It’s a Classic: ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’

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

“Open the pod bay doors please HAL…”

2001

David Bowman (Keir Dullea) faces an unbelievable journey in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (image credit: MGM/Warner Bros. used for illustrative purposes only).

Year:  1968

Starring:  Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwwood, William Sylvester, Daniel Richter, Leonard Rossiter, Margaret Tyzack, Robert Beatty, Douglas Rain

Directed by:  Stanley Kubrick / written by:  Stanley Kubrick & Arthur C. Clarke

What’s it about?

Mankind learns they are not alone in the universe when a strange artefact is uncovered on the Moon, leading to a journey to the outer solar system and beyond all imagination…

In review:  why it’s a classic

Fifty years ago, author Arthur C. Clarke and director Stanley Kubrick brought what many consider to be the greatest of all science fiction masterpieces to the big screen.  Based on Clarke’s short story “The Sentinel”, 2001: A Space Odyssey is not only a seminal masterwork of SF cinema but also, frankly, one of the best films ever made.  An ambitious production that’s still impressive today, 2001 is a mesmerising, haunting and beautiful visual and aural experience that marries high concept science fiction ideas with incredible photography (captured by Director of Photography Geoffrey Unsworth, who would later work on Richard Donner’s Superman), innovative special effects and an inspired mix of classical music and contemporary orchestrations, eschewing the use of a traditional motion picture score produced by a single composer.

2001: A Space Odyssey can be an enigma to the uninitiated, it’s more focused on hard SF concepts (technological and existential) and extraordinary visuals than a “coherent” plot – although repeated viewings and a reading of Clarke’s novel (which he wrote whilst collaborating on the film’s screenplay with Stanley Kubrick) deepen both understanding and appreciation for, and enrich the experience of, the “proverbial good” science fiction film Kubrick and Clarke set out to make.  The lack of clear explanation, especially in the mind-bending finale, is an intention on the part of Kubrick and Clarke, wanting to impart interpretation and meaning on the viewer.

In terms of the underlying narrative, 2001 follows the evolution of man and its encounters with an alien intelligence via black, featureless slabs – or monoliths – at key points, from the human race’s primitive beginnings to its spacefaring ways millions of years later (connected by that iconic jump cut) as mankind reaches for the stars and is ultimately taken on a journey beyond comprehension.  Following the unearthing of a mysterious monolith on the Moon a powerful signal is blasted into space, leading to humanity’s first expedition into the unknown.

The main bulk of 2001 focuses on the spacecraft Discovery as it journeys on a mission to Jupiter.  The ship’s scientific crew in hibernation, only her commander, David Bowman (Keir Dullea) and co-pilot Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) remain awake to attend to the day-to-day functions of the mission along with Discovery’s advanced supercomputer A.I., the HAL 9000.  Without delving too heavily into spoilers, everything runs smoothly until the HAL 9000 – or HAL – begins to exhibit signs of malfunction and turns against Bowman and Poole as they consider the possibility of disconnection.  This provides drama for the central act before viewers are taken on “The Ultimate Trip” as 2001 moves towards a conclusion that has been endlessly debated and dissected.

Kubrick’s expert direction coupled with the understated and naturalistic performances of the actors gives an almost documentary style of execution to 2001.  Again, it’s more of a visual and auditory experience that challenges the mind (and the senses) than a showcase for awards worthy character portrayals (as it happens, there is actually – intentionally – very little dialogue in the film).  The exception to this of course is Douglas Rain (who sadly passed away in November) who provides the voice for HAL.  A chilling and unrivalled performance, Rain’s subtle, soft tones and restrained delivery bring a sense of unease that only becomes more unsettling as HAL’s programming begins to unravel.

The production design of 2001 is staggering, with intricate model work and meticulously detailed sets having a functional and believable quality to them.  Adding to this are the astonishing special photographic effects, designed with assistance from Douglas Trumbull and directed by Kubrick – the iconic ‘Star Gate’ sequence remaining one of the most incredible and startling in all of cinema.  The use of music is also ingenious, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra’s jubilant rendition of Johann Strauss’s The Blue Danube the perfect accompaniment to the dreamy, waltz-like imagery of man’s journey into space whilst Adagio (from Gayane’s Ballet Suite, performed by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra) conveys the isolation and loneliness of the Discovery’s voyage to the outer solar system.  Most effective though are Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra and Gyorgy Ligeti’s Atmospheres (performed by the Berlin Philharmonic and Sudwestfunk orchestras respectively), compositions that complement and accentuate the eeriness and mystery of the monolith and Bowman’s cosmic and reality spanning journey ‘beyond the infinite’ as he encounters a larger version of the alien object floating in the vicinity of Jupiter.

There’s so much that has been said and can be analysed about 2001: A Space Odyssey but in basic terms it is simply outstanding and an enduring masterpiece that will forever be influential and revered by lovers of science fiction, film, music and art in general.

Standout moment

Unable to verify HAL’s report of a fault in the Discovery’s communications system, David Bowman and Frank Poole employ subterfuge as they enter one of the ship’s EVA pods to discuss deactivating the ship’s computer, unaware that HAL is observing…

Geek fact!

Prior to filming on 2001, Gary Lockwood appeared in the second pilot for Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”.

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2010 : Peter Hyams directs the Kubrick-less sequel that sees Roy Scheider’s Heywood Floyd journey to Jupiter in order to reactivate HAL and uncover the secrets surrounding the monolith and the disappearance of David Bowman.

Solaris : Russian cinema’s answer to 2001, Solaris is a similarly cerebral and enigmatic piece that’s worth checking out.

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Film Review: ‘Aquaman’

Warner Bros.’ Worlds of DC heads for the seven seas…

Aquaman 2

King of the sea: Jason Momoa leads the action in ‘Aquaman’ (image credit Warner Bros. Pictures, used for illustrative purposes only).

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Temuera Morrison

Directed by:  James Wan / written by:  David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick & Will Beall (story by Geoff Johns, James Wan & Will Beall, Aquaman created by Mort Weisinger & Paul Norris) / 143 minutes

What’s it about?

As the kingdom of Atlantis prepares for war, Arthur Curry – aka ‘Aquaman’ – finds he must fulfil his destiny and take the throne in order to unite the underwater world and prevent a deadly conflict…

In review

Aquaman, the latest of Warner Bros. Pictures’ slate of superhero films under the ‘Worlds of DC’ banner (which was previously and unofficially referred to as the ‘DC Extended Universe’, or DCEU) is a fun, albeit partly derivative, comic book blockbuster that’s highly entertaining if inferior to previous Warner/DC outings Man of Steel and Wonder Woman.  It’s fair to say that some of the narrative beats are predictable and unoriginal and comparisons to Marvel Studios’ Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther are easily drawn but with that in mind, Aquaman holds its own and doesn’t pretend to be anything other than it is – a swashbuckling and visually jaw-dropping popcorn action adventure.

Picking up where he left off in Justice League (and with backstory that’s interspersed throughout in a series of flashbacks), Jason Momoa is the likeable lead infusing Arthur Curry/Aquaman with roguish charm and swagger, offset by just the right touch of vulnerability that provides the character with an essential element of relatability.  It sounds cliché, but it’s a significant part of what draws audiences (and readers) to these colourful heroes in the first place and through the efforts of Mamoa and the film’s screenwriters it’s hard to believe that Aquaman could ever have been one of DC’s most ridiculed characters.  Opposing Mamoa is Watchmen’s Patrick Wilson as Arthur’s half-brother Orm – aka ‘Ocean Master’ – whose militant rule of Atlantis and a desire for conquest threatens war with the surface.  Wilson is great and is a formidable presence, providing Aquaman with an effective villain.  Another standout is the reliably excellent Willem Dafoe as Arthur’s childhood mentor, Vulko and Nicole Kidman adds further star power in the role of Queen Atlanna.  Amber Heard is fine as Mera (whose father, King Nereus is played by action legend Dolph Lundgren) but is no Gal Gadot and unfortunately Yahya Abdul-Mateen II similarly underwhelms as Black Manta – it’s not entirely the actor’s fault given he’s handed some cheesy lines that undercut the threat value.

Whilst there are familiar tropes – the reluctant hero searching for purpose and fulfilment has been seen countless times – and there’s a shameless riff on Indiana Jones as Arthur and Mera search for a powerful Atlantean artefact, the writers of Aquaman deliver an enjoyable and fairly pacey tale that despite some droll dialogue is enhanced greatly by astonishing visuals.  Director James Wan (Furious 7) and his team take the fantasy of the lost city of Atlantis and really run with it, depicting vast and rich uaquatic realms teeming with a variety of life that’s wonderfully bizarre and inventive – the sight of an army of soldiers riding sharks and battling gigantic crab-like creatures is both odd yet strangely believable.  Wan executes it all rather well and injects the epic scale action of Aquaman with energy and skill, although the use of slow-motion in superhero action scenes is becoming a little tiresome.

In terms of the film’s tone it’s fairly light and family friendly with dashes of humour (that’s thankfully not too goofy or forced), continuing Warner Bros.’ plan of course-correction from Zack Snyder’s darker, more introspective and existential vision.  In some ways that’s a shame as there are some merits to the latter but from a crowd-pleasing perspective (and in pursuit of Marvel-level popularity and healthy box office returns) it’s understandable.  It’s also completely accessible to new or casual viewers – whilst Aquaman is certainly part of the overall main DC cinematic universe, bar a single reference to the events of Justice League it favours a standalone approach and that’s totally fine and allows Wan’s film to be what it needs to be and provide firmer foundations for the Worlds of DC going forward.

The bottom line:  A fun popcorn adventure, Aquaman doesn’t break new ground but is an enjoyable and visually exciting comic book romp.

Aquaman is in cinemas across the U.K. now and opens in the U.S. and worldwide from 21st December.

It’s a Classic: ‘Superman: The Movie’

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

“Y-you’ve got me? Who’s got you?!”

Superman 78

The unforgettable Christopher Reeve as the iconic Man of Steel (image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures, used for illustrative purposes only).

Year:  1978

Starring:  Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford, Margot Kidder, Terence Stamp, Susannah York, Marc McClure

Directed by:  Richard Donner / written by:  Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman & Robert Bento (story by Mario Puzo)

What’s it about?

Fearing his world is on the verge of destruction, an alien scientist sends his young son into space.  Arriving on Earth, the infant Kal-El grows up to discover he has great powers and becomes humanity’s greatest hero and protector…

In review:  why it’s a classic

Just as Superman himself celebrates the 80th Anniversary of his first appearance in Action Comics #1 (courtesy of creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster), 2018 also marks 40 years of director Richard Donner’s Superman – more commonly known as Superman: The Movie – the character’s first major silver screen outing.  Whilst parts of the film might now seem a bit camp when viewed in these more complex times, the film’s spirit is non-the-less timeless and Superman remains a landmark achievement that set the standards for which comic book film adaptations continue to strive toward.

Superman opens on the doomed world of Krypton as the warnings of the planet’s imminent destruction from Jor-El, one of Krypton’s leading scientists, are ignored.  Sending his baby son into the depths of space as Krypton crumbles to its death, Superman moves into more traditional comic book fantasy as the infant Kal-El arrives on Earth where he is found by the kind and loving Jonathan and Martha Kent.  Kal-El is subsequently raised by the Kent’s as their son Clark, who in his teenage years discovers his true origins and abilities and embarks on a journey to utilise his gifts for good as champion of truth, justice and ‘the American Way’.

It’s a first class production, with a strong story – from The Godfather’s Mario Puzo no less – and screenplay (which received uncredited re-writes from Bond screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz), coupled with epic visuals and a cast which includes cinematic legends Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman – all brought forth confidently under the masterful direction of The Omen’s Richard Donner.  John Barry’s incredible set-design and the pioneering special effects add further to the majesty of Superman.

A huge part of Superman’s success is down to Christopher Reeve, whose performance as Krypton’s Last Son is unforgettable.  Reeve embodies the core principles that drive the iconic hero with strength (both emotional and physical) and believability, whilst conveying strokes of vulnerability that humanise the character.  Likewise, his quirky portrayal of the bumbling, bespectacled Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent is fun and endearing.

Margot Kidder is the quintessential Lois Lane for the era, plucky, headstrong and determined and has great interplay with Reeve, whether it’s in scenes with Clark Kent or Superman.  The supporting cast is bolstered by memorable performances from Jackie Cooper as Daily Planet ‘Chief’ Perry White, Marc McClure as budding photographer Jimmy Olsen, Glenn Ford as Jonathan Kent and of course an introductory role for Terence Stamp as General Zod, who would return to cause trouble in Superman II.

Marlon Brando (who received top-billing along with a hefty $7 million fee), through his scenes in the grand, almost Shakespearean opening act and his later appearances as a hologram in Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, delivers his portrayal of Jor-El with nobility, intelligence and an inherent goodness – qualities that, along with his upbringing by Ma and Pa Kent, would inform the character of Superman.  Gene Hackman brings an enjoyable measure of menace to Superman’s nemesis and self-proclaimed criminal genius Lex Luthor in an amusingly pompous performance.  His evil deeds are aided by the incompetent Otis, played by Deliverance star Ned Beatty.

Any discussion about Superman: The Movie would be remiss without mention of John Williams’ legendary score, indisputably one of the all-time greatest motion picture soundtracks – without which the film would simply be incomplete.  Williams’ soaring, spine-tingling Superman theme is obviously the highlight and one of the most instantly recognisable and celebrated pieces of film music.

35 years later, Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel would thrust Superman into the modern era with a more layered and introspective approach but there will always be a certain kind of innocence and magic that comes with Superman: The Movie and its legacy continues to endure.

Standout moment

A helicopter accident leaves Lois Lane dangling from atop of the Daily Planet building, about to plummet to the ground.  As crowds gather on the streets below, Clark Kent decides he must take action…Superman swoops in to save the day.

Geek fact!

Richard Donner would revisit Superman: The Movie for a 2001 ‘Special Edition’ which restores eight minutes of footage originally cut from the theatrical release.  An overlong (at 188 minutes), yet interesting 1980 TV version was recently released on home video.

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Superman II : director Richard Lester takes over for an inferior but fun sequel that pits Terence Stamp’s Zod against Christopher Reeve’s Man of Steel.

Superman Returns : Bryan Singer’s love letter to Donner’s Superman has its flaws but is seen as a spiritual successor and worth considering as a tribute to the classic 1978 original.

R.I.P. Stan Lee

The Marvel Comics legend has died…

RIP Stan Lee

The incomparable legend, Stan Lee (image used for illustrative purposes only and remains the property of the copyright owner).

The Pop Culture world has been shattered by the sad news of the death of Stan “the Man” Lee at the age of 95.  The founding father of Marvel Comics, Stan worked with legendary artists such as Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Don Heck to co-create a plethora of superhero characters that continue to be loved by millions of fans all over the globe. It all began with The Fantastic Four in 1961 when a bored Stan, on the verge of quitting comics which at that time were dominated by the crime fiction and Western genres, conceived the idea of the titular superhero team when his wife Joan (who passed away last year, also at the age of 95) urged her husband to create the kind of characters and tell the types of stories that he wanted to.  The rest is of course history and a new age of comics was born when Timely Publications evolved into the mighty Marvel where Stan served as President and despite leaving the company in 1972 he continued to be credited as ‘Chairman Emeritus’.

With the genesis of Marvel many more creations followed, including (but not limited to) the X-Men, Daredevil, Thor, the Hulk, Black Panther, Iron Man and perhaps the greatest of all the Marvel heroes: Spider-Man.  Co-created with artist Steve Ditko (who also died earlier this year), Spider-Man is the finest example of what Stan Lee strove for when writing comic books and the colourful characters within their pages – finding the human in superhuman.  By infusing these characters with the same day-to-day trials and tribulations everyone faces, Stan presented stories that were relatable and more relevant to the reader whilst providing hope as the extraordinary people he wrote about surmounted their problems.

