“You can’t catch this fish with conventional lures.”
Jason Statham received his start in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, before going on to carve out his own niche in the action genre. Coming full circle, Operation Fortune is Guy Ritchie’s attempt at making a Jason Statham Movie™ with a convoluted title that exposes its franchise-establishing designs. Orson Fortune is a skilled private contractor hired by the British Government for foreign espionage with slick, jet-setting action, at its best when one character is up close aided by teammates’ chatter through an earpiece and conveniently placed sniper coverage. Hugh Grant is clearly enjoying his charismaticvillain era, his womanising arms dealer’s movie star obsession bearing coincidental similarity to Javi in last year’s The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (shot in early 2021, Operation Fortune was originally slated for release in March 2022, but was shelved due to its distributor’s insolvency, also explaining the Ukrainian references that now seem odd in the current climate). Whilst not enough to address my usual criticism of Ritchie’s casting, Aubrey Plaza is more than a token woman, her tech specialist being an integral part of Orson’s team — Plaza delivers her usual brand of quirky awkwardness but cannot elevate some atrocious dialogue. Though the characters may be new, Operation Fortune has a tendency toward tedious familiarity and it seems unlikely that the equally mercenery whims of Hollywood will grant this sporadically entertaining team another outing.
Dungeons & Dragons’ phenomenal rise in popularity over the past decade made a new cinematic adaptation an inevitability. Directed by the co-writers of Spider-man: Homecoming, this is similarly a film that prioritises the relationships between its likeable heroes over world-threatening stakes. The party members are tropes — charismatic bard, stoic fighter, insecure sorceror, insufferable paladin and distrustful druid — imbued with personality by their actors, but the inspired decision is to place Chris Pine’s bard at the centre, since his careful planning followed invariably by chaos and improvisation perfectly captures the nature of the tabletop game. This approach allows the writers to flex their creativity in presenting and overcoming challenges as they set up a heist, including the best use of portals I have seen on screen. As the antagonist Forge, Hugh Grant channels his Paddington 2 performance without overplaying the comedic elements. Those hoping for the sweeping majestic grandeur of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings will be disappointed as, despite the decades of lore establishing the Forgotten Realms, Honour Among Thieves is a lightweight tale that engages in limited worldbuilding — we see a little of Neverwinter and the Harpers but the script is generally content to name drop inconsequential references for fans’ benefit. Visual effects are deployed in service to the story, with impressive swirling magical vortices and a menagerie of the Monster Manual’s fantastic creatures. That Honour Among Thieves has been so well received is no doubt aided by low expectations after 2000’s abysmal Dungeons & Dragons, but it is nevertheless a solid foundation on which a new cinematic franchise could be built.
“If you wish to be The King of the jungle, it’s not enough to act like a king. You must be The King. And there can be no doubt. Because doubt causes chaos and one’s own demise.”
Every few years, Guy Ritchie attempts to rekindle the magic of Lock, Stock and Snatch with an East End gangster movie, in essence to prove that he can still make “a Guy Ritchie film”. My expectations were decidedly muted after repeated misfires like Revolver and RocknRolla, but The Gentlemen marks his most successful return to those roots to date. The usual ingredients are present: a talented ensemble cast, heavy sarcasm, drugs, violence and dark humour, this time channelled by a considerably better script. Hugh Grant’s unexpected casting as a scumbag investigator works well and, although his endless narration becomes tiresome, as a storytelling device it allows Ritchie to flex a little creative flair from scene to scene. Yet none of this feels particularly fresh 20 years later and old issues remain, with only a single notable woman as well as unnecessary and unchallenged casual racism (albeit from characters we are not supposed to like). Ritchie may once have shaken up gangster filmmaking but now he is only acting like a king, within an industry obsessed with repeating the past. Nevertheless, for fans of this particular style, The Gentlemen offers enjoyable if anachronistic entertainment.
“Aunt Lucy said: if we’re kind and polite, the world will be right.”
With Paddingtonserving as an origin story for the Peruvian bear in London, its sequel is able to launch straight into a delightful adventure that will leave both children and adults beaming. If the original was an immigrant story, Paddington 2 highlights the importance — and difficulty — of maintaining contact with one’s roots. It is less dependent on Hugh Bonneville than its predecessor, with Hugh Grant hamming up a mercurial actor talking to himself in outlandish disguises, whilst Brendan Gleeson is the intimidating inmate that the diminutive bear must win over when wrongly incarcerated. Those prison scenes are some of the film’s best, showcasing Paddington’s charming openness as more than simple naiveté. The unrecognisably neighbourly version of London can be harder to swallow than a talking bear, but the film never dwells too long on its more saccharine elements. The style may be less fresh than last time, but there is still plenty of creativity on display like Paddington waltzing through the illustrations of a pop-up book. The rapid pacing also benefits from having most of the key characters already established, though it makes space for moments of quieter emotion and humour too. The result is simply the best live-action family adventure in years.