Captain America: Civil War (12A)
The second super-hero smackdown in as many months, this makes Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice look like The Powderpuff Girls, taking the former’s concerns over the collateral damage resulting from battle between advanced beings and adding far greater depth (one that extends to the motivations of heroes and villains alike) as well as thoughtful reflection on whether the lives of the few outweigh the greater good.
Following a 1991 prologue involving a Russian division of Hydra turning Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) into the Winter Soldier and his subsequent attack on a car to steal its blue gel contents, things switch to Lagos where Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Sam Wilson aka The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and the Scarlet Witch, Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olson) are on a mission to take down Crossbones, who escaped at the end of The Winter Soldier. In the ensuing battle, several innocent bystanders are killed, prompting the US Secretary of State, Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) to declare the world, while thankful for what; they’ve done, has had enough of The Avengers acting off their own bat and the cost incurred in terms of loss of life and destruction. It’s proposed that they sign up to the Sokovia Accord, a resolution that will bring them under the jurisdiction of the United Nations, operating only on its say so. Weighed down by guilt over events in Age of Ultron, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) agrees they need regulation, a position supported by his War Machine associate, James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) while both Romanoff and Maximoff, though undecided, can see the logic of the argument. Rogers, however, is adamant they need to have the independence to act and refuses.
Battle lines are quickly drawn when an attack on the UN building during the Accord signing kills the King of Wakanda (whose citizens died in the Lagos incident), and footage implicates Barnes in the bombing. With orders given to use lethal force take him down, Captain America decides it’s his responsibility to get there first and bring him in. On the other hand, Wakanda’s Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), otherwise the Black Panther, armed with his indestructible vibranium suit and claws, is determined to avenge his father.
Suffice to say, things end up with Team Captain America, now joined by Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and a starstruck Scott Lang/Ant Man (Paul Rudd) pitched against Iron Man, War Machine, The Black Panther and The Vision (Paul Bettany), with Romanoff caught between divided loyalties. Stark also has another ally as the film sees Tom Holland make his bow as the new Spider-Man (along with Marisa Tomei as a decidedly younger Aunt May), kitted out by Stark and delivering a nice line in youthful enthusiasm and wisecracks.
Naturally, Barnes is innocent of the attack, having been framed by the film’s villain, Zemo (Daniel Bruhl), who’s casually introduced in the opening flashback which proves to have far reaching resonances for one of the major characters as the plot unfolds. As Bucky notes, “It always ends in a fight,” so there is, of course, loads of spectacular action, most notably the slug-fest at an airport that sees a decidedly big change in Lang’s powers, but the heart of the film lies in the emotional muscle it flexes as friendships and responsibilities are put under pressure. It even introduces a romantic interest for Rogers in the form of Peggy Carter’s CIA agent niece Sharon (Emily VanCamp) whose words “Compromise where you can. And where you can’t, don’t” finally make up his mind on the course of action needed.
If there’s a flaw it’s the need to repeat Barnes’s Hydra compliance programming to facilitate the course of the third act, but even that has a solid ultimate payoff. Packed with human drama and fully dimensional characters, though punctuated with smart quips, it’s a sober, serious affair that makes the two plus hours pass quickly (along, of course, the with post-credits sequence setting up future instalments) and leaves you hungry to see where things move to for The Avengers: Infinity War. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Following on from the Oscar-winning Dallas Buyer’s Club and Oscar nominated Reese Witherspoon starrer Wild, director Jean-Marc Vallée returns with yet another intense personal journey, this time in the company of a top of his game Jake Gyllenhaal. When his wife, Julia (Heather Lind), is killed in a car accident which he survived, successful Wall Street financier Davis Mitchell attempts to buy a pack of M&Ms from the hospital vending machine, only for it to get stuck. Informed he’ll have to contact the company direct, he duly does. Except, instead of the usual letter of complaint, he decides to unburden himself and, over the course of several letters, relate all the details about his wife, the marriage and how he feels he became dislocated from them and his own life, escaping into a structured regime that numbed his ability to relate or even summon up the emotion to cry after the funeral. Cursed with a brutal honesty, he finds himself confessing to a perfect stranger that he never really loved his wife.
Adopting the maxim that to fix things you first have to take them apart, Mitchell starts to deconstruct his life, quite literally, first dismantling the fridge he never got round to fixing and working his way up through an office toilet door, assorted appliances and computers to eventually taking a sledgehammer and bulldozer to his luxury home. Understandably, his father-in-law, Phil (Chris Cooper), who also happens to be his boss is first concerned, then frustrated and finally raging mad at Mitchell not acting in the way you’d expect someone who’s lost their wife, especially as he won’t sign a document to set up a trust fund in her memory.
