Cinema Cocoa
Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (3D)

Feeling a little more like a formulaic blockbuster than its predecessor, Dawn still packs a heck of a wallop in action, emotion and intensity.

Set ten years after the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn shows us that the ALZ-112 virus (later known as the simian flu) has wiped out nearly all human life on Earth. The ape known as Caesar has prospered with his tribe and now several of them can speak both with sign and vocally. But when human survivors enter their territory hoping to repair a hydroelectric dam that supplies their town, there is civil unrest amongst the apes…

Rise of the Planet of the Apes was unprecedented in its integrity and emotional weight, as well as its subtly when explaining its characters’ complexities. In the sequel ten years have passed and our characters’ roles have been established for this second act’s more kinetic story; we have a struggle of territories and a struggle of trust. Both sides, human and ape, have taken causalities and their pasts are bleak and full of strife. 

This is the tipping point where the reality of the premise comes to a head.

At the centre of this is the relationship between Caesar, the ape leader, and Koba, a scarred ape who was also given accelerated brain treatment in Rise. This conflict is incredible and is easily the driving force for the film’s second and third acts, Koba has memorable scenes in equal measure to Caesar in the first film.
On the human side things are more formulaic. Jason Clarke plays Malcolm, a survivor and father who sees the possibility of peace between the two races, and Gary Oldman plays the humans’ nervous leader Dreyfus extremely well. But most of the characterisation for the humans only lies between Malcolm and Caesar, who both struggle to protect their families against uncontrollable dangers.
It does continue Rise's faithful continuity to the original film; I caught one or two familiar aspects that should grow in importance as time moves on around our characters.

The CG effects and motion capture here is stunning. Really stunning. The lighting and animation of these animals during all kinds of events, rainstorms and infernos, is really something to see. Koba himself is portrayed especially in a terrifying light! You are properly away with the premise, occasionally I would think: “I’m watching two monkeys beat the snot out of each other… and I am completely invested in it!" but then the success of such a premise lies in the technical execution, and it definitely succeeds here!

For a 12A, I must admit, this is a grim and scary film. While Rise established Caesar and global events, Dawn goes for the jugular and is probably the most intense 12A I have seen since The Dark Knight.

It isn’t as compelling as its predecessor. It feels ever so slightly too long: the second act feels quite padded for time with some repetitive scenes. Why explain something twice when you can do it once with more efficiency? Certainly Rise's subtly isn't present; this is a blockbuster designed to have you at the edge of your seat, and I certainly was!

I highly recommend it! I love a good villain and Koba has been building up to this since Rise, and as a sequel it has paid off awesomely. What it lacks in subtext it makes up for in sheer brutality and emotional intensity.

Additional Marshmallows: Ah yes, the 3D. I wouldn’t say you need to see this in 3D, although the effect didn’t detract my enjoyment at all!

Saga Review: Planet of the Apes

I love my science fiction, yet it has taken me this long to watch the original series of Planet of the Apes films from the 60s and 70s! In fact the first film in the series I ever watched was Tim Burton’s 2001 remake upon release… unfortunately, and I believe I was reluctant to watch the original film due to parodies and spoilers existing about it. There have been other classics I have really disliked purely because I knew what happens because of these parodies…

But with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes arriving this week, I get the chance to fill this gap in my knowledge!
First things first, it turns out there’s a lot more Apes movies than I thought! That, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes may seem like a long title… but it is in keeping with the series’ continuity!

Here’s the account of my seven days of monkeying around:

Planet of the Apes (1968)

The one great thing about remakes and pre/sequels is I get to watch some classics I’ve never actually seen. Better yet is when the classic still stand the test of time!

A team of astronauts flying a faster-than-light spacecraft crash upon a mysterious planet where mute, timid human-like creatures are enslaved by intelligent talking apes. The lead pilot George Taylor is then studied by the curious apes; his ability to talk and show intellect challenging their understanding of their society and history.

