“Reputation is what people think of you. Character is what you are.”
Duke of Oxford
The third entry in the Kingsman series is an origin story for the secret organisation, told through an alternate history First World War. Vaughn perhaps wished to make a war (or indeed anti-war) movie, and he does produce some sobering footage of the chaos of trench warfare. Ralph Fiennes is a fine precursor to Colin Firth’s gentleman spy, but the Duke’s pacifist desire to shield his son, Conrad, from war feels at odds with the world of Kingsman, and the resulting focus transforms a franchise known for its excess into a tedious matter of fictional politics. Indeed, aside from a brief excursion to Russia to assassinate a scenery-chewing Rhys Ifans as Rasputin, it is only the film’s final half hour that truly feels like a Kingsman film at all. Much of my criticism lies in the script, plagued by awful dialogue and pacing — notably, this is Vaughn’s first film without Jane Goldman, his longstanding screenwriting collaborator. Transferring the authorship of Wilfred Owen’s most famous poem to Conrad is cheap writing and unnecessary revisionism, worst still as the boy has not even been to the front when he supposedly pens it. I criticised the lack of women in The Golden Circle and the situation has not improved, with Gemma Arterton being the sole noteworthy character. The best thing about The King’s Man is that it will surely free Vaughn to move on to other projects outside the franchise. Whether he can return to the rising star I heralded with his exceptional first three films remains to be seen.
Mark Mylod’s gastronomic satirical thriller skewers the “foodie” world with relish, pairing a deconstruction of the participants with a zesty assault on how it serves to drain the joy of food that should sit at its heart. A handful of diners have been invited to an exclusive tasting menu at Chef Slowik’s remote island restaurant. The wild card, and audience perspective, is Margot — a last minute substitution by Tyler when dumped by his girlfriend. Anya Taylor-Joy’s expressiveness is perfect for Margot’s utter disdain for the theatrics taken so seriously by the guests — she is the only one to realise they are being insulted, and confident enough to refuse to play Slowik’s game. Meanwhile the verisimilitude of the meticulously constructed food and minimalist decor creates a distorted space within which it feels the film could frequently veer in any direction. The Menu presents the world as split into servers and consumers, though it satirises both sides of the divide: Slowik’s self-obsession is no better than the diners’, albeit more purposeful, holding his staff in cult-like sway. The film’s cruelty, however, is reserved predominantly for the wealthy, its wider critique being the blight of capitalism and its widening inequality. The food critics engaged in competitive intellectual snobbery may also make a certain type of film critic squirm uncomfortably. At its best The Menu is deliciously unexpected and, although it runs a little too long in reaching “an ending that ties everything together conceptually”, the final course is a satisfying conclusion to a most unpredictable meal.
“It’s one thing to go around saying what you want. The test comes when you are actually given the chance to get it. When they wanted to get rid of Margaret Thatcher, John Major got toothache so he didn’t have to answer his phone. A week later he was prime minister.”
If Turks & Caicos was Worricker treading (Caribbean) water, Salting the Battlefield moves at full pace as he and Margot are on the run in Germany before returning to the UK to confront their hunters. This provides a far stronger backdrop for the trilogy’s political machinations. Ralph Fiennes’ prime minister always provided the most compelling adversary to Worricker, aided by his zealous personal conviction — Hare’s script draws clear parallels with Tony Blair’s ambitions as a statesman. In contrast to the earlier films, Nighy’s charm deliberately slips as Worricker finds himself on the warpath and often outmanoeuvred. The story’s conclusion is not entirely predictable despite leaning into a number of tropes, though ultimately it feels more satisfying if you view the Worricker trilogy as a character study of its protagonist rather than focusing on the overarching narrative.
The political machinations behind the British intelligence services lend themselves well to suspenseful, slow burn thrillers. Page Eight falls on the quieter end of the spectrum, following a senior analyst with politically sensitive information. It may lack the deeper intrigue of Le Carré or the urgency of Eye in the Sky, but the excellent cast is enthralling to watch even as the plot unfolds in a largely predictable fashion. David Hare is generally content to pose questions rather than to answer to them, including the purpose of intelligence services in the 21st century, and the extent to which these organisations view survival as more important than the truth. Where he does take a stance, however, is the need for truth to allow us to grieve.
“From the first human handprint on a cave wall, we’re part of something continuous.”
A gentle British drama around the discovery of the Sutton Hoo burial site in 1938, The Dig is enjoyable without injecting unnecessary artifice to largely mundane work or becoming overly twee in its historic countryside setting. The first half is the most compelling, as landowner Edith Pretty and excavator Basil Brown make the discovery. The kinship between Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan’s characters is evident, with Pretty protecting Brown from the elitist incursions of his more academically qualified peers, and Brown adopting a paternal role toward her son. Once word of the find spreads, the cast grows significantly and the film’s focus unfortunately drifts away from its strongest characters to address the relationships between the younger newcomers. Set against the urgency of imminent war, there is greater emotional breadth than one might expect from a burial excavation. However, with no characters so well established as Pretty and Brown, we are invariably less invested in their outcomes.
“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.
“If you must blink, do it now. Pay careful attention to everything you see and hear, no matter how unusual it may seem.”
I have no excuse for my tardiness in catching the latest stop-motion animation from Laika, the studio who produced Coraline. The decision to focus solely on this overlooked art form allows them to develop new technology that drives the medium forward from one film to the next. The scale of some of the puppetry here is incredible, though size can be deceptive on-screen. Strong art direction coupled with stunning lighting separates the film visually from the average family animation, though it is likely to appeal more to older children. The meta-narrative about Eastern storytelling through origami figurines is a nice touch for the beauty of what they physically produced, even if it only remains in ephemeral film.