The Meg (12A)
Undoubtedly prompted by the likes of the recent spate of Japanese Megashark B movies, this is unashamed big fish popcorn nonsense. Five years on from a submarine rescue mission that saw him having to leave behind his two best friends or have everyone die, Jonas Turner (Jason Statham, who first made his name as a competitive swimmer) has quit the diving business in favour of drinking away his life in Thailand. But then along comes old buddy Mac (Cliff Curtis) and renowned marine scientist Zhang (Winston Chao) from Mana One, a research facility 200 miles off China, who want his help to rescue the crew of a trapped submersible that, having penetrated through ‘cloud’ cover into a whole new ocean world, has been attacked by what is quite possibly the same creature Turner encountered, claims of which saw him declared crazy by both facility medic Heller (Robert Taylor) and even his own now ex-wife (Jessica MacNamee), who just happens to be one of those trapped.
Managing to rescue two of them, it’s revealed that the creature is a 75ft Megaladon, the prehistoric great white killing machine long thought to be extinct. It also turns out that, in the rescue, they inadvertently, as the clunky dialogue puts it, opened up a superhighway for giant sharks which, first witnessed by precocious eight-year-old Meiying (Sophia Cai), granddaughter of Zhang whose own oceanographer daughter, Suyin (Li Bingbing), provides the burgeoning romantic interest (though there’s not even a quick kiss), when it comes to pay a call on the facility.
Along with the other ethnically and nationally diverse characters on the rig given names, tattooed marine biologist tech whizz Jaxx (Ruby Rose), smug billionaire financier Morris (Rain Wilson), engineer The Wall (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) and DJ (Page Kennedy), whose only function seems to be comic relief, they set about planning to go all Robert Shaw on megaladon’s ass.
And if, a few narrow scrapes aside, that seems to be accomplished rather too easily, that’s because they apparently come in pairs, setting up a second desperate race against the clock to prevent the creature chomping its way through a seafull of happy holidaymakers at a nearby crowded resort. Not to mention a Pekinese with a pink bow.
Although unusually devoid of any expletives, director Jon Turteltaub ensures it does what it’s supposed to do (though it’s strangely skimpy on human snacking), Statham does what you expect him to do and the support cast romp cheerily through the crowd-pleasing action and cardboard dialogue which, naturally, finds room to flag up such poster eco messages as “we did what we always do: Discover, then destroy.” Brainless – and to some extent toothless – fun, it’s based on the first of several Meg novels by Steve Alten, so who knows what other oversized amphibians might be waiting to swim their way to a sequel up that underwater superhighway. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Anyone who’s had to suffer Jehova Witnesses doorstepping them will take great delight in this powerful and raw debut from writer-director Daniel Kokotajlo, who comes at his subject from the perspective of a former member of the sect with firsthand experience of what’s on screen. Arguably one of the most iniquitous branches of the Christian faith, in claiming to be the most fundamentally pure (Catholicism is dismissed as airy fairy) it holds that blood transfusions are forbidden under any circumstances and that followers should not associate with those who leave the faith, and are as such “disfellowshipped” or excommunicated, a dictate which extends to any family members, however closely related.
Set in Oldham, the narrative centres on sisters Alex (Molly Wright) and Luisa (Sacha Parkinson), regular attendees at the meeting (never ‘services’) at their local Kingdom Hall, brought up by their devout mother Ivanna (Siobhan Finneran) in the way of The Truth and the belief that a New System is to come in the wake of the supposedly impending Armageddon which they will be the chosen ones of God.
Alex, at 18 the younger of the two, is an ardent evangelist, learning Urdu to spread the word in her outreach work but also feel tainted and impure on account of a blood transfusion given without consent when she was born. She remains anaemic and in delicate health. She regards her sister as a role model, but a family crisis erupts when Luisa, who has experienced the wider world through college, becomes pregnant by a Muslim, the response by the elders and her mother see her begin to question the teachings, commits apostasy (renounces the faith) and is ultimately expelled. This means that, if they can’t persuade her to rejoin, then, unless it can’t be avoided, neither her mother or sister can see or talk to her. Pointedly, there is almost no reference to the absent father, leaving viewers to draw their own conclusions.
At which point, the film seems to be focused on Alex, but, when she becomes ill and dies rather than have blood, the narrative switches the problematic relationship between Luisa and her mother, torn between maternal and grandmotherly instincts and her duty as a Witness.
Divided into chapters, with Bible extracts on title cards, the film avoids melodrama and is also careful to present the elders, mostly balding, misogynistic middle-aged men save for new arrival, Steven (Robert Emms), who had become Alex’s fiancé (the imoplication being to keep her in the fold), not as caricatured raging zealots, but rather calmly and matter of factly quietly laying down the rules with, on the surface, an seemingly compassionate understanding as they seek to win the errant and increasingly isolated Luisa back, yet at the same time making it very clear how Ivanna, struggling to contain her uncertainties, should treat her. Kokotaljo never vilifies them, he allows the banality of evil to condemn itself, but also acknowledges the strength of community fellows share.