To further complicate matters, Mitchell is surprised to actually be contacted by the vending machine company’s customer services, a one-woman department in the form of Karen (Naomi Watts), who, in their first phone conversation says, “Your letters made me cry. Do you have anyone to talk to?” Mitchell clearly feels he doesn’t, certainly not Phil or his wife (Polly Draper) and, sensing in him a common sadness, a relationship between the two gradually grows, Initially platonic, although she’s already involved with her boss, it gradually deepens, as does Mitchell’s bonding with her initially abrasive, classic rock -loving troubled teenage son, Chris (Judah Lewis),who’s confused about his sexual orientation, a plot strand that gives rise to one of the film’s funniest moments. There’s also another unexpected confession awaiting Mitchell that will force him to reassess his marriage even further.
A film about dealing with grief, emotional displacement and healing and the search for a catharsis that never comes, it’s a very slow burn that does require patience, But, punctuating the drama with offkilter moments of humour, and anchored by Gyllenhaal’s soulful performance as a man trying to fill the empty shell he’s become, and supported by a terrific turn from Lewis, it more than repays the effort. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Showcase Walsall)
Ratchet & Clank (PG)
Having begun life as a Playstation game, misfit mechanic Ratchet and sentient robot Clank now make their big screen debut in an animated origin story about how they met and came to become part the elite The Galactic Rangers (Ratchet having already been rejected once) when the Solana Galaxy comes under threat from evil alien Chairman Drek (voiced by Paul Giamatti). It’s the usual guff about heroism, friendship and discovering your true self, but it looks good, the duo are voiced by the original videogame actors, there’s the required knockabout comedy and it ticks all the necessary boxes, not to mention featuring a voice cameo by Sylvester Stallone. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
10 Cloverfield Lane (12A) A successor to 2008’s alien invasion found footage disaster blockbuster in name only (the setting is Louisiana not New York), director Dan Trachtenberg’s debut is a far more compelling and human affair. The scale’s different too. This is a three-hander chamber piece with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Howard (John Goodman) and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr) in a breezeblock bunker, sealed off from the outside world, which, according to survivalist Goodman, has been devastated in a mass chemical attack, from which he rescued Winstead after her car crashed (the last thing she remembers before she woke up chained) and brought her here. Outside, the air is, he says, unbreathable and they might be the last of humanity. That there’s no cell phone reception makes it difficult to be sure. Fortunately, he’s got in enough provisions to sit it out until it’s safe to leave.
However, while there seems to be evidence that what Howard claims is true (a couple of blistered dead pigs can be seen through the door’s small window along with a later jump shock) , it’s also possible, as Michelle begins to think, that, given his rants about Russia, North Korea, al-Qaeda, and aliens, he may be a paranoid, delusional conspiracy nut. Which, given his controlling behaviour and simmering rage, is why she feels she needs to escape. Whatever may be outside the door.
After Room, this is another claustrophobic piece, thick with an air of menace and psychological tension as Trachtenbergh ratchets up the pressure cooker to a point about which it would be unfair to say more. Suffice to say, compellingly filmed and featuring outstanding turns from both Winstead and a multi-layered, complex Goodman, it burns a slow fuse to a last act that is as unsettling as its is brief. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Star City)
Bastille Day (15)
Functional rather than inspired, The Woman In Black director James Watkins has a stab at a Hollywood action thriller with somewhat mixed results. When American pickpocket Michael Mason (Richard Madden) lifts a bag in in Paris, he removes the mobile phone and tosses the bag, A few seconds later there’s an enormous explosion killing four people. The bag contained a bomb that the girl, Zoe (Charlotte Le Bon), was supposed to have left at the Paris headquarters of the French Nationalist Party, but changed her mind. Now, his image captured on CCTV, Mason is being fingered as the chief terrorist suspect. To which end, to get to him before French Intelligence, “reckless, insubordinate and irresponsible” CIA agent Sean Briar (Idris Elba) sets out to bring him in.
Suffice to say, Mason convinces Briar he’s not a terrorist and is duly dragged along to track down Zoe before French intelligence boss Gamieux (Jose Garcia) manages to identify Mason . However, when the pair are attacked by a couple of heavily tooled men also looking for Zoe it swiftly transpires that the anti-terrorist cops are not what they would appear.
