘First Class’ as Fox’s X-Men series draws to a close…

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The finale to 20th Century Fox’s Marvel film series – ‘X-Men: Dark Phoenix’ (credit: 20th Century Fox/Marvel).

 

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Jessica Chastain

Directed and written by:  Simon Kinberg / 114 minutes

What’s it about?

Whilst on a mission to rescue the crew of a stricken space shuttle, X-Men team member Jean Grey encounters a mysterious cosmic force which amplifies her psychokinetic powers to dangerous and uncontrollable levels…

In review

Serving as the finale of 20th Century Fox’s mainline X-Men film series (although troubled spin-off New Mutants is still, presently, set for an eventual theatrical release) – the rights to the property now with Marvel Studios following Disney’s Fox acquisition – X-Men: Dark Phoenix follows 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse with a plot once again based on the iconic comic book storyline previously adapted (superbly) for the 1990s X-Men animated series and incorporated (not so successfully) into Fox’s original X-trilogy capper, X-Men: The Last Stand (released back in 2006).

Written and directed by long-term X-Men writer and producer Simon Kinberg, the 90’s-set X-Men: Dark Phoenix (simply known as just ‘Dark Phoenix’ in the U.S.) isn’t the rousing, wholly satisfying finale the series deserved but nor is it a crashing failure.  It doesn’t hit the heights of previous entries First Class or Days of Future Past but is comfortably superior to The Last Stand and a fair leap above X-Men Origins: Wolverine, arguably the franchise’s lowest point.  Aiming for a more grounded and character driven focus than the divisive Apocalypse, Dark Phoenix is unlikely to sway viewers left unimpressed by Bryan Singer’s X-sequel but it’s a laudable approach and Kinberg’s script packs an emotional punch whilst the sombre and dark tone lends some emotional maturity and tension to the proceedings.  The only issue here is that it doesn’t feel as though we’ve been given enough time to truly care about the newer X-Men team members introduced in Apocalypse and besides Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey they don’t actually get a whole lot to do in Dark Phoenix beyond playing their part in the action.  There’s also some drag in the pacing during the second act due to the slow-burn narrative, with much of the action saved for the finale which together with that desire for a more restrained and personal approach can leave Dark Phoenix lacking a larger sense of adventure and excitement, something First Class and Days of Future Past were able to accomplish whilst still delivering on character.

Cast performances are generally strong, Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones) does a solid enough job with a lot of dramatic weight to carry as Jean Grey, unable to control the temptation and danger of the Phoenix force descends into turmoil.  Returning First Class alumni Jennifer Lawrence is suitably dour and weary as Raven/Mystique and fellow first generation X-Man Nicholas Hoult has a poignant and contemplative turn as Hank McCoy/Beast.  Interstellar’s Jessica Chastain makes for a sinister if underdeveloped villain, her manipulation of the increasingly fragile Jean and her Phoenix force heightened powers providing high stakes and a cause for our heroes to rally against.

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Tye Sheridan returns as Cyclops (credit: 20th Century Fox/Marvel).

Again though, it’s James McAvoy and Michel Fassbender – Charles Xavier/Professor X and Erik Lensherr/Magneto respectively – who are the standouts and both actors are provided with some good material, especially McAvoy as Xavier grapples with fracturing friendships, a reluctance to acknowledge his mistakes and an uncertain future for the X-Men and consequentially, mutantkind.  Sadly, despite having roles to play in the action, Alexandra Shipp’s Storm, Evan Peters’ Quicksilver and Kodi Smit-McPhee’s Nightcrawler are not afforded a large enough presence for the majority of the film and tend to withdraw into the background with no significant character arcs of their own.  Tye Sheridan’s Scott Summers/Cyclops fares better but, again, there hasn’t really been time enough for the actors and their respective characters to grow beyond their debuts in X-Men: Apocalypse.

Making his feature film directorial debut, Simon Kinberg handles it fairly competently – keeping things level and focused in the more character-driven scenes whilst skilfully staging the action which aside from the initial space rescue mission (accompanied by some nicely atmospheric music from score composer Hans Zimmer), includes a climactic battle aboard a speeding train that ramps up the tension as Dark Phoenix reaches its denouement.  Despite the months of extensive re-shoots, Kinberg’s film hangs together in a coherent manner.

