Clocking in at a concise 106 mins, his shortest feature since 69 minute debut Following, Christopher Nolan has executed a technical if not necessarily emotional triumph in his account of the evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk in 1940 with the help of a flotilla of small privately owned vessels, dubbed Operation Dynamo, following their collapse under the German offensive.
Essentially, this is more about the operation itself, and splitting the narrative into three interconnected stories (and, indeed, time frames), on land, sea and air, means there’s only limited engagement with any of the characters involved. Unfolding over the course of a week, we’re first introduced to one of the soldiers, the generically named teenage Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) as he narrowly escapes German bullets (in a departure from the usual war films, the enemy are never seen other than in the aircraft and two blurry figures in the final scene) to make it to the beach where the British Expeditionary Force troops (some 400,000 in all) are awaiting a miracle, the film casually but pointedly making the point about how the British were willing to leave the French soldiers to look after themselves. Hooking up with another soldier (Aneurin Barnard), they initially manage to get aboard a rescue ship berthed at the Mole (the pier) by stretchering a wounded soldier, only for the ship to be sunk, leaving them back where they started.
Very much evoking 40s wartime features, the sea section, which takes place over one day, begins back in England with the Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), a local civilian skipper, his teenage son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and, seeking to prove himself, his enthusiastic schoolfriend George (Barry Keoghan) setting sail for Dunkirk to help with the rescue. En route they rescue an unnamed shellshocked sailor (Cillian Murphy) from the wreck of his torpedoed ship, his reluctance to return to Dunkirk setting up a subsequent tragedy.
The air section, which covers just one hour, involves two Spitfire pilots (Tom Hardy, Jack Lowden) as. mostly behind oxygen masks, they take on the Messerschmitts and Heinkels wreaking havoc on the troops and ships, the three time scales coming together for the final moments as Dawson’s boat heads towards a bombed minesweeper while Tommy and fellow soldier (singer Harry Styles acquitting himself well) flounder in the sea after their appropriated trawler, strafed by the unseen enemy as target practice, sinks.
Rounding out the cast, Kenneth Branagh gives a quietly impressive performance as the highest-ranking naval offer at the scene, while James D’Arcy is his opposite number in the Army
As ever, making very effective use of sound design, especially in the opening gunshot moments, and keeping the dialogue sparse and to the point, Nolan delivers massive spectacle (no less than three ships sink, spewing survivors into the waves) but without ever feeling the need to offer the visceral graphics of a Saving Private Ryan (indeed, there’s almost no blood to be seen), tightly winding up the tension which, even if it circumvents the heart, has a firm grip on the nerves.
Save for the more conventional ration of the Dawson scenes, the film is shot in 70mm which, should you be fortunate to have a cinema capable of screening it as such, gives the film an extra sense of immersion and depth, but whatever the format, this is the work of a master, if perhaps slightly clinical, filmmaker and stunning stuff. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
All Eyez On Me (15)
On September 13, 1996, aged 25, Tupac Shakur, actor and a rap superstar, was gunned down in his car while waiting at an intersection. His killers have never been found and his story has already been told in numerous documentaries, most notably Nick Broomfield’s Biggie & Tupac which charted the friend to feud relationship with Biggie Smalls, himself gunned down.
He’s also figured in assorted rapper biopics, among them The Notorious B.I.G and, more recently, Straight Outta Compton, F Gary Gray’s film about N.W.A. He now gets his own, named after his fourth album, directed by Benny Boom and starring convincing lookalike Demetrius Shipp Jr. But, despite a solid lead performance, Boom is no Gray and this is no Compton.
Much is clunkily recounted through flashbacks during a 1995 TV interview while he’s doing time after being convicted of the illegal touching of a woman who claimed he and members of his entourage raped her, essentially serving up a wedge of exposition that begins with his East Harlem childhood, the son of Black Panther activist Afeni Shakur (Danai Gurira), her fellow activist Mutulu Shakur (Jamie Hector) being his stepfather. A series of further flashbacks take us through his growing up, his distancing from his mother as she descends into drug addition, his platonic Baltimore School of friendship with Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham) , his initial exploration of rap poetry, his emergence onto the scene via the Digital Underground and his breakthrough with 2Pacalypse Now.
It’s all rather rote in both the way it unfolds and is told, charting his ascendency to the superstar ranks, his embracing of the hedonistic lifestyle that goes with the territory, his ill-advised signing with Suge Knight (Dominic L. Santana) after his release from prison and the feuds with Biggy (Jamal Woolard, who also played the character in Notorious) and Snoop Dogg (Jarrett Ellis).
But, given the huge amount he packed into a short life, the film ends up feeling just like a series of visual sound bites, checking off assorted incidents and episodes (and missing out a fair few too, like his first prison sentence and marriage), while ensuring to keep the hagiography glowing even while acknowledging Tupac’s more negative traits, not least a somewhat combustible temper. The recreations of the videos and live shows are first rate and a soundtrack that rolls out such hits as Hit Em Up ,Who Shot Ya? and the crossover breakthrough California Love ensures its always pumped, but, while it may be true, it’s a familiar and much told story, but messily, sketchily and uninspiringly delivered here with little of the passion or insight it needs and deserves. (Odeon Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Alone in Berlin (12A)
When their son, a German soldier, was killed fighting in France, his father, Otto Hampel, a factory foreman, took to writing anonymous postcards calling for the downfall of Hitler’s regime, bearing such messages as Mother! The Führer has murdered my son! and Hitler’s war is the worker’s death! and, with the help of his wife, Elise, depositing them around Berlin. They placed around 250 before they were caught and executed, their story told in Hans Fallada’s 1947 novel, Every Man Dies Alone, albeit the pair being renamed Otto and Anna Quangel.
The courageous small scale resistance against the Nazis has now been adapted in an equally small scale feature directed, in English, by Vincent Perez and starring Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson adopting unconvincing German accents as the dour bereaved parents with Daniel Bruhl as Escherich, the police inspector charged with tracking down the culprits. It’s an undeniably compelling story, but the telling is rather less so. Gleeson and Thompson both deliver understated, modulated performances that rein in the grief so tightly it barely registers and, while Bruhl develops as a complex character, shifting from typical Nazi to a more sympathetic position after being roughed up by his SS superior, the rest of the supporting cast are at best flat and at worst painfully wooden. The same holds true for the dialogue and screenplay that rarely suggests the tension that must have been involved in the couple’s mission with its narrow escapes, which renders it something of a plodding thriller with no real thrills or suspense, nor indeed much by way of an emotional grip. If you want a truly gripping account of how ordinary Germans resisted Hitler at the cost of their lives, then track down the German drama Sophie Scholl, and leave this well alone. (MAC)
Baby Driver (15)
His first film since polishing off the Three Cornettos trilogy with World’s End in 2013, writer-director Edgar Wright turns his attention to lovingly subverting the car chase/heist movie with what he’s described as “a car film driven by music”, the scenes built around the songs rather than the songs added later. It hinges on a gimmick with a plot that puts a spin on the familiar one last job scenario and stars Ansel Elgort as man of few words Baby who, thanks to an ill-advised car theft, now finds himself in debt to acerbic, smooth criminal mastermind Doc (Kevin Spacey) who’s enlisted his skills behind the wheel to serve as his regular getaway driver for whatever bank job his ever-changing gang are pulling off.
The twist is that, as a result of the car accident that killed his mother when he was a kid, Baby suffers from tinnitus, a ringing in the ears, which he drowns out by constantly listening to music on his headphones, and which he synchronises to the time taken for his manoeuvres. This is, however, really just an excuse for Wright to serve up his answer to the Guardians of the Galaxy’s mix tapes since listening to the music has nothing to actually do with his driving skills and, in the several scenes where he doesn’t have the earphones plugged in, there’s no indication that the tinnitus affects his ability to function in any way. But, really, who cares when you’re watching him tearing up the city streets, avoiding the pursuing cops, to the strains of anything from The Damned’s Neat Neat Neat and Bellbottoms by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion to Golden Earring’s Radar Love and Focus’ Hocus Pocus.
The first of the heists teams him with Buddy (Jon Hamm), his sexy wife Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and the surly Griff (Jon Bernthal), whose sceptism about Baby sets up the scene that lets us know he can lip read too. The second heist introduces a new crew, among them the psychotic Bats (Jamie Foxx) who doesn’t trust anyone, let alone some kid with an iPod, and sets up an hysterically inspired mix up involving confusion between Michael Myers and Mike Myers masks. Between jobs, however, Baby’s met diner waitress Debora (Lily James), naturally prompting burst of Tyrannosaurus Rex, and, while not letting on what he actually does, the pair fall in love in the laundromat and make loose plans to hit the open road together. He is, after all, now free of any debt to Doc. But not, it would appear of Doc who regards him as his lucky charm and insists on him doing the proverbial one last big job, knocking off a post office to steal a fortune in money orders.