Pointedly underlit and drained of colour to enhance the claustrophobic environment in which the women are caught, the emotionally complex screenplay pivots on terrific nuanced performances from the three female leads, the rebellious, bristly Parkinson and the devout but inwardly tormented Wright and, torn between her daughter and her church in a dark night of the soul, Finneran. Intelligent, emotionally wrenching and thought-provoking, the film’s dynamic looking beyond the specific mechanics to deal with wider themes of loss, grief, love and unquestioning faith. As regards the latter, the address by the senior elder (James Quinn) at Alex’s funeral service and her passport to paradise by self-sacrifice is particularly disturbing. As coincidence would have it, Emma Thompson is soon to be seen as a judge presiding over a case involving a blood transfusion for a teenage Witness. It’s unlikely to be anywhere near as potent as this. (Electric; Fri-Wed: MAC)
The Darkest Minds (12A)
The latest adaptation of a believe-in-yourself young adult novel to go down in flames, the live action debut of Kung Fu Panda 2 director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, this is based on the first Alexandra Bracken’s trilogy wherein some sort of virus (Idiopathic Adolescent Acute Neurodegeneration if you must know), wipes out 98% of the world’s children while, for no apparent reason the survivors develop mutant-like powers. As such, the fearful American Government (there’s not a single reference to world outside the USA) rounds them up and packs them off to treatment centres to be cured like the President’s rehabilitation poster boy son (Patrick Gibson), but which are, in fact, concentration camps, despatching bounty hunters, tracers’, to hunt down those that got away.
The children are designated by colours according to their powers, the Greens are super-intelligent, the Yellows can control light and electricity while the Blues are telekinetics. There’s also the Oranges and Reds, deemed the most dangerous and who are to be killed on sight. The power that the Reds possess isn’t revealed until the conflagrational climax, but
the Oranges have the ability to see inside and control minds. The only decent performance in the entire film, Hunger Games veteran Amandla Stenberg is 16-year-old Ruby Daly, an Orange. In fact, she’s the only Orange. Locked up as a child after she accidentally erased her parents’ awareness of her, she successfully conceals her powers and masquerades as a Green, until they rumble her secret and she’s marked for elimination. She is, however, broken out by Cate (Mandy Moore), a member of underground resistance organisation The Children’s League. But, not trusting her, Ruby makes off and eventually joins forces with three on the run survivors, who, obligingly ticking the demographic boxes, comprise Asian-American Yellow Zu (Miya Cech), supersmart African-American Green Chubs (Skylan Brooks) and clean cut white boy Blue Liam (Harris Dickinson), who, naturally becomes the romantic interest, even though, obviously, Ruby’s scared of touching him.
They’re heading for the obligatory secret sanctuary where kids can live in safe community, while Ruby just wants to go home, and the film dutifully plods along through a series of nondescript incidents before a not remotely surprising betrayal plot twist and Moore’s re-entry into the storyline for a making a choice coda that’s supposed to set up the next instalment. Don’t hold your breath. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Dog Days (PG)
A canine-driven version of the familiar Garry Marshall-styled romcom anthology in which the lives of shiny glossy people with good teeth variously looking for love, companionship and self-growth intersect and everyone ends up happy and fulfilled. In short, Dog Actually.
Set in LA, TV morning show anchor Elizabeth (Nina Dobrev) visits a canine therapist (a deadpanning Tig Notaro) claiming her dog, Sam, is depressed following then break up of her relationship. Of course, it’s Elizabeth who needs revitalising so enter retired football star Jimmy (Tone Bell), who, after a friendly on air spat, is hired as her co-host and, he, wouldn’t you know, also has a dog, Brandy, and their pets take a shine to one another, just like their owners.
Then there’s barista Tara (Vanessa Hudgens) who, finding an abandoned Chihuahua, has the perfect excuse to call in on Dr. Mike (Michael Cassidy), the hunky but narcissistic vet across the street. The dog, now sporting fetching pink helmet, winds up at a rescue centre for strays run by one of her regulars, dorky Garrett (Jon Bass) who names her Gertrude because he’s seen Tara reading Gertrude Stein and, yes, he has a crush on her.
Tara’s neighbour is Dax (Adam Pally), an irresponsible musician on whom his long-suffering pregnant sister Ruth (Jessica St. Clair) offloads her neglected dog Charlie, but, since he’s not allowed pets, he has to smuggle him in and out of the building in a flight case. When the landlord turfs Garrett out of his centre, Tara proposes holding a fundraiser, at which Dax’s band, Frunk, will play (and yes, they do Who Let The Dogs Out) and to which Dr. Mike invites her as his date, naturally leaving Garrett crestfallen.
Then there’s Grace (Eva Longoria) and Kurt (Rob Corddry) who have recently adopted young Amelia (Elizabeth Caro), but she’s being very withdrawn – until they take in a stray pug and she suddenly blossoms. The pug, however, isn’t a stray, it’s just lost and, named Mabel, actually belongs to elderly retired English teacher widower Walter (Ron Cephas Jones) who is drawn from his ornery, reclusive shell by neighbourhood pizza delivery boy Tyler (Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard) who offers to help find her and who he ends up tutoring to improve his grades at the school where Kurt works.