Without giving away too much of the credibility-challenged plot, the anti-terror squad are involved in a conspiracy (using hashtags of all things) to incite the crowd to rise up against the fascist cops, like they did back on the original Bastille Day, creating a diversion while they pull off their real agenda.
It’s nonsense, but it does have a certain style and Elba is a charismatic presence while, Mason’s sleight of hand tricks have a pleasing slickness. There is, naturally, the obligatory banter between the mismatched reluctant partners, the desk jockey boss who things Brier is barking up the wrong tree and the inevitable characters marked for death in the equally inevitable betrayal reveal. The action sequences are solid, especially the rooftops chase and a fight inside a speeding police wagon, ultimately delivering enough fun to overlook the contrivances it employs in the process. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (12A) Despite a somewhat messy plot that has to shoehorn in some backstory and teasers for the Justice League movies (cue cameos by The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg), this should more than satisfy the fans. Following a prologue detailing Man of Steel’s final battle between Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod, with Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) racing in from Gotham in time to see one of his buildings collapse, crushing the legs of an employee (Scoot McNairy), things fast forward 18 months and, while a hero many, others, Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) included, regard him as a potential super-powered alien threat. Wayne is one of those who reckons such power should not be allowed to go unchecked, while, over at the Daily Planet, Clark Kent is having concerns over Batman’s increasingly brutal vigilante actions in Gotham.
Someone else who’d like to see an end to Superman (for reasons that probably won’t be clear until; the extended cut DVD) is billionaire industrialist Lex Luther (Jesse Eisenberg) who’s got his hands on a chunk of kryptonite and persuaded the authorities to give him access to Zod’s downed ship. It’s his intention to turn the tide against Superman and to manoeuvre Batman into taking him down.
Directed by Zack Snyder, although sometimes hard to keep up with the narrative tangents, it basically sees a soulful Superman questioning if it’s possible to remain good in the face of evil and an obsessed Batman shedding any scruples about taking lives. Just as it takes a while to see the fully cowled and caped crusader, so the film holds back the appearance of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) until the final battle as Luthor unleashes his hybrid monster, Doomsday, on the world
Balancing the action with more intimate moments, including more sage wisdom from Martha Kent (Diane Lane) and a contrived ghostly Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner), Cavill again does sterling work as Superman while Affleck proves the best Batman this side of Christian Bale, and an even better Bruce Wayne. Gadot makes a suitably dramatic appearance while Jeremy Irons provides a world weary turn as Alfred and Amy Adams serves as the usual woman in peril Lois Lane. The fact that the big showdown fizzles out when both protagonists realise their mothers have the same name (had someone been listening to Rupert Holmes?) may induce more mirth than poignancy, while the already announced JLA roster rather undercuts The Force Awakens style shocker here, but, while it doesn’t scale the same heights as The Avengers: Age Of Ultron it’s definitely on the same playing field. (Cineworld NEC,; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
The Boy (15) Yet another in a long line of possessed doll horror movies, this sees Greta Evans (Lauren Cohan) bailing on a bad relationship by landing a job as nanny for a wealthy elderly couple at a remote English estate. However, she’s understandably taken aback to discover their 8-year-old ‘son’, Brahms, is actually a life-size porcelain doll. It seems their actual son died 20 years earlier in a fire following a girl’s murder in the woods, and the doll is their way of coping with the grief. Greta’s expected to care for it as if it were a real boy and given a whole list of rules (never cover his face, never go in the attic, etc) she’s told she must, under no circumstances, break. At which point the pair take off, leaving her alone with the doll save for occasional visits from Malcolm (Rupert Evans), who delivers the groceries. Naturally, Greta reckons the rules are ridiculous and quickly dispenses with them. Which is when strange things start to happen. Like the doll inexplicably moving from where she left it.
It’s a well worn premise and plays out the scenario with all the usual bells and whistles, including strange noises, windows that don’t open, vermin infestations and dream sequences. So, is Greta going nuts or is it all for Chucky real? Effective enough as creepy goes, but the last act twist (a touch of Phantom of the Opera perhaps) is less of a surprise than it thinks and makes what’s gone before even more implausible. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC; Vue Star City)
Court (PG) When a sewerage worker’s body is found inside a manhole in Mumbai, ann ageing folk singer is tried with abetting suicide. In that he’s accused of performing an inflammatory song which might have incited the worker to kill himself. As the trial unfolds, the personal lives of the lawyers and the judge involved in the case are observed outside the court (Tue-Thu: MAC)
Criminal (15) Ryan Reynolds is Bill Pope, a CIA operative on a mission in London to track down a dangerous hacker. He’s tortured and left for dead by thugs working for a Spanish anarchist industrialist. However, he was in possession of some important data that his bosses, headed up by London bureau chief Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman), need to get their hands on.