For this one, he’s reunited with Buddy and Darling who are also joined by Bats and, as you’ll doubtless have guessed by now, it doesn’t go smoothly, leaving them on the run with Baby burning with rage and his, Debora and his invalided deaf foster father’s lives under threat.
Naturally, the film’s stuffed with movie homages and references (among them Heat, Reservoir Dogs and even Monsters Inc while the courtroom scene features the voice of Walter Hill, director of 1978 classic The Driver) as well as music, but they never get in the way of the storytelling, the burning rubber thrills or the emotional heft. Hamm and Foxx subvert their usual good guy roles (the latter has a particularly inspired exit), Spacey does his familiar dry menace to perfection (but turns out to have a surprising sentimental streak) while James is just perfect as Debora, the chemistry between her and Elgort everything a meet cute could ask. However, it’s Elgort who, whether behind the wheel or dancing through the streets, carries the film, often called on to do little more than give a quizzical, knowing look.
Arguably, the coda feels a touch tacked on, but given the unbridled adrenaline flooding the screen during the many highly choreographed car chases, the bristling tension when the gang gather in the diner, unaware of Baby’s connection to Debora, and such idiosyractic touches as Baby recording conversations between the gang members to make mash up music mixes, you can forgive it anything. Its engines feel just great. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park; Everyman; Mockingbird; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Beguiled (15)
Based on Thomas Cullinan’s 1966 novel of the same name, Sofia Coppola’s award winning Southern Gothic melodrama is far more restrained, atmospheric and airlessly claustrophobic adaptation, and with, inevitably, a more feminist perspective to the gender dynamics, than Don Siegel’s 1971 version starring Clint Eastwood.
Out collecting mushrooms in the Virginia woods, young Amy (Oona Laurence) comes upon Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell), an Irish mercenary who, badly wounded, has deserted. Smooth-tongued, he convinces her to help him to the girls’ boarding school seminary at which she is one of the few remaining pupils. The place is run by headmistress Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) and her teaching assistant Edwina (Kirsten Dunst). Persuaded that it is the Christian thing to take him in and help him heal rather than hand him over to any passing Confederate troops, Martha tends to his injured leg, washes him (with a lingering intensity) and puts him up in the music room.
Shut away from the outside world, from the start, the only male in the place, it’s clear that his presence – not to mention his good looks – is having an effect on all concerned, particularly stirring repressed, frustrated or nascent sexual feelings and desires in Martha, Edwina and precocious 18-year-old Alicia (Elle Fanning). Despite his charming, deferential manner, McBurney’s also wily enough to use his virility and sexual magnetism to play on both the women, winning them over to ensure they allow him to remain and heal, looking to make himself useful in the garden in the hope of sitting out the war, and particularly focusing on Edwina who patently has a strong attraction to him. Rather inevitably, such simmering hormones in a hothouse of desires are going to lead to tensions between the womenfolk as they battle for his favours, climaxing in a night time visit that has very dramatic repercussions and finally brings into play the solitary firearm.
Dispensing with the previous film’s flashbacks and sexualised fantasies, Coppola weaves a narcotic, dreamlike spell that perfectly echoes the title, cleverly bringing the arbiter of McBurney’s fate full circle while summoning a palpable air of brooding menace that’s further complemented by the muted lighting, colour palette, score and the moss hung, mist shrouded landscape.
Not without its touches of black humour and a brief moment of sexual violence, it’s a generally sombre and deliberately low-key affair. The cast are impeccable, Farrell keeping you unsure as to whether he’s genuinely attentive and sincere or a very clever conman, Dunst a complex cocktail of inferiority complex, resentment and caged longings behind her dowdy appearance, Fanning all petulance and sexual curiosity and Kidman letting just enough desire flicker behind her cool, steely manner. The younger girls too, Angourie Rice, Emma Howard, Addison Riecke and especially, Laurence also deliver solid, confidant performances, adding further depth and resonance to this truly beguiling work. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric)
Cars 3 (U)
After the underevved Cars 2, Pixar shifts back up a gear as past his prime race car champ Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is dethroned by Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), one of the new generation of faster, more hi-tech models with their number-crunching strategies. Following a nasty crash, it seems his track days are over, but, with the help of Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonz), a young female trainer at the revamped state of the art Rust-eze Racing Centre run by his sponsor, Sterling (Nathan Fillion), Smokey Yunick (Chris Cooper), the repair truck of his former mentor, Doc Hudson and the support of loyal buddies like Luigi, Guido and goofball tow truck Mater, the humiliated McQueen trains hard to learn the tricks he needs to beat Storm in the Florida 500, getting back to his roots after a disastrous VR session, by taking part – anonymously and not entirely successfully – in a demolition derby.