You can pretty much see how all this pans out and director Ken Marino (who also appears a Elizabeth’s new chauvinistic co-host – what, you mean there’s a bump in her romance road!) sticks firmly to expectations, throwing in a dog fart joke for kids and a stoner gag for the grown-ups along with any number of cute shots of the four-legged stars staring into the camera. It’s passingly amusing, sweet, gentle and utterly innocuous as it spins a sort of canine complete me message while tugging on the heartstrings. However, the best bit comes right out of nowhere as, after one of the characters has had to have their dog put to sleep, the vet’s assistant (John Gemberling) puts his hand on their shoulder and sings Amazing Grace. If the rest of the film had been as inspired it might have been a real pedigree. (Cineworld NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Summer 1993 (12A)
Set in 90s Catalonia, when her mother dies of AIDS, six-year-old Frida is forced to move to the countryside and live with her uncle’s family; however, while her new parents are warm and welcoming, the troubled Frida finds it hard to work through her grief or adjust to her surroundings leading to behaviours that severely tests the new family unit. Written and directed by Carla Simón, it’s based on her own experience. (Fri –Tue: MAC)
Unfriended: Dark Web (15)
Four years ago, Unfriended was, to the best of my knowledge, the first film to be told completely through a computer screen. Now, with social media having expanded massively, comes the sequel (with none of the original cast and ditching the supernatural aspect) in which, trying to build an app to help get back with his estranged deaf girlfriend (Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras), 20-something software developer Matias (Colin Woodell) comes into possession of a faster – and as it transpires – stolen laptop. However, while playing games settles online with his friends, he starts receiving messages intended for the previous owner and realises he’s got far more than he bargained on, not least a set of snuff videos of young women, drawing him into the murkier corners of the Internet as he and his friends become targets. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Based on (but with some glaring departures from the facts), this is the true story of how a baby elephant that escaped from Belfast Zoo during the 1941 blitz escaped from being shot by being hidden in someone’s backyard. Rather than the real Mrs Denise Austin (Penelope Wilton), who is reimaged as some dotty old spinster, here it’s a bunch of school kids, headed up by the wholly fictional Tom Hall (Art Parkinson), in charge of the animals at Bellevue Zoological Gardens while is vet dad us at war, who come to the rescue of Buster. Although not shown on screen, some 31 zoo animals were killed, partly because they couldn’t be fed while people were being rationed and partly lest they escape in the bombing and cause damage, but, being kiddie friendly, the film focuses instead on the plucky kids and the cute elephant, putting emphasis on comedy (cue Toby Jones as grumpy zoo gatekeeper) rather than tragedy, though not to the extent of totally ignoring the horrors brought by the war. (Fri 10-Wed 15: MAC)
Ant-Man And The Wasp (12A)
After all the darkness and angst that pervaded Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, positively zipping along, this breezy sequel comes as welcome light relief, peppered throughout by zingy, laugh out loud one-liners and gleeful humour, of which director Peyton Reed is a master, even if it does have a fair few dark moments of its own. Set immediately prior to the events of Infinity War, it explains the absence of ex-con turned superhero Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) aka Ant-Man, from that shebang on account of him being under house arrest in San Francisco for two years after his involvement with Captain America in Civil War. Instead, inbetween playing digital drums, he’s being a good divorced dad to his daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Forston), as his last few days of wearing the ankle tag come to a close. He’s not about to risk breaking curfew or doing anything that might land him with 20 years in jail. However, when he’s abducted by Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), who, now operating as the winged Wasp, arranges for an ant to wear his tracker instead, it seems he might not have any choice.
The film opens with a flashback detailing how the original Ant-Man, downsizing scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and the Wasp, his wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), are called on for a mission which ends up with Janet trapped forever within the sub-atomic Quantum Real. Flash forward 30 years as Lang has a dream of returning to the realm (from which he escaped in the first film) that, in transpires, was actually Janet literally getting into his head, thereby setting up the possibility of Hank and Hope, themselves on the run from the FBI, launching a rescue mission. Hence their need for Scott.
They just need an extra component to build the machine that will open the tunnel to the Quantum Realm. The problem being that black market technology traffiker Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), who has what they need, wants to get his hands on Pym’s lab (which he can conveniently shrink and carry around the like a portable suitcase) and so too does Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), who, the victim of a rogue S.H.I.E.L.D. lab accident, has the ability to phase through solid objects. Unfortunately, it’s killing her and the only way to survive is to make contact with Janet and syphon off her quantum lifeforce.
All of which, throwing Scott’s security firm partner Luis (Michael Peña, who steals the film with his truth serum scene), FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) and Pym’s former colleague Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), who was the original Goliath (cue size-comparing gag), into the mix, rollocks along with a constant stream of wonderfully silly size-changing action scenes (including one where the Wasp surfs a carving knife blade and knocks out a thug with an oversized salt cellar), smart-aleck quips (“Do you really just put the word quantum ahead of everything?”) and a sweetly hilarious moment when Rudd channels Pfeiffer.
This is Marvel in full on popcorn mode and you really do want to giant size bucket load of it, and, naturally, there’s the end-credit extras, a throwaway joke which isn’t really worth waiting for, and one which finally links things back to the Thanos plot. It puts the ant into fantastic. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The First Purge (15)
Despite having effectively shut down any likely future sequels with the last film, the cash cow continues to graze with this prequel explaining how it all began in the first place under the newly elected NRA—endorsed New Founding Fathers of America facist administration. Conceived as a sort of Stanford Prison-like experiment by psychologist Dr. May Updale (Marisa Tomei) and over seen by NFFA chief of staff, Arlo Sabian (Patch Darragh), the idea is use the self-contained borough of Staten Island, a predominantly poor Black community, as a human rat lab to see how people respond to a 12-hour period in which, motivated by getting paid to break the law (the more the mayhem, the more the payment), they are free to vent their anger and frustrations with no legal comebacks, so, from looting to murder, anything goes. If enough people participate, then the plan is to roll out The Purge on a national level.