So, although Dark Phoenix isn’t a runaway hit it’s not a disastrous misfire either resulting in an entertaining diversion that doesn’t live up to the high-points of the X-Men franchise or it’s potential as a grand finale but is a stronger take on a beloved story arc with some decent character beats and an action-packed final act.

The bottom line:  Not the train wreck it was feared to be nor the epic final chapter it could’ve been, X-Men: Dark Phoenix is still a reasonably enjoyable time for those willing to give it a chance.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix is in cinemas now.

Film Review: ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’

The kaiju king returns as Warner Bros/Legendary Pictures’ MonsterVerse continues…

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The mighty Titan himself: Godzilla (credit: Warner Bros/Legendary Pictures).

 

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Ken Watanabe, Ziyi Zhang, Bradley Whitford, Charles Dance

Directed by:  Michael Dougherty / written by:  Michael Dougherty & Zach Shields (story by Max Borenstein, Michael Dougherty & Zach Shields) / 131 minutes

What’s it about?

Faced with the onslaught of gigantic creatures, awoken from their prehistoric slumber – the organisation known as Monarch find that there’s only one hope for humanity: the mighty Godzilla…

In review

Following Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, the 2014 Hollywood reboot of Japanese studio Toho’s most famous monster and Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island (released in 2017), Godzilla: King of the Monsters serves as the next chapter in Warner Bros/Legendary Pictures’ ‘MonsterVerse’ film series (which is set to culminate in Godzilla vs Kong next year).  Directed and co-written by Michael Dougherty, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a visual feast that’s a little dumb and sometimes overly frenetic, but ultimately a whole lot of monster bashing fun.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters picks up five years after the events of Godzilla in which the titular apex predator – or ‘Titan’ – emerged victorious in his battle against the ‘MUTO’ creatures, saving humanity but at great personal cost for some with the city of San Francisco left decimated.  Since Godzilla’s disappearance the Monarch organisation has continued its research and investigation of the various ancient Titans – amongst them King Ghidorah (a three-headed dragon), Mothra (aptly, a giant moth) and Rodan (a sort of demonic Pteranodon) – discovered in their dormant states at various locations around the globe.  When the creatures are awakened by eco-terrorist Jonah Alan (Game of Thrones’ Charles Dance), Monarch once again find their only hope in preventing annihilation may be Godzilla, the mighty king of all monsters.

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Charles Dance and Millie Bobby Brown form part of the human cast (credit: Warner Bros/Legendary Pictures).

Although characterisation is patchy, the dialogue occasionally ropey (and the persistent volley of wise-cracks from Bradley Whitford’s Monarch boffin aren’t entirely successful) and cookie-cutter gung-ho military types dumbing things down a tad, like Gareth Edwards’ film there’s a certain amount of human interest – the broken family unit (torn apart by tragic circumstances) is nothing new but it provides some emotional depth with Kyle Chandler’s estranged father Mark Russell (and former Monarch employee), whizz-kid daughter Madison (Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown) and mother Emma (and Monarch scientist), played by Vera Farmiga, placed firmly at the centre.  Some of the character motivations are questionable, even far-fetched and Charles Dance is woefully underutilised but luckily a returning Ken Watanabe (as Doctor Serizawa) is well served by the script and given a satisfying arc.  The use of bio-acoustics as a method of controlling the Titans is also a neat concept as is the notion that their conflict as a way of restoring the balance of nature that humanity has corrupted.

Make no mistake though, this is a Godzilla film and not Citizen Kane and King of the Monsters is at its best when dealing with its monster action and it fully delivers in its CGI kaiju smack-downs (the creatures thankfully remaining faithful to their original Toho designs), saturated with jaw-dropping effects rendered on a behemothic scale.  An overzealous employment of quick-cuts and shaky-cam in the visuals makes the spectacle a bit messy and nauseating at times but that aside, director Michel Dougherty (who previously helmed the fantasy horror flick Krampus and has co-writer credits on Bryan Singer’s X-Men 2 and Superman Returns) maintains a steady grip on things.

In the end, King of the Monsters may lack some of the class and sophistication of 2014’s Godzilla (and there’s something to be said of that film’s divisive approach, the steady build-up facilitating a more rewarding pay-off) but with its spirited homage to the zany comic book B-movie sci-fi of Toho’s original films, Godzilla: King of the Monsters has value as a piece of popcorn entertainment and an enjoyable prelude to Godzilla vs Kong.