Carrying a believe in yourself message, this is very much a passing the torch story (Cruz never had the confidence to be a racer herself) and, while it lacks the emotional edge of the first film, it is sufficiently warm, funny and inspiring enough to make it to the finish line. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Despicable Me 3 (U)
The third (fourth if you count the Minions spin-off) in the animated series finds itself having to work hard to keep the spark going. Following their failure to capture 80s-obsessed washed-up Hollywood child star turned criminal, Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), Gru (Steve Carrell) and wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) are fired from their jobs as Anti-Villain League agents and, when he refuses to return to his super-villain ways, all but two of the Minions walk out on him too. His depression’s lifted when he learns he has a twin brother, Dru (Carrell), the pair apparently being separated when their parents (Julie Andrews voices their sour mom) divorced. The super cool Dru, who wears white in contrast to Gru’s black (cue a clever Yin/Yang symbol gag) not only has blonde hair but is a fabulously rich pig farm owner, but what he wants most is to follow in his brother’s – and as it turns out – father’s footsteps and become a villain. Seeing this as a chance to recover the world’s biggest diamond, which Bratt has now stolen, and finally capture him, Gru pretends to go along with the idea, he just doesn’t tell Lucy.
The problem is that film’s split into three storylines. Gru and Dru’s assault on Bratt’s HQ, the quest by Agnes, the youngest of Gru’s young foster daughter, to find a unicorn, and the misadventures of the Minions (who wind up in and escaping from prison), as well as Lucy trying to get a handle on this mom thing, the disparate characters finally coming together as Bratt, in his giant size Bratt doll, seeks to send Hollywood into space on giant bubblegum balloons. Switching between them all rather saps the film’s energy.
There’s some inspired touches, Bratt pulls off his heists to 80s tunes by the likes of Michael Jackson and Van Halen, there’s a dose of sentiment in the scenes with the three girls, and it always looks good, but the jokes are fewer and more far between this time round. Once again, the Minions steal the film, most notably with their gibberish performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major General from The Pirates of Penzance, and, while this will undoubtedly keep the kids amused, it may be time for Gru to retire and let his yellow accomplices take over keeping the franchise alive. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
The Mummy (15)
Universal’s Dark Universe series (a revival of classic ‘monster’ movie reboots planned to include Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera, The Wolfman, etc.) gets off to an inauspicious form with this new incarnation of The Mummy that began with Boris Karloff in 1932 and was last seen in 2001 with Brendan Fraser in The Mummy Returns.
This one is brought up to date, opening in ISIS-occupied Iraq as Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), an American mercenary and his partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), who serve as advance reconnaissance while helping themselves to ancient artefacts to flog on the black market, come under attack while trying to locate some Egyptian treasure. The air strike that saves them also uncovers a sunken tomb, one which Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), an archaeologist who works for some secret organisation, is very keen to explore.
This, it turns out, is the ancient prison which, as Russell Crowe’s voiceover explains in a lengthy exposition opener, holds the body of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an Egyptian Princess who murdered her Pharaoh father, his wife and the baby boy that had replaced her as heir, but was captured just as she was about to plunge a knife into her lover’s chest so he could take on the spirit of Set, the Egyptian God of the Dead, and they could rule the world side by side.
Suffice to say, Nick helps them remove the sarcophagus from its sunken pool of mercury and it’s duly loaded on a plane to be returned to London for examination. However, in mid-flight all manner of chaos breaks out. Vail turns into a zombie, kills the officer in charge, is shot dead by Nick, the plane’s hit by a flock of birds and falls apart, and Nick straps Jenny to a parachute and shoves her out before it plunges to the ground killing all on board. Except Nick wakes up in a body bag in the morgue to find he’s not dead at all. Rather he’s been having visions of Ahmanet, whose spirit has literally inexplicably merged with him, and it seems he’s been designated as the new chosen one while she, meanwhile, is freed from her coffin and, sucking the life out of a couple of security guards, who duly become part of her zombie army, starts to regain human form and sets out to complete the interrupted ritual, to which end she needs to recover the dagger of Set and its missing magic ruby.