I was actually afraid to watch the original Planet of the Apes until now, not just because of how it may have dated (a film’s age doesn’t bother me, it can still amaze if made well enough) but because I knew the twist ending. Who doesn’t by now? It has been referenced and parodied over the last four decades.

But I really enjoyed the film! It has a surprising depth to it as our characters explore a multitude of philosophies from social, environmental and even religious issues. Also having watched 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes first, there are direct references between the two that I was not aware of before, also increasing the film’s (and more importantly the franchise’s) depth significantly!
I was concerned about the apes themselves, concerned about the make-up the actors have on, and while it can look a little bad at times (I could see two sets of teeth sometimes: one real and one fake!) it often looks good enough to convince. Plus the ape characters are actually the most entertaining and compelling of the cast! You can appreciate them, the culture they have made, their beliefs and their personalities through the storyline very well. Lead actor Charlton Heston was very good; his character is far, far from likeable and yet becomes the voice for Humanity and what we can represent…
It has a great sense of atmosphere; often perilous and full of danger, and has landscapes that show barren expanses as far as the eye can see. Plus some of the stunt work is incredible and alarming to watch.

There was some dissonance from watching it nowadays and with the prior knowledge of the twist… I found it a little hard to believe that Taylor and the other astronauts didn’t consider what planet they had crashed on. They only knew that they were thousands of years into the future, nothing more. If I were on a planet that just so happened to have an exact human species, a breathable atmosphere, horses and ape species… I would have caught on to the possibility long before the twist! I think if the initial setup had suggested humanity had colonised other planets, or may have in the time the crew had been in stasis sleep.

But this didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the film as a lot of it could be put down to retropective viewing and knowing the ending ahead of time.

Overall, I really liked it; it certainly is a milestone of science fiction and considering I knew the twist it is doubly impressive that I still found it compelling for other reasons.
If you haven’t seen it, I suggest that you do! Just get over the monkey-makeup first and appreciate the characters behind them!

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

A sequel with its potential squandered by massive budget cuts and the questionable future of the franchise. It has its moments, but comes across as more like a traditional science fiction action movie without its predecessor’s intellectual gravitas.

In an unlikely turn of events, two astronauts are sent to find the lost George Taylor and find themselves thrown through the same time shift, arriving on the planet of the Apes. The lone survivor, Brent, meets Nova - the native girl Taylor had befriended - and they look for him together. However in their search they find the Apes are under a military upheaval, and that a society of native humans living beneath the surface are their target.

Despite the success of the original film, its sequel’s budget was positively halved due to Twentieth Century Fox almost going bankrupt (that is almost hard to imagine today!) due to several expensive box office films that failed to make good returns. Charlton Heston’s role is very reduced, mostly since the actor showed little interest after the first film.
Here is the first problem. The film opens with yet another space craft crash landing on the planet, and once again we have a lone hero discovering where he is. It really feels like the film wanted to continue with Heston’s character straight off the back of the first film, and as it stands it is a little tiresome to get into at first.
The apes characters are still good; Kim Hunter returns as Zira and Maurice Evans as Dr Zaius, I was sad to see that Cornelius actor Roddy McDowall did not return, although he and Hunter weren’t as prominent in this story.

The film still has a good sense of pacing despite what budget cuts might have done to the screenplay, the film flies by with its involvement of exposition; there’s less time for philosophy here. We have our hero Brent discovering a world of telepathic humans who have used illusions to avoid detection from the apes above ground, yet they are little better than the apes, depicted as religious fanatics. This is probably the most intriguing part of the film and builds nicely off the back of what we learned from the first film. I was further intrigued by the history of this planet.
They continue some alarming physical stunts in the films too! At one point a man mounted on horseback is pulled to the ground by a net, but the horse goes down with him, falling virtually on top of the man!

What kills the film though is the ending…! It was doing well considering its flaws and narrow scope, but then everything just stops. Disappointing and a little bewildering.

It is far from the first film, it is more of a chase film with a few notable flaws occasionally, but if you enjoyed the first film there’s enough continuity to make this one worth a watch too.

Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)

So from the moment of reading this film’s synopsis, I was very worried… and while it could have been worse I do find that the series has finally cheapened itself in this installment.

Ape scientists Cornelius and his pregnant wife Zira escape the presumed destruction of their world by using Taylor’s crashed spacecraft. But though similar mishap that befell Taylor, they find themselves thrown back in time, back to 1973 Earth.

Escape from the Planet of the Apes is, by its very premise, the first film in the series to be taking style over substance; here we have the budget answer to sci-fi by just plonking your character into contemporary surroundings without taking the time of explaining how.
The films have never explained exactly what causes these spacecraft to time travel, but Escape tells us that these advanced craft - with their stasis beds and faster than light engines, as described in the original film - were conceived and launched in the late 60s early 70s, since the Government officials in 1973 know of George Taylor and Brent. Do I… need to explain how stupid that sounds? Perhaps a failing on my part, but I assumed Taylor originated from a future society of man, one capable of interstellar travel!

And that’s ignoring the fact this film glosses over how these Apes repaired and restored either of the two destroyed spacecraft.

1970s humanity however appear to like and have a fondness for our ape heroes, and rightly they should; Kim Hunter again plays Zira and happily Roddy McDowell reprises the role of Cornelius! The first act of the film though is gratingly saccharine. Gone are the moral and philosophical implications, now we have the Planet of the Apes equivalent of the PG-Tips chimpanzee television adverts. We see them touring around the American cities, being measured for suits, going to boxing matches, a surreal moment were Zira leads a feminist meeting. Oh dear, the franchise can be seen withering and dying!
But there is one man who sees between the lines, and questions what kind of world these Apes came from, what roles the Apes had with humans, and what the future holds. Eric Braeden plays Dr. Otto Hasslein, probably the most interesting character here as the embodiment of human paranoia and deceit.
This takes up the greater portion of the film as doubt and distrust becomes an issue, the issue of atrocities that have and will take place, and yet the ultimate similarity between human and ape cultures. The film’s strength lies in its stark reality; these characters are now trapped in Earth’s past and have no means of escape.

But I find the film’s attempts of a moral and social ambiguity to be quite needless; the film becomes something of a narrative parody of the first film’s more subtle approaches to all philosophies tackled. It feels as though Escape is reiterating for the layman, and when it is taken from that context, I feel bad that this is the progression Zira and Cornelius have been given…

It isn’t a terrible film and by the end it does have its own strengths, and the characters are well maintained, but I cringe at the gimmicky premise and the exposition filled script that explains what we already knew. It is something of an “average” film.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

With a meager budget of $1,700,000 Conquest does its best to tell of the future uprising of the Apes, and the inevitable self-destruction of Man. By no means a terrible film, but sorely lacking in emotional involvement.

Set about twenty years after Escape and the demise of Zira and Cornelius, this story follows their son, now named Caesar, and his discovery that humans have begun enslaving apes after their realisation that apes could one day rule the world. Sickened by these events, Caesar is spurred on to overthrow Man’s rule of Earth.

Like with several of the Apes films so far, one could be confused by how the timeline works; the films rarely explain the issues of divergent timelines. Here, due to Zira and Cornelius’ intervention in Escape, the future that had been prophesied in the 1968 film has been accelerated. This film actually corrects a lot of the flaws I was seeing throughout Escape and feels more like a second part to that film than a sole experience.
(everything but that film’s dogged insistence that Taylor orginated from the 1970s…)

This film is only let down by a short runtime and minimal budget (it had $1million less than Escape did, and a fifth of what the original film had) so what should be a both traumatising and important event in the entire franchise falls quite flat in terms of emotional investment.
We don’t get to know Caesar. He is played by his father’s actor Roddy McDowell, which is fine only as far as you can distance yourself from believing it is just Cornelius: voice and monkey mask are identical, and he has speeches like Cornelius and little development to distinguish himself from his father.
As a result his uprising feels quite sudden. The leap of twenty years from an ape-loving humanity to an ape slave driving dictatorship is also hard to swallow and while Caesar has every right to act against it, his rising anger and madness feels hastened when the film’s runtime demands it.