A rather inevitable and decidedly perfunctory sidebar is that one drug lord sees it as an opportunity to remove another, while it will come as no surprise, especially for those who’ve seen the other films, to learn that it’s all part of a government plot to reduce overpopulation by culling the poor – and predominantly Black – working class. As such, the film wears it political intent with a distinct lack of subtlety as, when the residents, save for a scarred psychopath called Skeletor (Rotimi Paul) who makes the first kill, would rather party than pillage, Sabian sends in a bunch of mercenaries, racist cops, rabid neo-Nazis and the Klan among them, to give things a nudge and, in the end, embark on a block by block massacre.
Fighting back, there’s righteous dreadlocked African-American anti-Purge activist Nya (Lex Scott Davis) and her younger brother, Isaiah (Joivian Wade), the latter briefly signing up (and getting to wear those luminous contact lens cameras to record footage), partly as some misguided rites of passage and partly to revenge him on Skeletor for cutting him. Meanwhile on the other side of the Projects, there’s Nya’s ex, self-possessed calm under pressure drugs kingpin Dmitri (Y’lan Noel) and his crew get tooled up to fight to protect their neighbourhood. Only in a film where the authorities are the bad guys would a ruthless, cold blooded drug kingpin and murderer be the Ramboesque hero, spouting nonsense like “killing comes from our damaged hearts.”
Clearly looking to zone in on the Black Lives Matter movement as well as anti-Trump sentiments, this would like to think itself in the same socio-political playing field as Get Out, but it has none of the finesse or depth and just winds up a dystopian blaxploitation gangbanger B-movie. Once things kick in, there’s plenty of violence to paper over the thin political satire about modern America, but you can’t help but think that the financial incentive to participate in the Purge has rather more irony than intended. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Hotel Artemis (15)
A strong contender for the year’s worst film, it’s difficult to fathom what persuaded Jodie Foster to make this her return five years on from Elysium. It may have seemed like a good idea at the concept stage, a dystopian future thriller set in LA about an agoraphobic former trauma nurse with a haunted past running a secret hotel come hi-tech hospital (it even prints 3D organs) for criminals who’s faced with a moral dilemma, but that idea clearly got fatally mangled on the way to the screen, leaving an incoherent, uneven, slapdash mess in its place.
But then even the core idea is recycled, partly from John Wick Chapter 2 but more recently Scott Adkins’ video on demand B movie Accident Man about a hotel for assassins. Both of which were far superior to this trainwreck.
It’s set over the course of one night as, his younger brother Lev (Brian Tyree Henry) badly wounded in a failed bank heist during the riots over water shortages, allocated the names of their roomd, Waikiki and Honolulu, Sherman (Sterling K. Brown) takes refuge at Hotel Artemis, a boutique12th floor fortress managed by alcoholic and painkillers addict The Nurse (Foster) and her hulking assistant Everest (Dave Bautista). Also in residence are obnoxious arms dealer Acapulco (Charlie Day) and French female assassin Nice (Sofia Boutella), the former trying to come on to the latter (who has history with Waikiki) and who has engineered her admission in order to carry out a hit. That’ll be on LA crime lord the Wolf King (a cameoing Jeff Goldblum) who, wounded in the riots, is en route to the Artemis, which he actually owns, with his thugs where his deranged, insecure son Crosby (Zachary Quinto) is waiting. Oh and, yes, that pen Lev stole… its filled with liquid diamonds and belongs to guess who.
One of the Artemis rules is that it doesn’t allow in any authority figures, which places Nurse in a quandary when a local cop (Jenny Slate), a former neighbour who knew her late son (who reputedly died of a drugs overdose), turns up on the doorstep. Outside the world continues to go to hell, inside there’s all manner of tensions and secrets.
Directed in a blindfold by Drew Pearce whose screenplay is a litany of clichés, and with inept performances all round, nobody comes out of this well, but especially not Foster sporting prosthetics, old age make up and adopting a bizarre waddle that’s more likely to encourage titters than anything. It mesmerises in the same way as driving past a car crash, the audience as much a victim as the passengers. (Vue Star City)
Hotel Transylvania 3: A Monster Vacation (U)
The third instalment in the animated series lacks the wit of the original and the emotional notes of the sequel, but it does have more fart jokes. Opening with a sequence showing how Dracula (Adam Sandler) and his fellow monsters have been pursued through the ages by the Van Helsings, it cuts to the present where Drac’s daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) plans an ocean cruise to give dad a break from running the hotel. So, following a hairy flight aboard Gremlins airlines to the Bermuda Triangle, she, her human husband, Johnny (Andy Samberg), son, Dennis, Dracula, his dad (Mel Brooks) and the entire extended family, among them Frankenstein (Kevin James), werewolf Wayne (Steve Buscemi), mummy Murray (Keegan-Michael Key), the Blob and invisible man Griffin (David Spade), not to mention Dennis smuggling aboard his oversized dog, set off on the monster-packed voyage.
Not happy about having getaway break on a floating hotel, Dracula’s in a tetchy mood until, that is, he sees the ship’s glamourous human captain, Ericka (Kathryn Hahn), and is immediately smitten. She too seems to have eyes for him and his fellow monsters do their best to bring them together. But, little do they know that she’s the great-granddaughter of Van Helsing who , now part-man/part-machine, is using the voyage as part of his dastardly plan to eradicate all monsters for ever.
All of which plays out in a series of somewhat repetitive subplots and escapades (Frankenstein has a literal losing hand gambling problem, the werewolves manage to offload their pack of kids to chill out, Drac’s dad sports a mankini to seduce some witches) as they visit the assorted stop-offs before finally arriving at the lost city of Atlantis on which is hidden the device Van Helsing requires to complete his scheme. As such Dracula unknowingly avoids many attempts to kill him, Mavis gets suspicious and it all ends in a dance battle to, among others, the Macarena.