So, with the help of a maverick neurosurgeon (Tommy Lee-Jones), Pope’s memories are transplanted into Jerico (Kevin Costner), a murderous psychopathic hillbilly currently on Death Row. Jerico has, thanks to a childhood head injury, no sense of empathy, so, as you would assume, once he inevitably escapes (after he’s earmarked for death when he fails to deliver the information) he starts to find Pope’s presence in his mind causing him to act irrationally, especially when he meets his mental-partner’s widow (Gal Gadot) and finds himself feeling an unexpected sense of protectiveness to her and her daughter.
An obvious Bourne knock-off, it’s not especially great, but it does what it says on the tin, offering the requisite amount of action, emoting and overacting with Costner in cracking growly form. (Cineworld NEC; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Vue Star City)
Dheepan (15) Director Jacques Audiard’s much acclaimed feature concerns a Tamil Tiger freedom fighter, who, as Civil War in Sri Lanka is reaching its end, with defeat near, decides to flee, taking with him a woman and a little girl in the hope they will make it easier for him to claim asylum in Europe. Arriving in Paris, the ‘family’ moves from one temporary home to another until Dheepan finds work as the caretaker of a run-down housing block in the suburbs. Working to build a new life and a real home for his ‘wife’ and his ‘daughter’, the daily violence he confronts quickly reopens his war wounds, and Dheepan is forced to reconnect with his warrior’s instincts to protect the his new family. (Until Wed: MAC)
The Divergent Series: Allegiant (12A) The first of the two part conclusion to the post-apocalyptic saga has proven a box office washout as it picks up events following the end of Insurgent, wherein Tris (Shailene Woodley) overcame Jeanine, opening the box to reveal that Chicago and the Factions system had been an experiment devised by a group beyond the wall and of which the Divergents were the successful result. So, she, brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), action man boyfriend Four (Theo James), ever unreliable Peter (Miles Teller) and underused token black buddy Christina (Zoe Kravitz) escape over the wall and head out into the devastated toxic world beyond. Here they’re picked up by forces working for David (Jeff Daniel), who heads The Bureau of Genetic Welfare which originally established the population of Chicago and has been monitoring it, and Tris especially, in an experiment to cure the ‘damaged’ and make them ‘pure’. Naturally, there’s more to this than meets the eye, as the storyline wends its laborious way to inciting a civil war between Four’s rebel leader mother Evelyn (Naomi Watts), and her followers and the Allegiant forces. All of which also involves some sort of memory wiping serum.
Saddled with contrived exposition and long stretches of dialogue, pretty much nothing happens until the final stretch, by which time the uneven CGI, plodding plot and the fact that Tris gets less interesting with each instalment may have you wishing you too could be affected by the serum, so you’d mercifully forget this and the fact there’s still one more to go before it’s all over. (Vue Star City)
Eddie the Eagle (PG) The British love an underdog makes good story and, in 1988, there was no bigger underdog than Michael Edwards, the first competitor to represent Great Britain in Olympic ski jumping. He came last in both the 70m and 90m events (though he did set a new British record), but became internationally famous as a heroic failure and his perseverance in the face of the hostility of the British Olympic Committee, who saw him as an embarrassment.
Now, directed by Dexter Fletcher and starring Taron Egerton with Hugh Jackman as Eddie’s fictional coach, Bronson Peary, a former ski jump champion with a drink problem and in need of redemption, his story is the feelgood movie of the year.
Charting young Eddie’s early failed Olympian ambitions (much to the irritation of his builder dad, Keith Allen), it follows his rejection as a skier by the establishment (Tim McInnery as snooty British Olympics executive Dustin Target) and his decision to switch to ski jumping, since there were no other British participants for selection. Self-training in Germany, much to the disparagement of pretty much every other skier, he seems destined for further failure until his refusal to give up eventually persuades Peary to become his coach. With all the odds against him, he eventually heads to Calgary and the 1988 Winter Olympics to prove he can truly fly.
