“It’s a sequel to a videogame adaptation,” is probably a sufficient review of Sonic 2. The first Sonic the Hedgehog teased the introduction of Tails in the sequel, which also incorporates Knuckles the echidna. Although welcome faces from the games, having three CG characters undermines the first film’s primary strength, which was the believeable relationship between its humans and the anthropomorphised hedgehog. The human leads now share virtually no screen time with Sonic at all and many scenes are entirely digital. Although it is unclear how much of this was imposed by COVID filming restrictions, the result is a flashy spectacle with a fraction of its predecessor’s grounding, so that making it live action feels all the more unnecessary. Hiring professional voice actor Colleen O’Shaughnessey as Tails also serves to highlight the limitations of big name casting for the other virtual characters. At best, Sonic 2’s inoffensive but entirely forgetable mascot mayhem may distract younger kids for two hours, despite there being insufficient plot to fill even half the running time.
“All gods and monsters outlive their original purpose and are reduced to metaphor.”
The appearance of djinn in Western fiction is oddly liminal, fantastic and yet somehow more plausibly grounded in their foreign exoticism. Such is the appearance of a djinn in the hotel room of professor Alithea on a trip to Istanbul. Granted the traditional three wishes, she is professionally cautious as her study is in global narrative mythology and she knows all too well that in stories wishes always serve as cautionary tales. Cinema feels at times a clumsy medium for this self-referential story about stories (itself adapted from a short story), wonderful as Idris Elba’s deeply intoned narration may be. This is not to say George Miller does not present us with impressive sounds and sights, with evocative use of colour and magical effects constructed from shifting sands and vapours (incidentally visual elements that suffer the most from streaming compression). Three Thousand Years of Longing explores the ways in which we can be trapped by desire, and the foolishness of love at the expense of oneself, but the emotional tone is one of solitude and loneliness, with a longing to be seen as much as for freedom (“We exist only if we are real to others”). There is also an overarching comment that — even as science may reduce our reliance on fictional deities — stories remain how humans understand the world and how we interact with one another, and your enjoyment of the film is likely to reflect how interesting or pretentious you find these ideas.
Whilst it remains unclear the extent to which studio intervention caused the issues in David Ayers’ Suicide Squad, James Gunn’s follow-up has been billed as a soft reboot – in reality, with a number of returning characters it is essentially a direct sequel with a revised (and more consistent) tone. The key ingredient Gunn provides is his skill in writing dysfunctinal group chemistry which proved so successful in Guardians of the Galaxy. What makes The Suicide Squad excel is this in combination with beautiful visual flourishes and creative variation when it comes to the action, choreographed around the characters’ varying levels of power and skill rather than the godlike punchfests that have routinely plagued the DCEU. Viewers should be prepared for ridiculous ultraviolent excess — this is the sort of film where multiple people are literally torn in half — but it is fitting for a group of villains, and Gunn uses it to comment on American foreign policy. As pure entertainment, this concotion produces the best comicbook film in the past few years.
“Shift your hunting ground for a few years and everyone forgets how the law works. Well, let me remind you. A man-cub becomes man, and man is forbidden!”
Although commonly labelled live-action, that is not entirely accurate since Neel Sethi is the only actor who appears onscreen, with CGI filling the space around him. A wobbly opening scene concerned me but generally the CGI is excellent, with breathtaking vibrant jungle vistas when the camera pulls back to capture characters in silhouette. The A-list voice talent can be a little distracting, although Bill Murray is an inspired choice for Baloo. Similarly, retaining just a few of the Disney songs is a stranger choice than excising them entirely. Sethi’s Mowgli is believably curious, isolated and angry, Favreau drawing out an impressive performance against empty green screens. It is not a classic, but the original was not Disney at its height either and this stands comfortably alongside it.
“You know what makes you feel okay about losing? Winning.”
Aaron Sorkin is one of a rare breed of screenwriters whose name can be the biggest draw in a film. Fans will be pleased by his signature style of sharp, rapid dialogue, applied here to the based-on-true events story of a woman who ran a high-stakes underground poker game, expertly using the tempo of language to build and relieve tension. Sorkin’s directorial debut, his approach is assured but not particularly noteworthy, with some unnecessarily convoluted time jumping. Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba both excel.
“We all like a bit of the good life — some the money, some the drugs, others the sex game, the glamour, or the fame. But a RocknRolla, oh, he’s different. Why? Because a real RocknRolla wants the fucking lot.”
RocknRolla feels more like a tribute to (or parody of) old school Guy Ritchie films than a genuine Guy Ritchie film. It features the trademark rapidfire banter, convoluted plot and East End gangster action, but they fail to form a cohesive whole, seeming more like a response to his critics. There are some standout kinetically shot action sequences and a few fun edits, but this does little to restore Ritchie’s directorial credibility. The film cockily touts its own sequel but there is little wonder that it has never emerged.