While all this is going on, a bemused Nick starts seeing Vail, who, popping up a la An American Werewolf In London, has been given the job of bringing him and Ahmanet together, while also getting to meet Jenny’s boss, one Henry Jekyll (Crowe), who tells Nick he could be mankind’s salvation, but it requires sacrifice, and who, of course, has his own curse to contend with, transforming into cockney bruiser Eddie Hyde.
All of this unfolds in a series of huge over-designed set-pieces punctuated by flashbacks and visions, but without much sense of coherence or, more fatally, scares or fun. Unable to decide whether it wants to play for screams or laughs, it attempts both and fails at each. To be fair, Cruise is entertaining, a rogueish womaniser and thief who gets to find the good man within, but even so, he’s not required to do much more than look confused, engage in a lot of stunts and flash that smile. Wallis serves things well enough, but suffers from the total lack of any back story, or, indeed, sense of humour, while Boutella manages to make rotting bandages, a lacerated cheek and some serious tattoos look quite sexy.
Alex Kurtzman directs competently enough, but has no real vision for the film, layering on the CGI effects to paper over the plot holes, clunky script and threadbare adventure movie clichés, but neither he nor the cast than disguise the fact that this is absolutely no fun at all. (Vue Star City)
Pirates Of The Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (12A)
After the last instalment, On Stranger Tides, it would have seemed a good idea to consign the franchise to dry dock, but no, six years on and this time with Norwegian directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg at the helm, the core cast have been reassembled for a further folly. This one also sees the return of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly as Will and Elizabeth, albeit only in book-ending sequences, the latter not putting in an appearance until just before the end credits.
It opens with their young son, Henry, tracking down The Flying Dutchman on which dad’s cursed to sail for eternity and promising to find Poseidon’s Trident, an artefact that can reputedly lift all sea curses. Fast forward five years and the now adult Henry (Brenton Thwaites) is still in pursuit of the trident, a quest that brings him into contact with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), whose skills in astronomy have seen her condemned as a witch, and who, guided by her unknown father’s diary, is searching for an unseen map to an uncharted island, though she has no time for myths or supernatural mumbo jumbo. Inevitably both their paths also cross with that of Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), first seen quite literally stealing a bank (not to mention a Fast and the Furious sequence) and hauling the entire building through the town in an impressive set piece of destruction.
Now, as it happens, Henry was part of a British Navy crew pursuing a pirate ship that sailed into the infamous Devil’s Triangle and was overrun by Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), a Spanish former pirate hunter who, along with his mutilated crew, are cursed to live as dead men (some of them missing assorted body parts). He spared Henry to deliver a message to Sparrow with whom he has unfinished businesss (you’ve not forgotten anything, their connection is later explained in a backstory about how Jack – a CGI youthful Depp – got his surname and captain’s hat), but is unable to escape his watery prison unless Sparrow parts with his magical compass. Which, of course, he duly does, sending Salazar back to the world to resume his pirate killing spree, which, in turn, leads to him striking a deal with Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who’s now the pirate top dog, to get his hands on Jack.
Narratively bloated, there’s about three different plots going on at the same time, gradually coming together as yet more backstory is thrown into the mix with, essentially, everyone, including David Wenham’s colonial naval captain, chasing Jack, Henry and Carina. All of which results into a lot of noise, action and some spectacular CGI (Salazar’s crew and zombie sharks among the best), but not a great deal of narrative clarity or cohesion. Thwaites and Scodelario basically take the Bloom and Knightley roles from the first two films, and do so engagingly enough, while, as ever, Rush brings more heart and gravity to proceedings than they warrant. Bardem makes for a driven obsessed villain, but his character and performance are eclipsed by the special effects of his seaweedy hair, squid ink blood and ravaged face. Which brings us to Depp. He does pretty much what he always does with his pirate parody, the drunken slurring, the sexual innuendos, but what was once amusing is now just tediously annoying. There’s times when it captures the spark of the original, but, when a cameoing Paul McCartney as Jack’s Uncle is one of the highlights, perhaps, despite the post credits clip, it’s time to consign this to Davy Jones’ locker once and for all. (Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Spider-Man: Homecoming (12A)
The third actor to play the webslinger on the big screen, Tom Holland made his debut cameoing in Captain America: Civil War, and this latest reboot is set a few months after those events. It opens, however, in the wake of the first Avengers movie as, mid-way through salvage work, New York contractor Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) is told all such operations involving alien material now comes under Damage Control. Still, he and his crew have stowed away enough to go into the super-weapons business, which is where we pick up events eight years later (no Spidey origin stories here). On a high after helping out The Avengers, making his own web diary footage of events to revel in on playback, gawky 15-year-old Queens high schooler Peter Parker (Holland) is keen to see more action in his Stark ‘internship’, but, with Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) as his babysitter, is advised by Tony (a typically snarky Robert Downey Jr) to keep his super-heroing on a neighbourhood level, although he does get a new hi-tech suit (with its very own Jarvis in the vocal form of Jennifer Connelly) to go with the job, even if he has no idea what all its powers are or how to use them.