Whilst Lee and Ditko parted ways acrimoniously, with Ditko feeling Lee had downplayed his contributions in the creation of Spider-Man, Stan Lee always spoke fondly and respectfully of the artists he worked with and his love for, and work in, the comic book medium together with his boundless and passionate devotion to the fans helped shape the Pop Culture landscape as we know it today.

With Marvel superheroes being more popular than ever, in no small part thanks to the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (in which Stan would regularly make cameos in the various Marvel films, his many appearances commencing with 20th Century Fox’s pre-MCU X-Men feature film in 2000), Stan Lee’s legacy will live on for decades to come and most likely, beyond.

Stan Lee died 12th November 2018 aged 95.

It’s a Classic: ‘Frankenstein’

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

“Look – it’s moving, it’s alive…”

A horror icon: Boris Karloff stars in ‘Frankenstein’ (image credit: Universal Pictures, used for illustrative purposes only).

Year:  1931

Starring:  Colin Clive, Boris Karloff, Mae Clarke, John Boles, Edward Van Sloan, Dwight Frye

Director:  James Whale / written by:  Garrett Fort & Frances Edward Faragoh

What’s it about?

Henry Frankenstein hails himself as a genius when he brings life to a creature pieced together with exhumed body parts and the brain of a criminal, but soon discovers that playing God may have ghastly consequences…

In review:  why it’s a classic

Adapted from the play by Peggy Webling which was based on Mary Shelley’s novel (Frankenstein: Or, the Modern Prometheus, first published in 1818), director James Whale’s Frankenstein is rightly considered as one of the all-time greatest horror films and followed hot on the heels of the success of Universal Pictures’ Dracula.

Drawing from the themes of Shelley’s literary masterpiece and presenting them visually in a visceral and horrific manner, Frankenstein delivers atmospheric chills and thrills with memorable performances, inventive production design and incredible character make-up all shepherded under the meticulous direction of James Whale.

Leading the cast is Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein, the young scientist obsessed with reanimating the tissues of the dead and whose grave-robbing endeavours lead to a monstrous creation.  Clive tackles his role with an intellectual intensity that although for the most part is restrained, bears fruit when Frankenstein erupts into bouts of manic joviality as he celebrates the success of his experiment.  Clive is ably supported by Dwight Frye as Frankenstein’s deranged hunchback assistant, Fritz, Mae Clark as his fiancée Elizabeth, John Boles as Victor Moritz and Edward Van Sloan as Doctor Waldman.

However, it is most certainly Boris Karloff that makes Frankenstein truly unforgettable.  In a departure from Shelley’s original work, this version of Frankenstein’s ‘monster’ is simple minded and beastly, yet childlike.  Aided by the iconic make-up design (created by Jack P. Pierce, who is sadly uncredited), Karloff brings all of those qualities to life – the wonderfully awkward, stumbling physical performance and animal-like whines and groans conveying a real sense of tragedy and the creature’s yearning for acceptance.  It makes for numerous standout moments and especially effective in the monster’s lakeside encounter with a young girl that surely ranks as one of the most startling and impactful in the history of cinema.

Karloff would of course return for 1935’s Bride of Frankenstein (and second sequel Son of Frankenstein, released in 1939) after appearing in The Mummy in 1932.  James Whale would also continue his association with Universal’s classic horrors, helming The Old Dark House (which also stars Karloff) and The Invisible Man before reuniting with Boris Karloff for the aforementioned Bride of Frankenstein.

No analysis of Frankenstein is complete without mention of Charles D. Hall’s art direction, chiefly the sets for Frankenstein’s castle – the twisted, sloping stone walls evoking a sense of madness and foreboding whilst the levers, dials and instrumentation furnish the laboratory with intricate detail that together with the bristling arcs – and sparks – of electricity deliver a feeling of raw energy and tactile authenticity.