It rattles along with a rapid succession of slapstick, jokes and pop culture references, some of which work and others don’t, there’s a revisiting of the ‘bleh, bleh, bleh’ gag in the original and the animation is as sharp and angular (and fairly primitive) as before, but, unlike its predecessors, there’s no real emotional anchor even if it does once again trot out the messages about the importance of family, love triumphing over everything and tolerance and acceptance of people’s differences. Kids who loved the other two won’t be disappointed, but it’s probably time the franchise had a stake driven through it. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Incredibles 2 (PG)
It’s been 14 years since Pixar’s super-powered Parr family, Mr. Incredible, dad Bob (Craig T.Nelson), Elastigirl, wife Helen (Holly Hunter), daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell) and son Dash (Huck Milner) made their big screen debut, but any doubts that writer-director Brad Bird may have lost some of the mojo between times are immediately dispelled in an opening sequence as the family don their distinctive red uniforms and go into action to tackle returning villain the Underminer. He gets away but, even so, they save the city. The point, however, is that superheroing remains illegal.
But someone wants to change that. Super-rich Winston Deavour (Bob Odenkirk) runs DevTech along with his brilliant scientist sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) and, a long-time super-hero fan, is, as he explains to Bob, Helen and Lucius, aka Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) on a mission to have them legalised. To do so, he just needs a hero to front his campaign and prove how much the world needs supers. Naturally, Bob assumes he means him, but, in fact, it’s Helen the siblings want. So, persuaded that the times call for some righteous civil disobedience (or as Violet puts it, “Mom is going out illegally to explain why she shouldn’t be illegal?”), while she dons a new costume and mask, Bob has to stay home and look after the kids, including baby Jack-Jack who, he soon discovers, has myriad powers of his own, including teleportation, self-cloning, the ability to shoot lasers from his eyes and transforming into a tantrum-throwing, fire-casting demon when he doesn’t get his own way, or cookies.
So, while Helen’s off on her souped-up motorbike trying to track down and defeat the mysterious Screenslaver, a villain determined to liberate society from its love affair with simulation and virtual experience and discredit superheroes forever, Bob’s having to deal with his bruised ego and the minefield of being a stay at home dad which, aside from attempting to discover the extent of Jack-Jack’s powers and harness them (with the help of Bird as eccentric fashion designer Edna Mode), involves having to handle an understandably sulky Violet who’s discovered that he had a mindwipe carried out on her fledgling boyfriend to remove memory of her alter-ego, inadvertently removing his memory of her altogether.
Although the villain plot twist isn’t too hard to see coming, this never for a moment spoils the film’s sheer exhilaration or intelligence, be that hair-raising action sequences such as Elastigirl trying to stop a runaway train, chasing it on top of the train itself, or its meditations on unethical laws, parenting and gender equality. On top of which there’s also a whole bunch of new super-heroes eager to be legalised, including Reflux, who vomits lava, and Voyd, who idolises Helen, all of whom, along with Bob, Lucius and Helen, fall victim to Screenslaver’s mind control as Winston prepares for the Ambassador (Isabella Rossellini) to sign the legalisation legalising superheroes, setting up the scene for the kids to come to the rescue.
With non-stop thrills and goofy gags for the kids (especially Jack-Jack’s fight with a racoon) and in-jokes and political/parental arguments for the grown-ups, both a breathtaking, breathless family adventure and a Trump-inspired clarion call for right-on anarchy to take on a morally unjust authority (a sentiment surely shared with Captain America), this is, without reservation, the best superhero movie of the year. In Pixar tradition, it’s preceded by a short, Bao, another poignantly thoughtful family-themed film, about a Chinese-Canadian immigrant family and a dumpling that comes to life. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (12A)
The Jurassic World theme park abandoned and decayed after events in the previous movie, the surviving dinosaurs are now facing an endangered species extinction level event with the volcano on Isla Nubar threatening to blow its top. Advised by dino expert Ian Malcom (an unusually subdued Jeff Goldblum who bookends the film with his life finds a way message) to let nature takes its course, the American government declines to spend money on saving them. Which is when Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard, complete with in-joke about her absurd high heels in the last film), the park’s former manager turned pro-dino activist gets summoned to the palatial Lockwood estate where Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), right hand man to Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), John Hammond’s former partner in InGen and co-creator of the original genetically cloned dinos (though this is actually the first film the character’s ever mentioned), who explains they intend to rescue 11 of the species and relocate them to a new sanctuary. However, they need her help and that of her now ex-lover, raptor-wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), because of his special bond with Blue, the intelligent raptor he reared and trained. So, accompanied by dino vet Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) and nerdy T.Rex phobic systems analyst Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), off they go to, never for a moment thinking that all the military type guys with big guns might be a bad sign.
However, as the opening sequence involving an underwater mercenary team recovering a DNA sample from the now dead hybrid dino Indominus rex has already indicated, there’s another nefarious agenda in play. Yup, unbeknownst to Lockwood, Mills is planning to stage a lucrative animal trafficking auction (managed by Toby Jones) of the rescued species for others to clone, the main attraction being an Indoraptor, reengineered and weaponised (it can even open doors) by series returning geneticist Dr. Wu (B.D.Wong).