I also watched an edited version with an altered ending… I found the original ending on Youtube and greatly preferred it! The edit has been given a poor treatment: it is cleared dubbed and extended with little more than looped footage, and the scene’s mood and itsoriginal intention does not match the new dialogue and narrative given. There’s little worse than a detectable edit, especially one that sways the lead character’s story and the film’s conclusion!

It is not a bad film (certainly better than Escape's silly gimmick) but it falls far from what grace it should have had with its slight studio backing. It is perhaps a testament to how good writing can override the restraints of a low budget.

Additional Marshmallows: It should be noted that by this point I find the series remarkably strong willed in its convictions. It is determined to continue a good narrative despite the drawbacks it is continuously under; something film would only attempt some thirty years later.

Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)

And so the original Planet of the Apes saga concludes with another rather lacking installment that suffers yet more continuity problems.

Set only ten years after Conquest we see Caesar, his family and his human adviser McDonald overseeing a mutual peace between human and ape. While humans are not treated exactly as equals Caesar vows no harm to come to them. But the remains of human resistance in the Forbidden City sparks yet more war as the gorillas, led by Aldo, plan to overthrow Caesar.

What can be said about the previous three films in the saga can be said about this film: the budget was once again sorely lacking, not even $2 million, and everything feeling woefully short in exposition. But even with the benefit of the doubt, like the previous films, Battle isn’t even well written like the others often were.
Way back in Escape from the Planet of the Apes, one of Zira and Cornelius’ final prophecies were of Aldo, a gorilla who was described in foreboding; as the harbinger of doom:

"he did not grunt. He articulated. He spoke a word which had been spoken to him time without number by humans. He said, ‘No’."  

Fantastic stuff, and Aldo appears in Battle as a direct opposition to Caesar’s peaceable nature but… the film (and in fact Conquest before it) took a major misstep. In just ten years, all apes have learned to talk! This makes Caesar, and more importantly Aldo and his prophecy, even less prominent! What does it matter if he says “No”, they could all speak.

There were script re-writes, and older outlines of the story that speak of much darker content for Battle, and much like Conquest before it this film has that same sensation of doubt towards the production team. Which is really sad given the great potential this series has been building towards.

Of course… one cannot deny that Zira and Cornelius spoke of their past (our future, by the time of Escape from the Planet of the Apes) and that their involvement changed history. That is a perfectly valid argument, one I have mentioned before, but sadly there is no narrative device in play to suggest this… in any of the previous three films!
Furthermore, Battle has a contradiction proving this unwanted ambiguity. If Caesar is the x-factor that changes history, due to Zira and Cornelius, why then does he still employ the old rule of law: “Ape will kill no ape”, clearly excluding the humans he has sworn to protect? Clearly provoking one to fight the other. One can theorize Caesar’s motives, but they will forever remain muddy and unclear due to a lack of explanation.

It is a sad note to end the series on, and perplexing. All four sequels were released within four years, how could things get so muddled and confused!? You wouldn’t think there would be time to rewrite scripts and screenplays. But by the end there were one too many changes that reduced the saga’s powerful initial message.

Planet of the Apes

Looking back at this retrospectively, remakes have had the same problems for years.

This Tim Burton directed remake re-envisions the original Planet of the Apes story: we see Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) a pilot in our future training monkeys to fly spacecraft. But when one craft is lost in a temporal storm in space, Leo pursues it only to be dragged into a dystopian future were apes rule the world and humans are slaves. Can he return to his own time?

The term “re-envision” can be used as a safeguard for this movie, because it is clear the team behind this film had no intention of honouring the original 1968 film! Burton’s film is a trashy, poorly edited and poorly written action flick, with none of the original’s intent or sincerity.

