“They won’t fear it until they understand it. And they won’t understand it until they’ve used it. Theory will take you only so far.”
J. Robert Oppenheimer
Based on the book American Prometheus, Christopher Nolan has crafted a Charlie Kaufman-esque biopic that is as much about the concept of political myth-making as it is about Oppenheimer himself, a brilliant physicist whose self-importance was matched only by his actual importance to the war effort in the 1940s. After years of supporting roles, Cillian Murphy finally takes centre stage in a Nolan production and his powerful portrayal of the conflicted scientist is multifaceted and captivating. Nolan presents him as a man who saw beyond the world at a time when it was pivoting, quantum physicists around the globe seemingly drawn to one another by their ideas as they replaced the old guard. This is also an unusual use of the IMAX format, filled with close-ups showing incredibly expressive facial detail rather than grandiose imagery. As is often the case with Nolan, the social aspects are the least convincing: Florence Pugh in particular is ill-used, with Oppenheimer’s popularised quotation from the Bhagavad Gita unnecessarily tied to a sex scene. Although the Manhattan Project provides the meat of the film, Oppenheimer uses a framing device of two committee hearings after the war that sought to discredit him for his communist connections and opposition to the arms race. These provide layers of nuance to the character study, the stark black and white providing an external viewpoint whilst colour presents Oppenheimer’s subjective perspective. This structure is not an unreserved success, leading to repetition and bloat — at first it seems the framing is being used to allow the film to culminate with the Trinity nuclear test; in fact there is a full hour of political machination which follows. The Trinity test itself is perfect for Nolan’s cinematic vision, eking out tension despite our knowledge of its success, and using the medium to transport us to this defining moment — a blinding light and fiery conflagration in silence as time seems to hang before sound rushes in with the shockwave. Oppenheimer casts doubt on US propaganda about the necessity of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the war, though it is disappointingly indirect. However the far more direct use of haunting imagery intrusively plaguing Oppenheimer is effective in communicating his disturbance by the destructive power he helped to unleash, ultimately wishing to be remembered for the invention but not its use.
It’s impossible to discuss the final instalment of Marvel’s 12-year project without spoilers but then this is a movie that no one requires a review to decide whether or not they will see. Its overarching time travel plot holds together surprisingly well, offering an opportunity to revisit characters lost in the previous films despite a fairly tight focus on the original six Avengers (with a few additions). For all the build-up, the overpowered Captain Marvel is largely absent elsewhere in the universe, serving predominantly as a deus ex machina when needed. After Infinity War, I knew that my overall view would depend largely on Doctor Strange’s seemingly inexplicable refusal to use the Time Stone, instead willingly handing it over to Thanos. Although Endgame offers half an answer, it is never adequately explained. Despite my issues with the journey, Endgame provides a satisfying conclusion that ties up the character arcs for a host of original characters, including a weighty, well-earned death near the end. It’s also particularly nice to see Jon Favreau given a few scenes, having helmed the film that started it all.
“This universe is finite, its resources, finite. If life is left unchecked, life will cease to exist. It needs correcting.”
With ten years spent building up characters, this is an event movie unlike any to date. Much like the first Avengers movie, I came away impressed firstly that it did not buckle under its own weight. In particular, the introduction of the Guardians of the Galaxy to the rest of the MCU cast works expertly, aided by James Gunn apparently writing their dialogue. Despite threadbare development to date, Thanos becomes a villain with whom one can sympathise, convinced his actions are necessary even as certain acts pain him. Although the number of fight sequences is exhausting, there is sufficient creativity and some memorable tag team moments. Infinity War stands up to a second viewing but whether its stature lasts will depend on how satisfactorily certain choices are explained by the final instalment next year. In assuming a working knowledge of the majority of the heroes, their backstories and their interpersonal relationships, Infinity War does not really work as a standalone film but it mounts a compelling argument that, for monolithic franchises, this may no longer be an appropriate test.
“My name’s Harry Lockhart. I’ll be your narrator. Welcome to L.A.”
The directorial debut of Lethal Weapon screenwriter Shane Black, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a comic film noir that takes its genre seriously enough that it never becomes a spoof or self-parody like so many recent efforts. Rather it’s a deft and original spin that stills packs a few surprises, great leads, and is consistently funny.
Harry [Robert Downey Jr.] is a petty crook who has ended up in Hollywood after accidentally stumbling into an audition room while fleeing from the police. Training for a role as a detective he is being given lessons by private investigator Gay Perry [Val Kilmer]. When he bumps into his childhood crush Harmony [Michelle Monaghan], he finds himself caught in a lie after telling her that he’s a detective. Agreeing to take on her case, he is way out of his depth. Film noir plots are inevitably pretty standard. Fortunately Black knows this and it’s not his selling point — it’s the characters and the style. Rather he throws in a couple of utterly contrived strands with decent payoffs but never expects his audience to buy into it fully. In fact the pace is too fast anyway; you have to just roll with it to keep up else you’ll miss out on some hilarious dialogue along the way.
The story is narrated by Harry, but this is no ordinary storytelling cliché. It is an irreverently offbeat and self-aware style, “I’ll be your narrator,” that is reminiscent of Christina Ricci in The Opposite of Sex, and almost as successful. Robert Downey Jr.’s cynicism and comic timing are perfect here, as Harry is happy to jump back a scene if he’s made a mistake and missed something out, “this is bad narrating, like my dad telling a joke,” and question his use of profanity. The result is a natural flow that seems incredibly genuine, especially since our “hero” is both filled with self-doubt and utterly incompetent.
Val Kilmer chooses to play the self-important detective Gay Perry in a very straight style rather than the caricature he could so easily have become. Despite his pomposity, we swiftly grow to like him. Harmony is the necessary fainting damsel in distress, but she’s far more forward than the archtype. Donning a (incredibly fetching) Santa costume rather than the expected slinky dresses, she’s a more powerful figure and far more captivating character.
A rapidfire script that’s matched by Downey Jr.’s cynical delivery, Black never insults the viewer by slowing down for them to catch up. It oftens feels like being dragged along on a ride which is very much how Harry experiences it. Always involving, none of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is genuinely groundbreaking or original, but it’s fantastically eclectic entertainment all the same and easily the best work either of the leads has done for some time.