Whilst some might find it all a bit quaint by today’s standards, there’s still an undeniable power to Frankenstein that on a cold and wintry evening can effortlessly captivate the viewer and formulate suspense in a way that most modern horror films cannot replicate.

Standout moment

After subjecting his patched together corpse to intense electricity, Henry Frankenstein witnesses the slow twitching of the creature’s fingers as his creation comes to life – to the joy of Frankenstein and the terror of his audience…

Geek fact!

Dracula star Bela Lugosi was originally set to play the monster in Frankenstein but ultimately dropped out, leading to the casting of Boris Karloff.  Lugosi would go on to portray Igor in Son of Frankenstein.

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Bride of Frankenstein : Colin Clive and Boris Karloff reprise their respective roles for James Whale’s poignant and darkly comic sequel which boasts an iconic turn from Elsa Lancaster as the titular “Bride”.

Young Frankenstein : Mel Brooks’ beloved comedy is more an affectionate homage than a straight-up parody that features one of Gene Wilder’s finest performances and is further legitimised by the use of original props from Frankenstein.

Film Review: ‘Venom’

Sony Pictures launch a Marvel universe of their own…

Tom Hardy stars in ‘Venom’ (image credit: Sony Pictures/Marvel Entertainment, used for illustrative purposes only).

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, Reid Scott, Jenny Slate

Directed by:  Ruben Fleischer / written by:  Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg & Kelly Marcel / 112 minutes

What’s it about?

Infected by an intelligent alien parasite, former journalist Eddie Brock succumbs to the yearnings of the creature to become ‘Venom’ in a symbiosis that will ultimately benefit both…

In review

Released to scathing critical reviews, Sony Pictures’ Venom is actually a fun popcorn flick that’s not nearly as awful as those opinions would have you believe.  It’s not the greatest comic book film adaptation you’ll ever see but much like Warner Bros/DC’s Suicide Squad, Venom manages to hold itself together and navigate its flaws to simply entertain, viewed with the right mind-set.

Seen as the launch pad for Sony’s Spider-Man spin-off cinematic universe (the rights to the iconic web-slinger currently being shared with Marvel Studios), Venom sees star journalist Eddy Brock (Tom Hardy), having lost his job and his fiancée, becoming bonded with an alien ‘symbiote’ allowing him to transform into ‘Venom’ – the popular Marvel Comics anti-hero (originally established as one of Spider-Man’s most lethal foes) created by Todd McFarlane and David Michelinie.  Previously brought to the bring screen in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, Venom’s Spidey-less origin is likely to be the most controversial element of this new adaptation.

The ever reliable Tom Hardy (who was a powerful and imposing presence in The Dark Knight Rises) is Venom’s biggest asset with a committed and kooky performance that walks (and sometimes hops over) a delicate line between dramatic and darkly comedic.  Like the tone of the film itself, it comes across as a little odd and unsure at first but Hardy somehow makes it work and once Venom comes into play (whether as a voice in Brock’s head or in fully formed symbiosis with his host) the lead star clearly begins to have fun with it all.  In fact, it’s the ‘relationship’ between Brock and Venom that’s the most enjoyable aspect of the film.

Rogue One’s (and another of Britain’s own) Riz Ahmed brings a decent amount of menace to the central villain, Carlton Drake – entrepreneurial head of the Life Foundation, whose latest space mission brings Venom and other fellow symbiotes to Earth and Michelle Williams does well enough in an otherwise thankless role as Brock’s former girlfriend, Anne Weying.  The rest of the supporting cast and ancillary characters (including Jenny Slate as a Life Foundation scientist) are less noteworthy but serve their parts non-the-less.

The CGI is fine for a film of this level of budget (around $100 million) but the script can be a bit drab (and a little problematic as it tries to deliver tonal cohesion) with some generic characterisation and occasionally silly dialogue yet it provides and despite a slow-burn opening act, Venom soon begins to move along at an entertaining pace.  Ruben Fleischer’s direction does the job although the action scenes can be a bit muddled, falling into the trap of nauseously fast camera movements and quick edits.  It makes for a somewhat jumbled climax as Venom faces off against the rival symbiote known as ‘Riot’.