As such, things toddle along with his handling petty crime and helping out old ladies until he stumbles on a heist with a gang using alien-technology weapons. This, in turn, leads him to track down the suppliers and run foul of Toomes who now sports a pair of armoured flying wings (he’s essentially The Vulture, but is never really referred to as such until the end), and, although warned off from getting involved by Stark, climaxes in a near disaster aboard the Staten Island Ferry (in a sequence that mirrors Tobey Maguire saving the elevated train in the original movie) that requires Iron Man to come to the rescue and take back the suit.
On top of all this, Peter’s having to deal with the usual high school problems, such as the class bully, Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori), and the senior on whom he has a crush, Liz (Laura Harrier), but is too shy to say anything. Plus the fact that he’s accidentally revealed his secret identity to science partner and equally geeky best buddy Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon) and that his webslinging heroics force him to both duck out on the Academic Decathlon (he’s busy saving the other students in the Washington Tower) and, finally going places with Liz, the homecoming ball. And now he’s stuck with his old homemade suit too.
It’s a little ADD in the early going, reflecting Peter’s uber-enthusiasm and desire to impress Stark, but it soon settles down into a solid and, importantly, hugely entertaining fanboy addition to the Marvel Universe. Although things have been tweaked, there’s still plenty of familiar notes from the comics, including a new spin on MJ (a dry, scene stealing Zendaya), a much younger Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), nods to the many variations the costume’s been through and even the theme from the animated 60s TV series, not to mention a tease of Maguire’s famous upside down kiss.
Holland brings a likeable wide-eyed boyish glee as well as a disarming vulnerability to Parker, regularly screwing up but always getting back on his feet, while Keaton, who, like Doctor Octopus, is a human-scaled villain with mechanical appendages and a moral ambiguity, is menacingly compelling and, essentially a victim of the Avengers fall-out himself, comes with a truly unexpected kick of a twist. Downey Jr and Favreau reprise their familiar shtick and the film also finds room for cameos by Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts and, albeit by way of school training videos, the now disgraced Captain America. Filling out the supporting cast, Martin Starr makes the most of his scenes as the Decathlon coach and Bokeem Woodbine does duty as one of Toomes’ crew aka the Shocker. Climaxing in a mid-air battle atop an Avengers jet, it may ultimately resort to the usual super-hero tropes, but getting there is a whole web of fun. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Transformers: The Last Knight (12A)
Loud, incoherent and a garish mess, the fifth box-office bombing instalment of the Hasbro big screen franchise grinds it way through a tsunami of CGI, admittedly often visually spectacular, but in the service of a laboured plot that creaks more than an Autobot in need of a service. The fact that this has dramatically underperformed at the US box office suggests that, while it may set up a sixth movie, the writing is clearly on the wall.
The last one ended with Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) heading into space to return to Cyberworld and the Creators, leaving the others behind to protect the Yeagers, although Nicola Peltz has wisely opted not to return as Tessa, daughter of inventor Cade (Mark Whalberg), requiring the screenplay to explain her absence as being off at university. He can listen to her on the phone, but can’t talk to her as that would allow the paramilitary Transformer Reaction Force (headed up by Josh Duhamel) to track him down. Given he’s hiding out at a huge junkyard populated by, among others, gung ho Autobot, Hound (John Goodman), Bumblebee and a car-crunching robot dinosaur and its cute offspring, it’s not like he’s exactly a needle in a haystack. Indeed, when the plot requires, it turns out the army know where he is anyway, but for screenplay reasons, haven’t come after him.
