Luther was already one of the best-looking of the BBC’s prestige shows, that cinematography translating well to a feature-length production that replicates its moody tone. The Fallen Sun (a bizarre title that has nothing to do with the plot) borrows ideas liberally from sources like Black Mirror but it does little to build on those themes of technology-fuelled blackmail and control. Idris Elba remains ever-compelling as the gravelly, heavy-set detective John Luther, but the problem with long-running series about maverick professionals like Luther and House is that it eventually becomes untenable that they would keep their positions. The Fallen Sun overcorrects as its villain — a scenery-chewing Andy Serkis — decides he wants Luther out of the way and inexplicably succeeds in having him arrested and locked up in a high-security prison within the space of a scene. This level of looseness and absurdity undermines much of the tension: characters travel to Norway as if hopping on a bus, whilst Robey abruptly shifts from a methodical serial killer to a rash showman staging an elaborate scene in Piccadilly Circus. Luther always existed in a heightened reality, but The Fallen Sun largely abandons reality to serve a script that seemingly wants to re-establish John as a James Bond-like character to justify his actions. The result is an incoherently messy film that fails to captures the series’ early success beyond its visual flair and Elba’s charisma.
After her brief, scene-stealing role in No Time To Die, Ana de Armas has been catapulted to the status of action lead, whilst Chris Evans steps back as the hapless everyman. A romcom action adventure about a farmer who discovers his one night stand is a CIA agent, Ghosted opens inauspiciously with a meet cute more awkward than romantic, and a man unable to recognise his stalkerish behaviour even when directly pointed out by his sister. Red flags aside, any romance is doomed by the independently charismatic leads’ palpable lack of chemistry. From the writers of Deadpool and Zombieland, one might expect a deft blend of violence, emotion and humour but Ghosted instead delivers tonal whiplash as it jumps from Cole’s distress at killing a man to petty “comedic” squabbling in a matter of seconds. Aside from a climactic fight in a revolving restaurant, there is nothing memorable about the action save for the decision to set it to upbeat pop songs — this is palpably a gimmick with none of the creative choreography of last year’s Bullet Train. There is some mild, mindless entertainment to be had with Ghosted but you’re better off taking the hint and moving on: there are plenty more films in the c-inema.
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.
“I played Tetris for five minutes. I still see falling blocks in my dreams.”
Adapting the wrangling over licensing rights of the universally beloved Tetris into a (heavily embelished) cold war espionage thriller is an unexpected yet intriguing choice that still pays homage to designer Alexey Pajitnov and the beautiful simplicity of the game. Egerton leads the cast as the bombastic Henk, an endearing entrepreneurial Dutch-American hustler, determined but baffled by the Soviet Union and guileless to its danger, contrasted by Nikita Efremov’s understated Alexey, a thoughtful idealist (“Good ideas have no borders”). Director Jon S. Baird isn’t able to replicate the emotional resonance of Stan & Ollie in the friendship between Henk and Alexey (everything rattles along too swiftly for that), but he introduces some fun stylistic flourishes with pixel art transitions and a car chase where collisions billow a flurry of pixels — this is a rare occasion when greater use of the gimmick would have been welcome. Soviet bureaucracy provides plenty of fodder for farce (perfectly demonstrated in The Death of Stalin), with officials marching between simultaneous negotiations in separate rooms, whilst the Union’s imminent downfall split those who wanted the best for their country and those who prioritised personal profit before the collapse. Presenting all of this together leads to a tonal disonnance at times, coupled with pacing issues that drag. The performances (with ever reliable character actors like Toby Jones and Roger Allam) nevertheless keep in motion this exuberant tale of falling blocks in a falling bloc.
“I’ve lived a lot of lives… but I’m done running from my past.”
The first two thirds of Black Widow is a taut globetrotting espionage action movie that explores the character’s secretive past and her childhood family as part of a Russian sleeper cell. Highlights include a tense escape sequence through city traffic with her sister, a Siberian jailbreak, and an incredibly awkward family reunion. Unfortunately the final act falls into formulaic Marvel action territory with a weak villain that all swiftly becomes tedious and leaves an underwhelming overall impression. Black Widow also suffers from being released many years too late. In 2019, I said it was a shame for Captain Marvel only to arrive once fatigue with the Marvel formula was setting in. In 2021, not only has Black Widow already been killed off in the mainline franchise, but — with key actors bowing out after Endgame — we don’t even see Scarlett Johansson’s easygoing chemistry with her Avengers co-stars, just repeated name dropping. Johansson is still the film’s greatest asset, deftly switching between strength and suppressed vulnerability. She is ably supported by the two new character introductions — Florence Pugh as Natasha’s assassin sister and David Harbour as the bombastic Red Guardian — but this attempt to flesh out Black Widow’s backstory now is too little and too late for a character that the MCU has never treated as well as she deserves.
“DC… the house that Batman built. Yeah, what, Superman? Come at me, bro.”
Arguing The Lego Batman Movie‘s ranking amongst DC movies is amusing, but more interesting is that applying The Lego Movie‘s tongue-in-cheek humour to Batman’s storied past has created DC’s closest big screen competitor to Deadpool. It takes swings equally at DC’s successes (Joker describing his plan as “better than the two boats”) and its failures (“What am I gonna do? Get a bunch of criminals together to fight the criminals? That’s a stupid idea.”), as well as highlighting the sociological flaws in supporting a billionaire vigilante. Will Arnett returns to voice Batman largely as a gruff and self-involved caricature. Though we see some loneliness and self-doubt beneath the cowl, it’s not written to be as nuanced as Arnett’s voice acting in the sublime Bojack Horseman. The Joker unsurprisingly takes a central role but the film takes full advantage of Batman’s extensive list of villains, as well as co-opting a few from other franchises with Lego deals. Director Chris McKay was the animation supervisor on The Lego Movie allowing for a seamless transition in visual identity with bright colours and showers of bricks as well as some impressively atmospheric lighting. The (constr)action, however, is far less creative which leads to a disappointingly forgettable third act that will cause fatigue as most adult viewers zone out.
“You are more than just a weapon. You have a soul — a ghost. When we see our uniqueness as a virtue, only then will we find peace.”
Ghost in the Shell is a cultural phenomenon that has been adapted from the original manga into animated films and TV series, but its first live action feature comes from the USA rather than Japan. The result is undeniably visually stunning with extensive CGI bringing its future tech to life and illuminating it with colourful hues. Yet the franchise’s central question proves an apt analogy for the film: beneath the flawless exterior of this glossy shell there is no soul, no emotional weight. Accusations of Hollywood whitewashing are not resolved by the mere fact that Major’s mind is revealed to have come from an ethnically Japanese woman. If the film’s tacit suggestion is that the Western ideal of a “perfect” designer body would invariably look white, it fails to engage with this at all. The film’s most inspired casting is the legendary “Beat” Takeshi Kitano as Major’s boss, Aramaki.