Left to die by the mercenaries’ leader, managing to escape the erupting volcano in one of the rolling glass spheres, Claire and Owen, and to a lesser extent Webb and Rodriguez, with, of course, a timely assist from Blue, now have to try and put a stop to this. All of which, after long stretches with no dinosaur action at all, the creatures mostly locked in cages and tranquilised, climaxes with assorted giant lizards running amok around the mansion, bodies being duly thrown through the air, stomped on or eaten. Introduced into the mix is also Lockwood’s dinosaur-loving young granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon), a startling reveal about whom is simply tossed away.
Directed by J.A. Bayona (who made A Monster Calls which gets a sly reference here), visually, what with volcanic eruptions, stampeding dinosaurs, a reworking of the first film’s hunter-prey stalking kitchen scene, this time amid a hall of Jurassic tableaux, it delivers the goods, the murky prologue even offering a Jaws homage to Spielberg. But, since you know none of the good guys are going to get killed off, there’s not a huge amount of tension or, indeed, awe to what is essentially staple disaster movie fodder with some box ticking social messages, while the only notable emotional note is poignant sight of a brachiosaurus, left behind at the jetty, roaring as its swaying neck is swallowed up by smoke and lava. Clearly confident there’s still a huge audience for its narratively preposterous and logically flawed paleothrills, it ends with the auctioned creatures being shipped off to their new owners and Blue surveying a sprawling urban landscape in what seems to be setting up a sort of Planet of the Dinosaurs third act. It might not offer much that’s new, but given its entertaining Rampage in a big house with dinosaurs popcorn fun, the series’ extinction at the box office is likely to be some way off yet. (Empire Great Park; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again! (U)
The first film a screen adaptation of the stage musical hit, this doesn’t have a similar source but, again built around ABBA songs (ones they didn’t get in the first film, like Waterloo and Adante Adante, and even some they did), directed this time by Ol Parker, it serves as both sequel and prequel. Set a year after the death of Donna (which, if that was 2017, would have made her around 53, meaning her daughter is in her late 30s), Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is, having transformed the old hotel with help from her manager, Fernando (Andy Garcia), about to reopen as the Bella Donna in her memory. Unfortunately, fiancé Sky (Dominic Cooper) can’t make it as he’s in New York where, learning the hotel trade, he’s been offered a permanent job, which may put an end to their relationship. Nor can two of her dads, Bill (Stellan Skargard) and Harry (Colin Firth), who have prior commitments. However, Sam (Pierce Brosnan, getting another, semi-spoken stab at SOS) is there, as are her mom’s old university friends and singing partners, Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters). However, when a storm breaks, meaning the other guests and media can’t get there, it looks like the big day will be a washout.
Parallel to this is the prequel narrative of how, in 1979, the young Donna (Lily James), having graduated from Oxford (to a rendition of When I Kissed the Teacher), sets off to find herself, winding up in Paris and then on the Greek island of Kalokairi and, in quick succession, encountering and sleeping with virginal Harry (Hugh Skinner), charmer Bill (Josh Dylan) and love of her life but, as it transpires, already engaged Sam (Jeremy Irvine), the results of which are made manifest nine months later. She’s also visited by the younger incarnations of Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn) and Rosie (Alexa Davies), the latter herself falling for Bill.
All of which sees the film shifting back in forth in time as the two storylines play out and the past resonates with the present, all to the accompaniment of the cast singing and dancing their way through an assortment of ABBA numbers (Benny even puts in a cameo as a café pianist) as it gathers to the launch night party (now attended by a flock of locals and the three men missing from Sophie’s life) and, of course, the suitably over the top unexpected arrival of her absentee celebrity grandmother, Ruby (Cher in a platinum wig), giving rise to yet another reunion of long parted lovers. And, despite Donna’s death, Meryl Streep still puts in an appearance as the film engineers a poignant christening scene between her and Sophie. She also part of the entire ensemble singalong coda of Supertrooper, though, as you would image, while the main cast deliver solid vocal performances (their charismatic younger counterparts can hold a tune but wisely, this time Brosnan, Firth and Skarsgard only sing in group numbers and they still can’t dance). it’s Cher who takes the vocal honours, the music lifting to a whole new level as she breaks out into a duet with Garcia on Fernando.
The casting of the characters’ younger selves is inspired, so much so that as scenes change it’s often only the clothes that indicate if you’re watching James or Seyfried. They, as with everyone, give superb warm and engaging performances, but plaudits are especially due to Keenan Wynn and Davies whose comic timing and banter is a highlight while Omid Djali makes for an amusing passport control officer and there’s a scene stealing moment from Maria Vacratis as the tough old bar owner who gives young Sam a piece of her mind. Massive exuberant fun and more moving than you might expect, how can you resist it! (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Mission: Impossible – Fallout (12A)
The only espionage action franchise that can stand alongside the recent Bond movies, now in its sixth outing, each successive entry has exceeded its predecessor. This doesn’t quite top Rogue Nation, but it’s undeniably every bit its equal. The plot picks up shortly after the previous film in which Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team exposed and dismantled the Syndicate, an organisation headed by rogue agent Solomon Lane (Sean Haris). However, while Lane is held prisoner, the remaining members have formed a new terrorists for hire organisation known as The Apostles. They plan to obtain three stolen plutonium devices to facilitate a plot by the mysterious zealot John Lark who intends to cause mass destruction to create a new world order and bring peace out of the suffering. It’s Hunt’s job to secure the plutonium but, in saving the lives of his team when the set up goes pear-shaped, they’re stolen away, leading icy CIA Director Erica Sloan (Angela Basset) to step in and put her best and most ruthless agent, August Walker (Henry Cavill), on the case to assist in their recovery, and eliminate Hunt if he doesn’t play ball.
The plot thickens with the entry of the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby), a philanthropist and nuclear arms broker who’s arranging a deal with Lark, and Hunt’s sometime romantic interest, MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) who has her own agenda involving Lane in all this and who bears a striking (and pointed) resemblance to Hunt’s former wife (Michelle Monaghan), who herself plays a part in the film’s revenge narrative and final nail-biting climax.
The first major action moment comes with a single shot skydive by Hunt and Walker over Paris and sets the template for a series of white knuckle sequences that variously embrace a motorbike chase round Paris, a three-way fight in a night club bathroom and, as a fitting finale, a helicopter chase and subsequent crash over the Himalayas followed by a mountain-side struggle.
Being an M:I film there are, of course, any number of misdirections and double or triple crosses with characters not being what or indeed who (given those face masks) they seem, the motives of rival factions clashing with Hunt’s mission to clean up his mess and the personal and moral choices between sides and duty that he’s sometimes forced to make.
Cruise, who famously broke his ankle in one of the stunts (and again he does all his own) is as charismatic a presence as ever, the film offering up some emotional back story notes along the way, but neither he nor writer-director Chris McQuarrie allow that to sideline the support cast of Ferguson, Cavill, Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames as team regulars Benji and Luther, or, getting a bigger role in the field this time round, Alec Baldwin as the head of the IMF.
Globe trotting between Belfast, Berlin, Paris, London (by way of St Pauls, Blackfriars Bridge and the Tate Modern) and Kashmire, building to a quite literal suspenseful last second on the countdown climax, it may play fast and loose with plausibility and the entangled complex narrative may load in one too many moments when things go wrong (actual or otherwise) than may be necessary, but when Sloane snipes that the IMF are a bunch of grown men in rubber masks playing trick or treat, she nails the film’s fulsome pleasures right on the head. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza Luxe, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Oceans 8 (12A)
As with the recent Ghostbusters, this is another gender reversal attempt to reboot a franchise, thankfully with rather more successful results. The kid sister of Danny Ocean (apparently deceased), after spending just over five years inside for fraud, Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) smooth talks herself into getting parole. However, no sooner is she back on the New York streets than she’s back into her felonious ways, conning herself a bagful of beauty products and a swanky hotel room. However, she has her sights set on rather bigger game, having spent her time in jail devising a foolproof plan to heist the world’s most valuable diamond necklace, the Toussaint, valued at $150million during the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual Met Gala.
For this she needs a crew, starting off with her old partner-in-crime, Lou (Cate Blanchett) and gradually recruiting fading fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham-Carter), a streetwise hacker and surveillance expert known as Nine Ball (Rhianna), Indian jewellery maker Amita (Mindy Kaling), suburban mom thief Tammy (Sarah Poulson) and slick sleight of hand street hustler Constance (Awkwafina). The plan, by initially seeming as though she’s going to be working with a hot celebrity (Dakota Fanning), is is to get Weil appointed to dress snobby socialite Daphne Kruger (Anne Hathaway) for the Gala, insisting that she wear the Toussaint. With Kruger as the unwitting mule, the necklace will then, via series of ingenuous meticulously planned moves, be switched from under the noses of the security team and replaced by a copy, broken up and smuggled out with each of them getting $16mill.
However, Debbie also has a second agenda, intending to set up her art gallery owner ex-boyfriend Claude Becker (Richard Armitage), engineering it so that he’s Daphne’s date for the Gala, as the fall-guy in revenge for him ratting her out to save his own skin over a scam that got her set down.
As with the previous instalments, the fun is primarily in the interplay between the cast and the ingenuity and split-second timing of the robbery, as well as a couple of unexpected twists and, of course, the flashbacks revealing how things were done. A bosoms buddy screwball comedy, it’s slick, stylish and smart with some sharp and snarky dialogue and perfect comic timing. Bullock, who at one point declares she’s not doing this for the money but as inspiration to any budding criminal eight-year-old girls, is every bit as good here as she was in Miss Congeniality, but the whole gang, and that includes Hathaway (who even gets an in-joke about herself), all of whom get their individual turn to shine as well as working as a perfectly synchronised team, are a charismatic delight to watch. On top of that James Corden turns up in a scene-stealing turn as an impish insurance-fraud investigator who has history with the Oceans while, in a nod to the franchise legacy, there’s cameos by both Elliot Gould as Reuben Tishkoff and Shaobo Qin as the acrobatic Yen as well as the likes of Kim Kardashian, Heidi Klum, Common, Serena Williams and Katie Holmes all appearing as themselves for the lavish Gala. Here’s to sequels 9 and 10. (Vue Star City)
Surprisingly something of a relative flop at the box office, even so Dwayne Johnson remains the current king of the blockbusters, a title once held by Bruce Willis, which is all rather ironic given that his latest is basically Die Hard meets Towering Inferno.
The prologue has Johnson’s FBI agent and negotiator Will Sawyer attempting to talk down a family hostage situation when the guy detonates a body bomb, leaving Sawyer some years later with a prosthetic leg, married to his medic, former combat-surgeon Sarah (Neve Campbell) and with two cute kids (McKenna Roberts, Noah Cottrell ). He now runs a one man company advising on security and, thanks to a former member of his squad, he lands the lucrative job of vetting the Pearl, the world’s tallest building, a state of the art 240-storey Hong Kong two-thirds of a mile high project by multi-millionaire developer Zhao (Chin Han) with, as per its name, a giant pearl-like globe at the top containing a virtual-reality space that you just know is going to become the stage for the final showdown.
Having duly confirmed the place is super-safe (though the scene in the trailer with Noah Taylor’s insurance exec questioning his skills is curiously absent), events inevitably set out to prove Sawyer wrong as a team of mercenaries led by ruthless Swedish psycho Kores Botha (Roland Møller) break into the basement, planning to set the place on fire in order to get their hands on something Zhao has locked away in a safe in his Penthouse fortress.
With another part of the team having obtained and hacked into the tablet storing Sawyer’s facial recognition, from which they can control the building’s function from the off-site control centre they’ve stormed, Botha duly shuts down the fire prevention systems, locks down the exits and sets the 96th floor ablaze.
Unfortunately, Sarah and the kids are trapped in the building, which means Will, subject of a poorly conceived manhunt by the Hong Kong cops, has to somehow get inside, rescue them and take out the bad guys, armed only with his prosthetic leg, a lot of duct tape and incredible finger-strength.
Those with an aversion to heights will finds the scenes of Sawyer climbing up a construction crane, leaping a 40-foot chasm, scaling the burning building and dangling precariously from a rope (all captured on the big screen by TV crews for the assembled cheering crowds) or Sarah carrying her son across a plank between two ends of a broken causeway while the fire blazes below hard to watch, but even those without acrophobia will find the stomach tightening as they chew their fingernails, regardless of the fact the characters will naturally survive.
Directed and written by Rawson Marshall Thurber, it’s a tad clunky on the dialogue and the double-crosses are signalled a mile-off while not only does the fire seem to defy all the laws of physics but the building also has the world’s most robust and fireproof sprinklers. But then logic and realism aren’t ingredients listed on the box as, gloriously idiotic and deliriously implausible to the extreme, the film simply gets on with delivering a thrillingly exciting , visually spectacular series of high rise stunts and the sort of sensitive but tough masculinity at which Johnson excels. There’s not a shred of originality in sight, but as family action movie entertainment goes, this is a total conflagration. (Vue Star City)
Teen Titans Go! To The Movies (PG)
The Cartoon Network TV series is very firmly pitched at the younger end of the superhero audience, but this metafiction big screen spin-off is sufficiently liberally laced with knowing in-jokes and humour to please those who’ve outgrown the fart and poop jokes that are in abundance here. As with the series, the character drawings are basic and the animation minimal, but the subversive wit is sharp enough.
The Teen Titans, for the unaware, are a younger version of DC’s Justice League, comprising transformer Beast Boy (Greg Cipes), Cyborg (Khary Payton), portal-manipulating Raven (Tara Strong), alien princess Starfire (Hynden Walch) and their leader, Batman’s boy wonder sidekick, Robin (Scott Menville). Nursing a wounded ego, he’s getting fed up of no-one taking them seriously, the reason, as Superman (voiced by Nicolas Cage in a wry reference to him almost playing the role in 1997) explains after they fail to stop Balloon Man, being that, unlike himself, Batman, Wonder Woman and even Green Lantern (though we don’t talk about that one) they don’t have their own movies. Indeed, sneaking into the premiere of the latest Batman, they discover that even his car and utility belt have forthcoming movies.
So, Robin resolves to get super-hero director Jade Wilson (Kristen Bell) to make one about him, er, them, but first, they need a nemesis to give them credibility. Enter Slade (Will Arnett), and a running joke about him being mistaken for Deadpool (buffs will know the latter was originally a spoof of Slade’s character Deathstroke) in a plot that variously involves the Titans travelling back in time to prevent the origins of their grown-up counterparts (including a pointed eco nod to plastic pollution of the oceans involving baby Aquaman), Robin abandoning his teammates for personal fame and a world control scheme almost identical to Incredibles 2. Not to mention any number of rap-rock musical numbers and throwaway sight gags such as Beast Boy transforming into Animal from The Muppets.
Rattling energetically along, wall to wall with superheroes, from the famous to the obscure and forgotten (that’ll be the Challengers of the Unknown) the film cheerfully sends up the whole DC Universe as well as cinema clichés such as singing as Upbeat Inspirational Story About Life while knowingly delivering message about friendship and how you don’t have to be super to be a hero. And, just for the cherry on the top, it may not be a Marvel movie, but it still has a Stan Lee cameo. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Screenings courtesy of Odeon and Cineworld
Cineworld 5 Ways – 181 Broad St, 0871 200 2000
Cineworld NEC – NEC 0871 200 2000
Cineworld Solihull – Mill Ln, Solihull 0871 200 2000
The Electric Cinema – 47–49 Station Street, 0121 643 7879
Empire – Great Park, Rubery, 0871 471 4714
Empire Sutton Coldfield – Maney Corner, Sutton Coldfield
0871 471 4714
The Everyman – The Mailbox 0871 906 9060
MAC – Cannon Hill Park 0121 446 3232
Mockingbird, Custard Factory 0121 224 7456.
Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007
Odeon Broadway Plaza Luxe – Ladywood Middleway, 0333 006 7777
Odeon West Bromwich – Cronehills Linkway, West Bromwich 0333 006 7777
Reel – Hagley Rd, Quinton Halesowen 0121 421 5316
Showcase Walsall – Bentley Mill Way, Walsall 0871 220 1000
Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240