Anyway, back to Prime. Arriving back on his home planet, he finds it in ruins and is swiftly overpowered by the Creator, Quintessa (Gemma Chan), a Cybertronian sorceress who looks like a pendant with a head, who brings him under her control in a plan to destroy Earth, or Unicron as it was once known, in order to rebuild Cybertron.
All of which is then put on hold until the final stretch, as director Michael Bay focuses on bringing together Cade, Oxford history professor Viviane Wembley (Laura Haddock), single, naturally, and Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins, who spouts the exposition and delivers his lines with sly mockery), an astronomer-historian, the last of the order of the Witwiccans and keeper of the centuries-old Transformers secret. Their task is to track down the staff of power given to a booze-addled Merlin (Stanley Tucci) so that King Arthur – with the help of a dozen Transformer Knights who crash-landed on Earth and join together to form a huge dragon – defeat the Anglo Saxons. The staff is the crux to Quintessa’s plans, to which end Megatron and his Decepticons, who have struck deal with the TRF, are also after it, but only a descendent of Merlin can actually wield its power and only a true Knight can lead the Twelve. That’ll be Wembley and Yeager, then.
Given the fact it involved five writers, it’s no wonder it feels like a script conference mash up, throwing feisty street-rat Izabella (Isabela Monar) and her pet ‘bot into the mix along with Cade’s pointless junkyard sidekick Jimmy and, in an acknowledged nod to C3PO Burton’s wiseass robot butler Cogman (Jim Carter), not to mention a literally inexplicable cameo by John Tuturro. Decepticons and Autobats get written off left right and centre, which, if nothing else, might trim the sequel down a bit, but, even as Cybertron starts leeching the life from Earth, there never feels like anything’s at stake and, hey, what’s the chance of Optimus snapping out of his brainwashed state just in time!
There’s a nice line in banter between Haddock and Whalberg and, as I say, there’s lashings of action, but, already the worst reviewed of the whole series, there’s about as much sense, fun and wit as you might expect from a film that features dialogue like “Oh, my God, a giant alien ship!” (Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
War For The Planet Of The Apes (12A)
Following on from the Rise Of and Dawn Of remakes, director Matt Reeves winds up the trilogy in triumphant, epic form. Picking things up after the end of Dawn, that saw Caesar (Andy Serkis) kill the human-hating Koba, he and his fellow apes, among them sidekick orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval), wife Cornelia (Judy Greer) and youngest son Cornelius, are now hiding out while being hunted down by Alpha-Omega, a rogue army of surviving humans and renegade apes (referred to as Donkey – as in Kong) headed up by the psychotic Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson), who, shaven-headed and obsessed, patently echoes Brando’s Kurtz with, following Kong: Skull Island, the second ape-themed nod to Apocalypse Now this year, indeed at one point the word Ape-pocalypse Now is seen scrawled on a tunnel wall.
After having his men driven back in an assault on the hideaway, the Colonel himself leads a second incursion, this time leaving Cornelia and Caesar’s eldest son, Blue Eyes, dead, prompting Caesar to send the others to find the sanctuary Rocket (Terry Notary) and Blue Eyes discovered while setting off on a personal mission of vengeance. To which end, Maurice, Rocket and Luca (Michael Adamthwaite) insist on accompanying him. Along the way, the small band is augmented by the addition of a young girl (Amiah Miller), the victim of a plague mutation that renders its victims mute (which itself sets up a powerful scene explaining the Colonel’s driven crusade), and, providing some comic relief, Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), a small, hermit zoo ape survivor of the Simian Flu outbreak who’s learned to talk and who is persuaded to guide them to the Colonel’s base in the frozen wastelands.
The third act shifts homages to take on Biblical echoes as, discovering the clan have been captured and imprisoned as slave workers by the Colonel, Caesar now becomes a sort of Moses, delivering his people from bondage as the film builds to a full on battle spectacular as (nodding to The Great Escape) the apes sees to escape the gulag with Maurice and Bad Ape exploiting the tunnels beneath the compound.
