Director: Matt Reeves
Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Karin Konoval, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller, Terry Notary, Ty Olsson, Michael Adamthwaite
There is a solid case to be made that the rebooted Planet of the Apes series is the best blockbuster franchise of the 21st century. Other franchises might enjoy higher profiles and bigger box office (Dark Knight trilogy, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Harry Potter series), but in terms of consistent high quality, with their combination of incredible technical achievement and effective storytelling, these Apes movies are hard to look past. After the Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the third instalment, Matt Reeves’ War for the Planet of the Apes, fittingly rounds out this most under-appreciated of blockbuster trilogies.
Two years after the events of Dawn, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and the ape community are living in hiding in the woods. While he has defeated Koba, the rebellious ape who threatened to tear their community apart, Caesar has been left fighting the war with the humans that Koba started. Continue reading
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh
It has been over a decade since Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, the hero of The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger and The Sum of All Fears and the man who is to financial analysts what Indiana Jones is to archaeologists, last appeared on our screen. So therefore it is time for a reboot and that is exactly what we get in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.
As reboots are want to do, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit takes us back to the beginning for an origins story. After being badly injured in a helicopter attack while serving in Afghanistan, Jack Ryan is recruited by the CIA to work covertly as a financial analyst on Wall Street. There he uncovers a Russian plot to crash the US economy with a terrorist attack. So Ryan finds himself upgraded to operational status and on his way to Moscow to try and work out when and where this attack is going to occur before it’s too late.
Clancy wrote Jack Ryan as a Cold War hero, but Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit – the first Ryan film not to be directly based on a Clancy novel – recreates him as a hero for the post-9/11 world. It is the attacks on the World Trade Center which compels the young Ryan to abandon his PhD study in London and join the Marines. While in keeping with Clancy’s novels the antagonists in the film are from Russia, it prefers to play off contemporary fears of terrorism and economic meltdown rather than old Cold War tensions.
Having previously been played by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck, it is Chris Pine’s turn to step into the role. However, despite this being the fifth Ryan film, audiences don’t have the same clear expectations of the character as they do for someone like a James Bond, so the pressure on Pine stepping into the role is not as intense. That said, he does a good job. Unlike his brash, impulsive Captain Kirk, Pine imbues his intellectually brilliant Ryan with a certain vulnerability that is fitting of an agent at the beginning of his career who is not yet battle-hardened.
Pine is surrounded by an impressive supporting cast. Kevin Costner continues his recent career resurgence as a quality supporting actor in his role as the stoic William Harper, the CIA agent who recruits Ryan. As Ryan’s girlfriend, Keira Knightley gets slightly more to work with than the usual love interest character, with some of the scenes between the two of them being quite touching. Kenneth Branagh, who is also directing here, makes for a steely villain as the Russian Viktor Cherevin.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit largely follows the spy thriller playbook established by the James Bond and, more recently, Jason Bourne franchises. In this globetrotting film we move between London, New York and Moscow, and are given regular action sequences, whether helicopter attacks, hand-to-hand combat or car chases. However, the quick cutting shaky-cam used in the action scenes does take audience disorientation to a new level.
While Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a contemporary reboot engaging with contemporary concerns there is something wonderfully old-fashioned about it. It is a classic espionage film. It is still Americans against Russians, it still comes down a race against a ticking time bomb, and it is still quite a lot of fun.
Rating – ★★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean
Director: Mark Webb
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Dennis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field
2012 has given us a number of high profile blockbusters which have just made you ask “why?” Most recently there was the simply awful remake of Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall (1990)starring Colin Farrell. Prior to that you had Jeremy Renner starring in the very disappointing sequel (do you call it a sequel when the events are happening concurrently?) to the Bourne trilogy, The Bourne Ultimatum. And the film which started it all off was The Amazing Spider-Man.
The Amazing Spider-Man raised eyebrows when the project was first announced. When it became apparent that Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire were not interested in making a fourth Spider-Man movie, Columbia and Marvel decided that rather than looking for someone to take over and continue the franchise, they would go back and start again. So what we ended up with was a reboot of the Spider-Man franchise hitting cinemas only five years after the final film Raimi’s trilogy, Spider-Man 3 (2007), and even more amazingly, only ten years after the first film in Raimi’s trilogy, Spider-Man (2002).
For a number of people, myself included, it instantly brought to mind comparisons with the two Hulk films released only five years apart, The Hulk (2003) and The Incredible Hulk (2008)… that is, beyond just the same approach of taking the old title and adding an adjective. However, there was a reason for the reboot here. Firstly, Ang Lee’s films, starring Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly, had been a major disappointment both critically and commercially. More importantly, The Incredible Hulk was made as part of laying the foundations for this year’s superhero super-movie The Avengers (2012). So while The Incredible Hulk told a variation on the same origin story that The Hulk had, it was tying Bruce Banner’s story into that Avengers world.
But the same issues weren’t there with Spider-Man. While Spider-Man 3 had been a bit of a disappointment critically, Raimi’s films were still one of the most commercially successful trilogies in Hollywood history. Rather, the announcement of The Amazing Spider-Man appeared to be evidence of a condensing of time frames or a lack of patience in current day Hollywood. It makes you wonder how long it will be before the announcement of a Batman reboot. So that was a convoluted way of saying, I was intrigued to see what The Amazing Spider-Man had to offer. What would it be like? How would it be different?
This time round, they skew younger. Not yet a photographer at the Daily Bugle, Peter Parker is a seventeen year-old high schooler (slight suspension of disbelief required to accept the 28 year old Garfield as a teenager). Despite having appeared three times as the web slinging hero, Toby Maguire never really made the role his own. It was never impossible to think of anyone else as Spider-Man they way it is with Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man or Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. So it is interesting to see Andrew Garfield bring a slightly different interpretation to the character. A teenage Peter Parker complete with parent issues opens up the role for a much more teen-angsty portrayal.
Webb employs a solid supporting cast. Since bursting onto the scene a couple of years ago Emma Stone has shown herself to be an incredibly versatile actress and she is doing something different again here, and does it impressively as always. Martin Sheen is one of those guys who just automatically makes a film better, and his role as Uncle Ben is no exception, with he and Sally Field adding a bit of gravitas to the roles of Peter Parker’s legal guardians.
Other than that, a lot is the same. Raimi’s films brought us “With great power comes great responsibility” and while that quote is never referenced in Webb’s film, the theme of responsibility is still there. Parker feels responsible for his uncle’s death. Parker feels responsible for the creation of his nemesis. It is a sense of responsibility, of duty, that compels him to do the things he does, and this juxtaposes quite nicely in this film with his teenage brashness when gifted with great power.
Coming out in the same year as The Dark Knight Rises (2012)and The Avengers, it was always going to take something very special for The Amazing Spider-Man to be doing anything more than fighting it out for the title of third-best comic book movie of the year, and ultimately there is nothing very special about it. It is an ok movie, which has its moments of being quite good. However, the fact that it is a reboot means that it is faced with a series of other questions. Is it better than the other Spider-Man movies? Possibly, though if it is – and a strong argument could be made for Spider-Man 2 (2004)– it isn’t better by much, probably not really enough to justify the reboot. That being said, the $262 million it made at the US box office is probably justification enough for some.
Rating – ★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean