“It’s better to beg for forgiveness than ask permission.”
Since Independence Day, Roland Emerich has carved out a niche in big budget disaster porn, effects-heavy extravaganzas that imagine swathes of the world being obliterated. If 2012‘s climate disaster thesis (“the neutrinos have mutated”) was bad, surely we have now reached a nadir with the moon suddenly crashing toward the Earth. That Moonfall is dumb — the stupidest film I have seen in years — was obvious from the premise, but what surprised me whilst I felt my intelligence ebbing away was its laziness. It is generic almost to the point of parody, with its plucky astronauts, the smart guy struggling to be taken seriously, and the military intent on bombarding the problem with nukes. Films like this don’t need absolute scientific rigour but, when the source of suspense is supposed to be the effect of the moon’s gravity, sudden inexplicable revelations that the moon has spontaneously increased in mass or contains a superdense white dwarf that was never previously detected are senselessly self-sabotaging. Similarly confounding are astronauts who seem to have no concept of what devices might generate electromagnetic fields. Once we realise there are no rules beyond what the script finds expedient in the moment, all tension evaporates. The most baffling thing about Moonfall is that it was made at all. The cast plainly have zero interest and, with the dialogue they are required to spout (“The moon is rising” / “Gravity’s gonna go crazy”), one can sympathise. Game of Thrones‘ John Bradley feigns some enthusiasm, though it only makes his accidentally correct conspiracy theorist more unbearable. Even the CG destruction is underwhelming, not helped by characters abandoning any pretence at urgency to watch things unfold. Ultimately, Moonfall is too banal even to be entertainingly awful. One of the film’s many exposition dumps contains a brief glimmer of an interesting origin story for the moon; sadly, we have this instead.
“A portrait captures a person far better than a photograph. It truly takes a human being to really see a human being.”
A richly textured character drama set in the Deep South, Monster’s Ball is unafraid to portray human relationships and bigotry as messy without straightforward labels or easy resolution. Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry exude raw emotion as the broken Hank and Leticia, whose relationship is one less of desire than of need, rooted in a shared sense of loneliness, grief and guilt. The two exist largely in parallel, recognising each other’s pain but rarely discussing their pasts in detail. Whilst they are connected by an unlikely coincidence, the script deftly avoids the expected tropes, which provides a more poignant conclusion, albeit one that may leave some viewers frustrated.
“Nothing’s ever just a conversation with you, John.”
John Wick: Chapter 3 picks up right where Chapter 2ended, with John excommunicated from the cult-like order of assassins and a $14 million bounty placed on his head. Like its predecessor, the approach is very much more of the same brutal action, though it fixes a few flaws with fights lit more brightly and easier to follow. Parabellum (literally “prepare for war”) briefly moves the action to the middle east — with heavy overtones of the Assassin’s Creed franchise — but this diversion serves to confuse rather than expand the High Table mythos, becoming ultimately redundant as Wick returns to New York. A welcome change is the number of prominent female roles, Halle Berry proving her action chops in a fight I dubbed “revenge of the dogs”. John Wick‘s strength is a po-faced delivery whilst not taking itself seriously (“What do you need?” / “Guns, lots of guns”, says Keanu Reeves, repeating his line from The Matrix two decades earlier). This is a film in which he can ride a horse through the streets of New York whilst battling bikers. Despite this, a sense of familiar repetition is creeping into the series suggesting that we are on the verge of diminishing returns.
“No, I’m talking about the lack of realism. Realism; not a pervasive element in today’s modern American cinematic vision.”
A technothriller from an era when people used descriptions like “technothriller”, Swordfish is a mashup of the worst traits of convoluted hi-tech thrillers and rote action movies that considers itself very smart in its nihilistic outlook. Opening with a monologue deriding Hollywood’s lack of realism is a bold move for a film that has scant interest in reality: the verisimilitude of its hacking portrayal is clear from an early scene in which Hugh Jackman is forced at gunpoint to break into the US Department of Defense on an unfamiliar laptop within 60 seconds, whilst being fellated. Hackers may have used equally absurd graphical representations of technology but it achieved cult status because it captured the zeitgeist of mid-90s geek culture. If anything, Swordfish captures the collapse of a style of overindulgent Hollywood filmmaking that had been in decline since the 80s. Gratuitous ill-use of Halle Berry (the only woman with notable screen time) suggests an underlying misogyny which is merely confused rather than redeemed by the ending. The entire story is a messy contradiction of shifting allegiances but, when your plot is all misdirection, there is no substance left when the credits roll, just an unpleasant residue.
“We’ve kind of got a bit of a “save the world” situation here.”
A bloated sequel that tries to recapture its anarchic satire of the Bond franchise’s excesses with muted success and decidedly less charisma from its leads, I actually enjoyed this far more than I feared from its critical reception. Arguably the story’s chief sin is swiftly to sideline its female cast, leaving once again a field of exclusively male agents. It makes the film’s direct references to equality and loyalty feel somewhat crass. Seeing the British Kingsmen working alongside their US counterparts, The Statesmen, is perhaps tailored to me (pun intended) but the creative design throughout both the Statesman HQ and the villain’s lair is wonderful. Whilst nothing matches the first film’s church brawl, there is still substantial creativity to the action set pieces.