Warm, funny and inspirational, with Jo Hartley as Eddie’s supportive mom, Christopher Walken as Peary’s grouchy former coach Warren Sharp, and driven by an irresistible open-hearted performance by Egerton and a nicely tuned comedic turn from Jackman, this soars on wings of sheer joy. (Cineworld NEC; Empire Great Park; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Eye In The Sky (12A) Directed by Gavin Hood, this is basically a UK answer to Andrew Niccol’s drone debate thriller Good Kill, here with Helen Mirren’s Col. Powell overseeing an operation to capture an Englishwoman who’s joined up with Al-Shabaab terrorists and who, intelligence reveals,. Is having a meeting at a safe house in a Nairobi neighbourhood, However, when high-tech surveillance courtesy of a Somali agent (Barkhad Abdi) reveals the group preparing to carry out a couple of suicide-bomb attacks, Powell contacts her superior, Lt. Gen. Benson (Alan Rickman) and requests the mission be changed from capture to kill.
This is to be carried out using a US military drone operated by Steve Watts (Aaron Paul). However, when a young girl sets up a stall selling bread in the kill zone, he insists the mission demands clarification. And so the film devolves into an argument as to whether the loss of one civilian justifies potentially saving the lives of countless others. Meanwhile, as the politicians dither, the window of opportunity is slowly closing. Taut and claustrophobic, it juxtaposes serious moral issues with dashes of incongruous humour (the British Foreign Secretary with an upset stomach and the US Secretary of State playing ping-pong with the Chinese) while underlining the use of sanitised evasive language about prosecuting the target and collateral damage. With a solid performance from Mirren and an even better one from Rickman in his last film, it may adopt familiar clichés, but it ultimately subverts these to leave you with more questions than answers. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Fifty Shades of Black (15) A hit and mostly miss parody of Fifty Shades of Grey with Marlon Wayans as super rich Christian Black and Kali Hawk as the impressionable virgin who gets lured into his web and world. Jokes about hairy legs and premature ejaculation pretty much define the level of hilarity in a film that tries to wring humour out of rape gags and that classic chestnut about a bloke getting something stuck up his arse. Naturally, there’s Bill Cosby reference too. Mildly inspired touches like a spoof of Magic Mike are eclipsed by such groan-inducing scenes as Jane Seymour (playing Black’s mother) imitating talking Chinese to her adopted daughter, not realising she’s actually Korean. (Vue Star City)
Friend Request (15)
The latest in the new social network horror genre, this one places Facebook centre stage. Having taken pity on college loner misfit Marina and becoming her only Facebook friend, when her neediness turns into obsession, popular classmate Laura (Alycia Debnam Carey) unfriends her. Resulting in Marina committing suicide,. That, inevitably, is not the end of it as Laura and her friends start getting a flood of posts from Marina’s account and find themselves unable to remove the feeds. Naturally, the hate campaign from beyond the grave doesn’t stop there and, as per the genre, Laura’s mates find themselves not only subjected to an assortment of psychological and physical assaults via the likes of insects and mirrors, but also start winding up dead. In obligatory violent ways. Other than the medium, there’s nothing new here and the predictably useless cops were probably not a good idea, but if all you’re looking for is impressive visuals and a steady stream of boo moments, you might want to log on. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Hardcore Henry (18) One for first-person shooter gamers only, the conceit being that the entire film is shown from the perspective of the titular character, a cybernetic super-soldier (reconstructed RoboCop style from his mangled body in an airborne Moscow lab), who sets out to discover who he is, or was, and, under the direction of a multi-guised manic guide (Sharlto Copley) rescue the equally robotically enhanced Estelle (Haley Bennett), who says she’s his wife, from the clutches of albino super-villain Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) who, rather inevitably, has some sort of plan to destroy the world. Unfolding at hyper-kinetic pace and with female characters straight out of extreme macho fantasies, this doesn’t have two brain cells to rub together and create a spark of intellect, but, if all you want is a cyberpunk visual rush with lots of ultra-violence, essentially committed by you, then plug in and prepare for the migraine. (Cineworld NEC; Vue Star City)
High-Rise (15) Director Ben Wheatley follows up Kill List, Sightseers and A Field in England with an adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s dystopian tale of life in a modern tower block running out of control, a story inspired by the brutalist towerblocks of post-war urban planning as experiments in social engineering. Set in the 70s, Tom Hiddleston is Robert Laing, an ambitious young doctor who moves into a small apartment on the 25th floor and soon discovers the building is something of a class divide.
The lower floors are populated by the likes of Wilder (Luke Evans), a sexual predator documentary filmmaker, and his pregnant wife (Elizabeth Moss) and kids while the upper storeys are home to more privileged residents, like gynaecologist Pangbourne (James Purefoy) and single mother Charlotte (Sienna Miller), with notorious sybaritic parties which Laing is all too happy to attend.