In the end, Venom feels like an old school comic book film that pays homage to those early McFarlane/Michelinie stories and coupled with Tom Hardy’s portrayal there’s enough to have a good time with.  It’s not a perfect start but there may actually be potential for these Sony produced Marvel outings after all.

The bottom line:  Not without its drawbacks, Venom turns out to be a fun and undemanding slice of comic book action that’s worth checking out.

Venom is in cinemas now.

 

What did you think of ‘Venom’? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Film Review: ‘The Predator’

Shane Black takes the reigns for the newest addition to the ‘Predator’ franchise…

 

The Predator

One of cinema’s most lethal creations returns in ‘The Predator’ (image credit: 20th Century Fox, used for illustrative purposes only).

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane

Directed by:  Shane Black / written by:  Shane Black & Fred Dekker/ 107 minutes

What’s it about?

The crash-landing of an alien spacecraft leads to a fight for survival as a rag-tag group of ex-military personnel find themselves being hunted by a dangerous and lethal extra-terrestrial…

In review

Along with the Alien and Terminator series, Predator is another franchise that refuses to die despite diminishing returns.  Having said that, Predator 2 and Predators are actually pretty good so far as sequels go but a pair of underwhelming Alien vs Predator films sullies the overall quality.

Enlisting Iron Man Three director Shane Black to helm a new Predator instalment would surely give it instant potential, then?  Sadly, The Predator proves more of a low point for the franchise than a triumphant return, a promising set-up and an interesting creative approach let down by a weak script and messy final act.

Boyd Holbrook (Logan) and Olivia Munn (X-Men: Apocalypse) are capable leads, the former as sniper Quinn McKenna – bringing the requisite dose of gruff alpha male – and the latter, convincingly, as biologist Dr. Casey Brackett.  Joining them is a group of kooky military misfits, amongst them Thomas Jane’s Tourette’s-inflicted Baxley, the endlessly profane Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key) and the surprisingly stable ‘Nebraska’ Williams (Trevante Rhodes).  Adding a touch of villainy is Black Panther’s Sterling K. Brown as Traeger, an oddly comical government agent with special interest in the mysterious Predators.

By giving us a set of oddball characters, The Predator seeks to draw the audience in and have viewers become emotionally invested and to a degree it works, proving most effective with an endearing performance by Jacob Tremblay as McKenna’s autistic son, Rory, who may hold the key to defeating their enemy.

There’s some misjudged (though perhaps necessary at this point) attempts to broaden the mythology of the Predators themselves which some may be receptive to and others may not as it removes some of the mystique surrounding the iconic alien hunters.  Disappointingly, the ‘Super’ Predator seen in the pre-release trailers is nothing more than an oversized version of the original creature, although it does raise the stakes as the film progresses toward its denouement.

Making full use of its ‘R’ rating (certified ’15’ in the U.K.), The Predator is fairly bloody at times and its language littered with profanity which fans of the franchise would rightly expect.  The film’s action is satisfying in places but, bar one or two moments, there’s a lack of tension – especially during the rushed finale that feels generic, choppy and uninventive.

It all feels like a bit of a missed opportunity and a genuine shame given Black’s history with the franchise, having played the part of Hawkins in the classic 1987 original as well as providing uncredited contributions to the script.  The screenplay for The Predator, co-written by Black with Fred Dekker (RoboCop 3) is a little clichéd, with some embarrassing and dumb dialogue and an overreliance on humour – some of which provide genuine laughs but too much of which feels stilted.

The direction is fairly competent and it’s commendable that a slightly different approach for The Predator was sought, but ultimately the fusion of action, horror and humour doesn’t quite gel as successfully as it could have with stronger writing and better editing.  As a result, The Predator is best watched more as a straight forward, slightly cheap action horror flick than a notable and essential continuation of the franchise.

The bottom line:  A flawed sequel to a beloved classic, there’s some fun to be had with The Predator but its creative potential is squandered by some weak execution.

The Predator is in cinemas now.