Combining western and war movie influences and motifs, the central performances deeply weighted in character with Serkis in particular bringing huge expression and emotional intensity to his CGI-rendered Caesar, it’s an often dark and sombre narrative, the prison camp sequences particularly so, and, while action scenes are visceral, these are also balanced by lengthy philosophical moments addressing such themes as loyalty, family, freedom and, especially for Caesar, mindful of his own legacy, the blinding nature of vengeance. While ostensibly the final film of the series, the remainder of humanity seemingly eliminated in a final avalanche, with Cornelius inheriting his father’s mantle (and linking things back to the original Planet of the Apes), given the likely box office figures, further monkey business should not be ruled out yet. (Cineworld 5 Ways, NEC, Solihull; Electric; Empire Great Park, Sutton Coldfield; Everyman; Odeon Birmingham, Broadway Plaza, West Brom; Reel; Showcase Walsall; Vue Star City)
Wonder Woman (12A)
Having made her debut in Batman v. Superman and as a prelude to the upcoming Justice League movie, Amazonian princess Diana returns with her own origin movie, one which, at times recalling the first Captain America, might not be up there with Guardians, but is easily the best of the recent run of DC adaptations.
Directed by Patty Jenkins, who shows girls can have just as much fun with super-heroes as the boys, it opens in the present day with Diana Prince (Gal Godot) getting sent an old photo from Wayne Enterprises of her and four men standing in a Belgium town during WWI (as opposed to the comics’ WWII setting), from which we spin off into an extended, two hour plus flashback that starts on Themyscira, the hidden island of the Amazons, where 8-year-old Diana (Lilly Aspell) is keen to join in with the training. In this she’s aided by her warrior aunt (Robin Wright), although her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), has forbidden it, fearful that signd of her undisclosed power will attract the attention of Ares, the God of War who may or may not have been mortally wounded by his father Zeus in a battle of annihilation between the gods after the former, jealous of dad’s work, corrupted his creation, mankind. She also tells Diana that she was actually moulded out of clay, so you can safely assume there’s more to it than that.
Anyways, one day, now grown, she’s surprised to see a German fighter plane emerge through the cloak around the island and plunge into the sea, from whence she rescues Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American working as a British spy. Next thing you know, the Germans are piling ashore, pitting their guns against Amazonian swords, arrow and spears. They’re defeated, but at a tragic cost and Diana learns that Trevor has stolen a notebook belonging to Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), a facially disfigured chemist working for Ludendorff (Danny Huston), a German general who wants her to develop a new lethal gas so he can scupper the impending armistice and win the war.
Again disregarding mom, armed with indestructible shield, the lasso of truth, the god-killer sword and that rather fetching red, blue and gold outfit, Diana insists it’s her mission to go back with Trevor and fight to save the world from what she believes is Ares’ work, assuming he’s actually Ludendorff.
Following a time-filling section in London which she’s kitted out in civvies by Trevor’s secretary (Lucy Davis) and, after being snubbed by the War Cabinet, their mission to destroy the gas is given the secret go-ahead by top bureaucrat Sir Patrick (David Thewlis) , after recruiting a trio of mercenaries, tormented marksman Charlie (Ewen Bremner), Moroccan spy Sameer (Said Taghmaoui) and The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock), a Native American black marketer, they head off to the front line. Unable to keep her head down while innocents are dying, it’s not long before Diana’ (who’s never referred to as Wonder Woman is storming the German lines and liberating the nearby town (from whence that photo derives), but now they have to somehow get to Ludendorff and prevent him from launching his deadly gas.
Even if it seems a touch implausible she could waltz into a gala Nazi ball with a sword stuck down the back of her dress without anyone thinking it might be a tad suspicious, the final stretch is pretty much action all the way, cranking up the CGI when Ares finally puts in an appearance, bringing with it, of course, an inevitable sacrifice for the cause. But, clocking in at 141 minutes, along the way the script finds plenty of room for humour in Diana’s unfamiliarity with the outside world and, indeed men, as well some romance before she learns the true secret her mother kept from her. It’s also a nice touch in the scenes back in Blighty to show the mixed races and religions that fought as part of the British army.
It’s often broadly drawn, but Pine does solid understated work as the rogueish but noble Trevor, Davis makes the most of her few moments, Huston is a suitably brutal villain (although the strength-enhancing gas he sniffs is a touch too much) and, of course, the athletic and gorgeous Godot strides through all this like a charismatic, idealistic (if, at times, a touch naive) torch bearer for female empowerment in a universe mostly awash with testosterone. Here’s hoping she’s not drowned in it in the upcoming Justice League. (Empire Great Park; Vue Star City)
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 – 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