“This is why I must trust my shamanic instincts as a thespian.”
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Nicolas Cage in possession of massive talent must be in want of a movie. Leaning into the speculation around his often-surprising career choices, Nicolas Cage plays a fictionalised version of himself, desperate for a hit as much to impress his daughter as for the money. This sets the tone of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, amusing rather than satirical, as it shifts to espionage and action involving a Mexican arms dealer and the CIA. There are two keys to its success: firstly, that Cage largely plays the role straight, though keenly aware of comedic timing and self-referential overacting; and secondly, Pedro Pascal’s awkward charm as the criminal who seems more interested in screenwriting. The most fun is had when the two actors play off one another, their characters equally anxious as they build a rapport. Although the rest of production is competent, were it not for the “Nick Cage” gimmick, this would not be a noteworthy film. Ultimately, it is a homage that will predominantly attract and entertain Cage fans (it is littered with references to his past films), and it comfortably rides the wave of goodwill from Cage’s recent strong performances.
The debut film from writing and directing team Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl, sci-fi Western Prospect draws influences from a wide range of science fiction, blending them into a surprisingly cohesive and deeply atmospheric whole. Trekking through the ominously serene undergrowth is reminiscent of Annihilation, whilst the grounded technology and sense of isolation recalls the likes of Moon and Alien. Like Monsters, the strong worldbuilding is used as a vehicle to explore human relationships, in this case the reliance, mistrust and forgiveness between greedy prospectors harvesting resources on the fringe of human expansion into space. Pedro Pascal’s turn as the eloquent and mercurial Ezra, channelling Firefly‘s Mal Reynolds, foreshadowed his role as The Mandalorian in the biggest sci-fi Western franchise around. In her first feature, Sophie Thatcher is effective if less consistent as the determined Cee. It may be narrow in scope, but Prospect shows that an absorbing step into a believable future requires thoughtful filmmaking rather than vast budgets.
“Nothing good is born from lies. And greatness is not what you think.”
2017’s Wonder Woman broke the DCEU‘s streak of weak movies and beat Marvel to the punch with a female-fronted superhero movie. With Patty Jenkins returning to direct the sequel, expectations were high. Sadly, WW84 slumps to the level of its DC stablemates, with nearly all of its issues stemming from an awful script that is not only set in the 1980s but seems like it could have been written then too. The themes of desire and there being no good shortcuts to success are interesting but it is hard to engage with a story where every development is handwaved away as the result of a wish. Invariably the time jump means that only a single character is carried forward and the previous film’s team dynamic is lost; things are somehow worse when Chris Pine’s character is shoehorned back in (and then inevitably discarded). The new characters are poorly introduced (particularly the villains whose motivations are never sketched beyond a desire for power) and hackneyed screenwriting abounds: we cut to multiple conversations with people already laughing at some unheard joke to indicate chemistry rather than having to write dialogue that actually demonstrates it. The film’s best action is in its opening scene — a flashback to Amazons competing in a multi-disciplinary race across Themyscira — after which it is just Diana lassoing around and hurling people into walls. Even in the context of the DCEU much of the film makes little sense, like Diana’s unexplained desire to conceal her identity (since she has no one to protect) or learning to fly only never to use this ability with the Justice League thirty years later. It may be functional as a big budget blockbuster but, particularly in the wake of its predecessor, WW84 is bloated and disappointing.
Disclosure: I know personally at least one person involved in the making of this film.