The bottom line:  Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a fun, undemanding slice of kaiju action that joyfully evokes the spirit of those kitsch Toho creature features.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is in cinemas now.

All images herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

It’s a Classic: ‘Alien’

Looking at some of the best pop culture offerings in film, TV and comics…

“Ash, can you see this?”

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The central terror of Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’.

Year:  1979

Starring:  Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto

Directed by:  Ridley Scott / written by:  Dan O’Bannon (story by Dan O’Bannon & Ronald Shusett)

What’s it about?

Investigating the source of a mysterious transmission, the crew of a commercial starship discover a derelict alien craft which houses a deadly cargo…

In review:  why it’s a classic

Carrying the ominous tagline “In Space No One Can Hear You Scream” and celebrating its fortieth anniversary this year, Ridley Scott’s classic science fiction horror, Alien remains one of the all-time greats of cinema.  Growing from an idea by screenwriter Dan O’Bannon (originally titled “Star Beast”), Alien sees the crew of the deep space commercial towing vehicle Nostromo awakened from hibernation when the ship’s computer intercepts a transmission of unknown origin.  Tracing the signal to a nearby planetoid, the crew touch down and discover a gigantic vessel where an encounter with a parasitic organism leads to unforeseen horrors and a fight for survival against a relentlessly lethal alien life form.

Alien is a benchmark in both science fiction and horror, but whilst there are otherworldly elements and futuristic (but credible) technology, much like Star Wars before it, there is a worn, lived-in quality to the production in respect of the Nostromo and its equipment.  This sense of believability extends to the memorable characters of Alien – essentially wary space truckers bickering about bonuses and regulations, sharply written and wonderfully acted by the cast – comprising Sigourney Weaver in her breakout role as Lt. Ellen Ripley (in turn creating one of the most iconic screen heroines), Tom Skerritt as Captain Dallas, John Hurt as Kane, Ian Holm as science officer Ash, Veronica Cartwright as Lambert and Harry Dean Stanton and the excellent Yaphet Kotto as engineers Brett and Parker, respectively.

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Sigourney Weaver as Lt. Ripley.

Another standout aspect of Alien is undoubtedly the incredible ‘bio-mechanical’ designs of Swiss artist H.R. Giger, startling and unsettling gothic creations used to bring the Alien and its world – principally the mysterious derelict ‘bone’ ship found by Dallas and co – nightmarishly to life.  The central creature itself (which would become known as a ‘xenomorph’ in James Cameron’s outstanding 1986 sequel, Aliens) is a thing of horrific beauty, intricately detailed and all the more terrifying thanks to Carlo Rambaldi’s Alien head effects and Bolaji Badejo’s simple but effective performance, making it something more than just the staple ‘man inside a rubber suit’ of old SF and horror ‘B’ pictures.  With Giger’s work and Michael Seymour’s production design there’s a lot of fine craftmanship on display and coupled with the meticulous model and miniature effects (the team including Brian Johnson, who had previously worked on 2001: A Space Odyssey and on Gerry Anderson’s Space: 1999 television series) that provide a tangible sense of reality in a way that CGI just cannot replicate.

Scott’s direction is flawless, gently leading the viewer through darkness and shadow then catching them off guard with several shocks and scares.  That approach, with the serious attention to detail and ambition for the project, coupled with Giger’s designs lifts Alien above the more primitive and potentially schlocky imaginings of Dan O’Bannon’s initial concept.  Music is of equal importance and Jerry Goldsmith’s eerie, tense and atmospheric score is the perfect complement to the visuals, accentuating all the terror, unease and chills of Scott’s unforgettable haunted house in space.

Standout moment

Exploring the cavernous belly of the derelict alien ship, Kane stumbles across a cargo of egg-like objects.  Taking a closer look at one of the eggs, Kane sees signs of movement from within…

Geek fact!

H.R. Giger would later contribute designs of the xenomorph in director David Fincher’s second sequel, Alien 3.

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Aliens : James Cameron’s sequel pays reverence to Scott’s film without repeating it as Lt. Ripley returns to the planet where her nightmare began with a unit of marines.

Predator : a spiritual sibling to Alien, John McTiernan’s science fiction action classic sees Arnold Schwarzenegger and his crack military team being hunted by a deadly extra-terrestrial.

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