“Reputation is what people think of you. Character is what you are.”
Duke of Oxford
The third entry in the Kingsman series is an origin story for the secret organisation, told through an alternate history First World War. Vaughn perhaps wished to make a war (or indeed anti-war) movie, and he does produce some sobering footage of the chaos of trench warfare. Ralph Fiennes is a fine precursor to Colin Firth’s gentleman spy, but the Duke’s pacifist desire to shield his son, Conrad, from war feels at odds with the world of Kingsman, and the resulting focus transforms a franchise known for its excess into a tedious matter of fictional politics. Indeed, aside from a brief excursion to Russia to assassinate a scenery-chewing Rhys Ifans as Rasputin, it is only the film’s final half hour that truly feels like a Kingsman film at all. Much of my criticism lies in the script, plagued by awful dialogue and pacing — notably, this is Vaughn’s first film without Jane Goldman, his longstanding screenwriting collaborator. Transferring the authorship of Wilfred Owen’s most famous poem to Conrad is cheap writing and unnecessary revisionism, worst still as the boy has not even been to the front when he supposedly pens it. I criticised the lack of women in The Golden Circle and the situation has not improved, with Gemma Arterton being the sole noteworthy character. The best thing about The King’s Man is that it will surely free Vaughn to move on to other projects outside the franchise. Whether he can return to the rising star I heralded with his exceptional first three films remains to be seen.
“I do worry sometimes I might just be entertaining myself while staving off the inevitable.”
Reuniting writer-director Martin McDonagh with In Bruges leads Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, The Banshees of Inisherin is at its core a drama about a rift between two lifelong friends. Colm’s realisation of his mortality has left him desperate to create something that might be remembered — he is convinced that Pádraic, described as “one of life’s good guys”, is destined to be forgotten like most on the island. As the rejected Pádraic, Colin Farrell is palpably heartbroken, his eyebrows permanently crestfallen. Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan’s superb supporting performances are easily the match of the leads. Despair hangs over the island’s population through a lack of stimulation and McDonagh has commented that an underlying theme is that depression is something that has long existed in humans, even if we only now accept it (“he could push it down like the rest of us” Pádraic opines). War is literally on the horizon, sporadic explosions on the mainland reminding islanders of the world beyond and contrasting Colm’s search for a sense of peace. The Banshees of Inisherin is the most fable-like of McDonagh’s films to date, reminiscent of John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary, not only in its Irishness (and Gleeson’s presence) but the sense of impending doom, personified here by the portentous witchlike figure of Mrs McCormick who seems almost plucked from The Northman. McDonagh’s work unfailingly elicits emotion, and The Banshees of Inisherin succeeds in provoking frequent laughter through its often unexpected darkly cynical humour, whilst leaving a profound sense of melancholy behind.
“When you love something, you protect it. It’s the most natural thing in the world.”
A millenia-spanning epic about immortal beings sent to Earth to shepherd humanity and the growth of civilisation, Eternals is one of the most experimental films within the MCU to date, handed to critically acclaimed independent film director Chloé Zhao. Although it is a flawed film, I think it is unfairly maligned by those who criticise the limited plot, when Eternals is deliberately written in a more thematic manner. The greater structural flaws are in pacing and in the manner that characters are introduced: the bulk of the film occurs as the Eternals reunite in present day, but these reunions are robbed of weight when we have to guess at the relationships which existed before, helped little by disjointed jumps through the ages to flesh out their familial conflicts. Time is spread thinly across the large ensemble cast. Eternals may be the most visually cohesive Marvel film to date, with its intricate golden art design and costuming, complementary visual effects for their powers, and beautiful cinematography — cinematographer Ben Davis was also responsible for the previous title holder, Doctor Strange. This extends to compellingly choreographed fight scenes — when the Eternals fight it often feels like a physical manifestation of differences of opinion. The most compelling concept is the idea of ageless beings searching for purpose amongst mortals, yet we see only glimpses through where they have ended up, some prioritising a dynastic career or family, whilst others find themselves inescapably isolated. Eternals‘ timing closely following the Infinity Saga is unfortunate in that it retreads Thanos’ quandary as to the justification of sacrificing life in order to allow more to flourish. I cannot help but feel that the film would have fared better unshackled from the expectations of fitting into a shared universe, particularly one in which they drastically escalate the power level as street level heroes become increasingly inconsequential against the likes of Celestials.
Those words during a fight late in the film ring like a challenge to detractors who feel threatened by female-led blockbusters. What Captain Marvel ably proves is what most already knew — that the Marvel superhero formula works just as well with a female lead — making it maddening that it has taken until the penultimate film of the decade-long three-phase MCU project to release one. Unfortunately fatigue is setting in with that formula and, where Black Panther shook things up by raising the bar for social and cultural exploration in a comicbook movie, Captain Marvel is largely content to play it safe in a sea of 90s nostalgia. The musical choices from the era are notable, with female fronted acts like Garbage and No Doubt setting a fun and rebellious tone to match Danvers’ own. Brie Larsen is great, though hamstrung slightly by an origin story which has Danvers slowly piecing together her memories so that her personality does not really crystallise until late in the film. The classic superhero action is fun as ever despite virtually non-existent stakes once her incredible powers are fully unleashed.
“My daughter Angela was murdered 7 months ago. It seems to me the police department is too busy torturing black folk to solve actual crimes.”
Based on the talent involved, I expected to like this but I had no idea just how much. Starting with a mother seeking justice for her murdered daughter by calling out the local police department, this is really a journey through multiple characters dealing with grief and exploring the effect of tragedy upon our relationships, emerging as anger, love and fear. Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell are stellar in portraying richly nuanced characters, and are accompanied by an excellent supporting cast. Many scenes are soaked with such powerful emotion, whilst avoiding sentimentality through use of raw drama and dark humour, that watching the film is a cathartic experience. Of particular note, it is rare and refreshing that we see a female character whose grief is expressed through violent, misplaced rage. Martin McDonagh proved his talent with In Bruges but has seriously upped his game.