Then, hundreds of feet above them, is the building’s architect, Royal (Jeremy Irons) and his snotty aristocratic wife, Ann (Keeley Hawes) who have not so much a rooftop garden as palatial landscaped grounds, complete with a horse. Rather inevitably, the place seethes with a volatile cocktail of sex, alcohol, resentment and, especially for the lower orders, violent upwards mobility as the laws of the jungle gradually take hold and, sparked by a power outage and swimming pool incident, the social order starts to fall apart along with the building’s amenities and fabric in an orgy of destruction and rubbish.
Opening in the midst of the chaos before flashing back to the causes, it looks terrific, marries dark humour and potent violence and both Hiddleston and Irons are mesmerising. As an allegory of the collapse of society into savagery, there is a rather more style than substance, but it’s never less than compelling. (MAC)
The Huntsman: Winter’s War (12A) Both a prequel and a sequel to Snow White and Huntsman, Snow herself has been dismissed from the story as being unwell, but Chris Hemsworth’s back as the hunky if oddly Scottish-accented Eric who, as we learn in the prologue, was abducted from his family, along with other children, by Queen Freya (Emily Blunt), the younger sister of Ravenna (Charlize Theron), the evil queen despatched in the first film. She was once all nice, but turned into a literal ice queen when her baby was apparently burned to death by her lover, leading her to take off and form her own frozen kingdom, raising an army of Huntsmen forbidden to ever fall in love.
As one of them, Eric grows up to become her best, alongside deadly archer Sara (Jessica Chastain), helping her conquer all the territories up north, only for the pair to break the rules and secretly get wed. Well, not that secretly, Freya having Sara killed before Eric’s eyes and him tossed into a river.
So, on to the sequel. Seven years later, the magic mirror, containing Ravenna’s essence, has gone missing while being transported to somewhere called Sanctuary and Eric’s enlisted to find it and ensure it gets there. So, off he sets, accompanied by a couple of comic sidekick dwarves, Nion (Nick Frost) and Gryff (Rob Brydon). They’re subsequently joined by two female dwarves, Doreena (Alexandra Roach) and Mrs. Bromwyn (Sheridan Smith), allowing for yet more bickering banter as the four hurls insults at each other. Along the way, Eric’s also reunited with Sara, who turns out not to be dead after all, but who thinks he ran out on her.
Eventually tracking the stolen mirror to a goblin infested forest, they recover it only to have Freya arrive and, in another turnabout of events, make off with it, apparently leaving Eric for dead. This is about halfway in, and the actual thrust of the sequel still hasn’t kicked off. That comes when Freya resurrects her sister, expecting them to work together to conquer the remaining lands, only to find Ravenna isn’t about to take orders from anyone. Meanwhile, Eric (not dead, surprise), Gryff and Mrs. B are sneaking into Freya’s castle to try and put an end to things once and for all.
Padded out, it’s an uneven, at times overly busy affair, the middle-section only there only to justify a battle with the Goblin King. The visual effects are impressive, there’s some fascinating background detail and the action sequences with Hemsworth and Chastain are well handled. However, when a fabulously wicked Theron isn’t devouring things wholesale, it’s the dwarves (Smith especially) who steal the film. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Empire Great Park; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Jane Got A Gun (15)
The latest in the recent line of revisionist Westerns puts a vaguely feminist spin on the genre as Jane Hammond (Natalie Portman) determines to take on the gang of ruthless outlaws, headed up by the urbane John Bishop (an unrecognisable Ewan McGregor), who have put a few bullets into her husband Bill (Noah Emmerich), and are intent on finishing the job. To do this, she seeks the help of Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton) who, as her embittered former fiancé (she got fed up of waiting for him to come back from the Civil War), is perhaps understandably reluctant to do so. Nevertheless, old feelings duly rule and turns up in time to save Jane from one of the gang before booby-trapping the approach to the cabin for when the gang turn up.
Punctuated by a series of flashbacks detailing Jane’s story with both Frost and Hammond, and explaining why Bishop’s out for revenge, it’s a little jerky in the telling, but even so, with Edgerton swinging between grouchy and soulful and Portman making Jane someone who, while not the best shot over a distance, is formidable up close, fans of the genre should not be disappointed. (Vue Star City)
The Jungle Book (PG)
Directed by Jon Favreau, Disney delivers a visually spectacular live action version of their iconic 1967 animation. Featuring impressive newcomer Neel Sethi as pretty much the only human on screen, it combines Kipling’s original book (the Water Truce appears here) with much-loved elements from the animation, including Baloo – voiced by Bill Murray –singing The Bare Necessities and, splendidly voiced by Christopher Walken, King Louie, here the last surviving Gigantopithecus, bringing a sense of menace to I Wanna Be Like You. The story, should you need reminding, tells how, having been found in the jungle by Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), the panther, and raised by wolves Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o), the animals have to keep Mowgli safe from the one-eyed human-hating tiger, Shere-Khan (Idris Elba), and python Kaa (a brief but memorable and chilling turn by Scarlett Johannson) and return him to the human world.
Jumping straight in with its mix of tension and action as Mowgli, racing through the jungle canopy, initially appears to be trying to outrun a wolf pack intent on bringing him down, the film combines humour, emotional clout and scares (some of the scenes centred around King Louie may be a bit intense for younger eyes) in equal measure.
Sethi makes for a winning screen presence, but there’s no getting away from the fact that the scene stealers here are a magnificently laid back Bill Murray as a slacker Baloo and Walken’s raspy-voiced, mafioso-like King Louie who wants the man-cub to give him the secret of man’s red flower. They, like the other talking animals are so incredibly photorealistic you’d swear they were flesh and blood, Shere-Khan being a particular triumph of detail. Likewise the digital creation of the lush jungle is breathtaking, all the more given the whole film was shot inside a building in Los Angeles.
If you’re being picky, then some of the contemporary dialogue (“you’re kidding, right”, says Mowgli) doesn’t gel with the setting, but that’s a very minor niggle in a very terrific film. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch, Star City)
Kung Fu Panda 3 (PG) The third outing for the fat and furry martial arts master offers a perfect conclusion to the saga, the culmination of the journey that Po (Jack Black) began in the first film when Master Ooglay proclaimed him the Dragon Warrior of prophecy. Now it’s time to really fulfil that destiny as Kai (J.K. Simmons), a blade-wielding yak, escapes from the Spirit Realm having stolen the life chi of all its kung fu masters, returning to the world of mortals to mop up the rest
Po, meanwhile, has his own problems, having being appointed teacher to replace the retiring Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), a task neither Po nor the Furious Five reckon he’s up to. Then, who should reappear but Po’s long lost father, Li (Bryan Cranston). Rejoicing’s cut short, however, when Kai’s jade zombies to attack the village and Po has to return with his father to the secret Panda village and master his own chi if he has any chance of defeating Kai. The plot pretty much follows a similar path to the first film, and again delivers a message about discovering who you truly are and believing in yourself. Terrifically animated, Black, as ever, superbly brings Po to life with all his insecurities and vanities A fitting end to Po’s journey to enlightenment, let’s not, ahem, panda to the box office and set him off on another (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Vue Star City)
London Has Fallen (15) London’s historic landmarks get blown up, a lot of people get killed, quite a few of them by Gerald Butler. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. In London for the PM’s funeral, pretty much all the world’s heads of state get assassinated by an army of terrorists working for a vengeance-seeking Pakistani arms dealer who plans to execute President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) live on global TV. Well, not if his apparently indestructible personal bodyguard Mike Banning (Butler) has anything to do with it. A follow-up to Olympus Has Fallen, it has little truck with anything resembling three dimensional characters or logic (how come no one in charge notices the entire London police force seems to have been replaced by terrorists) while the likes of Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, Robert Forster and Jackie Earle Haley stand around looking shocked and saying things like ‘oh, my God’. To be fair, it cracks along and there’s a particularly good chase scene through the capital, but, while he does give good tough guy, this is no Die Hard and Butler’s no Bruce. (Showcase Walsall)
The Man Who Knew Infinity (12A)
Writer-director Matthew Brown’s biopic of Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar, a name that will mean bugger all to the vast majority, but make the pulses of mathematicians beat faster. Growing up poor in Madras, self-taught he earned a place at Cambridge in 1914 and, under the guidance of his professor, G.H. Hardy, became a pioneer in mathematical theories, something to do with the negative values of the gamma function, apparently, which he said came to him from God. Not as sexy a story as that of fellow troubled mathematicians Alan Turing or John Nash, it’s still an earnest and absorbing maths bromance with Dev Patal as Ramanujan and, on a bit of renaissance at present, Jeremy Irons as the martinet atheist Hardy, alongside a brief Stephen Fry cameo as civil engineer Sir Francis Spring and Toby Jones and Jeremy Northam as Hardy’s fellow Dons, John Littlewood and Bertrand Russell, respectively. (Vue Star City)
The Messenger (U) Documentary chronicling the struggle of songbirds worldwide to survive in turbulent environmental conditions brought about by humans and arguing that their demise could cause global ecosystems to crash. (Sun: MAC)
Miles Ahead (15)
In 1974, jazz trumpet legend Miles Davis effectively retired from music, not releasing any new material until 1981. Making his directorial debut as well as starring, Don Cheadle’s fictionalised biopic picks things up ahead of Davis’ re-emergence, pivoting the story around a couple of days in the company of Scottish journalist Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor), who turns up at the musician’s home claiming he’s been by assigned to write up his comeback for Rolling Stone.
Based around the Maguffin of the theft of a tape of new recordings by an opportunistic smarmy producer looking to leverage an opening for his trumpet protégé, the film flits back and forth in time for an impressionistic look at what led to Davis dropping out (a combination of cocaine, domestic abuse and the falling apart of his marriage to muse and first wife Frances Taylor, whose face adorned the cover of 1961’s Someday My Prince Will Come) and his difficult relationship with his own mythology.
Riffing facts (Davis’s infamous racially motivated 1959 arrest outside New York’s Birdland nightclub) and fiction (a car chase and some gunplay), drama and dark comedy, it’s an erratic affair as unpredictable as some of Davis’s music, but, whether as the slick suited Miles of the late 50s or the frizzed afro-sporting version of the 70s, Cheadle is a hypnotic presence, superbly capturing his characters mix of paranoia, arrogance, self-loathing and vulnerability and, steeped in the man’s music, while it’s hardly a conventional biopic, as Miles tells Braden in the film’s opening scene, “If you’re gonna tell a story, come with some attitude”, Cheadle brings plenty. (Cineworld 5 Ways; Vue Star City)
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (12A) Fourteen years on, writer/star Nina Vardalos gets the cast back together for a sequel. Now married (albeit with the spark faded) to non-Greek Ian (John Corbett), Toula turned into a clingy mom having to deal with acerbic 17-year-old daughter, Paris (Elena Kampouris), who reckons mom and dad are just as controlling and embarrassing as Toula found her own parents (Michael Constantine, Lainie Kazan). And it’s Gus and Maria who provide the latest titular nuptials after its discovered that their marriage licence was never validated before they left Greece. Gus wants to put matters straight as soon as possible, but Maria reckons this is a good time, after 50 years, to reconsider her options.
None of which is played out with anything resembling subtlety (Kazan, as ever, gives a performance even larger than her hair do), or, indeed many big laughs. The Greek gags having been largely exhausted first time round, Vardalos seems to be casting round for inspiration, leading to someone coming out of the closet and the arrival of a long lost family member so the episodic script can throw in some sitcom clichés, none of which is much helped by the flat direction. Vardolos is still an engagingly warm character, but whatever the title may say, this is thin stuff. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Vue Redditch)
Purple Rain (15) A one day revival of the classic – if bombastic – debut feature by the late Prince. (Thu:Electric)
Zootropolis (U) Already the prime contender for next year’s best animated feature, Disney’s allegorical tale about prejudice, tolerance, stereotyping and following your dreams offers plenty of food for thought for audiences young and old to chew over while being treated to an entertaining feast for the eyes and emotions.
Predators and prey now living together in harmony, regardless of species and classifications, perky Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) aspires to become the first bunny cop in Zootropolis, the titular city with its four climate-based hubs, ruled over by preening Mayor Lionheart (J.K.Simmons). However, despite coming all obstacles to pass first of her academy, buffalo Police Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) consigns Judy to parking meter duty and its only through the fortuitous appearance at the station of the Mayor’s sheepish assistant Bellwether (Judy Slate) reminding him of her boss’s mammal-inclusion initiative, that she’s given the job of investigating the disappearance of Mr. Ottetton, one of several predators that have gone missing. With only 48 hours to crack the case of reign, she ‘enlists’ the help of Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a laid-back con artist fox with whom she had an earlier run in. Together, and with a little help from Mr. Big, the shrew Godfather of Zootropolis, they uncover a dark conspiracy causing predators to revert to their original savage nature. Brilliantly animated, it marries its noir moods and police procedural narrative with sharp humour, most memorably so in Judy’s visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles staffed by sloths. Perfectly voiced, Judy and Nick make for a classic mismatched buddy cop teaming and their shared further adventures as the Starsky and Rabbit Hutch of the animal world are something to be eagerly anticipated. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Redditch)
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
Odeon Birmingham -Birmingham, 0871 224 4007
Odeon Broadway Plaza – 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 Redditch – Kingfisher Centre, Redditch 08712 240 240
Vue Star City – Watson Road, 08712 240 240