Let’s look at Tim Burton’s filmography for a brief moment: Beetlejuice>Batman>Edward Scissor-hands>Batman Returns>Ed Wood>Planet of the Apes>Charlie and the Chocolate Factory>Corpse Bride>Alice in Wonderland>Dark Shadows. You could say PotA was the end of a flawless track record!
Mark Wahlberg too is phoning in his performance, though one can appreciate this is early in his blockbuster career and he has yet to find the nonsensical gimmick he has now. He is positively unmemorable here.

What is sad is how this film gets a few things right (shock horror!) I do like the ape make-up in this film, despite the casting making it more a game of Spot the Actor than any serious narrative, and Tim Roth’s villainous General Thade is great! Thade is possibly the only valid addition to the franchise this film gives.
The music too. Danny Elfman puts his own spin on the Apes themes and it is has a great sound to it, without being generic Elfman sound. Set design also is very nice to look at with plenty of practical effects.

But the film remains incredibly forgettable, a parody of what came before rather than any serious attempt at remastering the franchise. This film ignores the original’s themes, or at the very best it brushes them to the side as if irritated by the responsibility. Instead let’s have a chase scene that rampages through the homes of apes so we can see a silly, lurid cross section of their society.
Sure, I am happy to see a “retelling”, or a new vision or interpretation of a story, but why do so many remakes blatantly ignore the themes and the moods of the predecessor?? Changing that changes too much, and what you get is a parody like this and not a remake!

After watching the decline of the original saga, the terrible budget cuts etc, seeing this film with all its lush visuals, expressive ape characters and great music I feel extremely disappointed with everything else. The lack of inspiring characters, the absence of any story or pathos… the entire thing just gets monotonous.

Additional Marshmallows: If it weren’t for Tim Roth’s Thade and Elfman’s music this film would be down in the gutter!

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

This retelling of the initial events that started the race of intelligent apes has a quickfire pace equal to the speed of their evolution!

Set in contemporary America, Rise of the Planet of the Apes sees Will Rodman (James Franco) a scientist attempting to cure his father’s alzheimer’s disease by testing on various apes. In the process, a pregnant ape under the effects of the virus gives birth to Caesar, a chimpanzee with remarkable, accelerated intelligence development.
As the tagline says: Evolution becomes Revolution, after Caesar is placed in confinement after an accident, and the world might never be the same again…

You know, originally I had only seen Tim Burton’s remake before I saw this… and while I enjoyed it a great deal I don’t believe I gave it enough credit at the time. Watching them all and now Rise (days before Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) I can see a massive rejuvenation for the franchise!
Rise does what very few blockbusters ever do; it is surprisingly subtle when it needs to be. While Franco’s performance brings reality to the premise’s conception, this film is ultimately about the apes themselves… and unlike the 1970s films, these are apes and nothing more… for now at least. It plays around with wonderful scenes both joyful and cruel to show the increasingly human intellect growing within Caesar; we see his thought processes through actions and the actions of those around him. While yes motion capture artist Andy Serkis derseves a lot of credit for the character’s energy, most of the film’s strength comes from the ironclad production decision: let the audience figure things out, don’t over explain.

Caesar’s evolution is fast, and perhaps my initial reluctance was due to feeling left behind in the rush. But upon a second viewing I find the one-hundred minute long experience full of great nods to the original, and create subtle characterisation with the apes. These animals have bare minimal distinction, yet we know who they are and how they are each going to evolve. Very fascinating. In terms of technical achievement, this film makes us and the human characters really feel something for these computer generated creatures.

While it doesn’t go into the heavy subtexts and social messages of its predecessors (that isn’t necessarily its function) it is incredible how faithful it is to its potential future and past successes. It does a lot with very little, and is a film with no wasted opportunity.

It is the literal beginnings of the franchise, or at least a new vision of the beginning. There’s a lone shot of a television telling us of a space voyage to Mars that is in progress… and I’ve never seen a silent end credit sequence more loaded with narrative significance than here! I guess 20th Century Fox weren’t sure of the film’s success and treated this as a single experience with the potential to grow. What I am saying is: I left the film wanting more!

Looking at the series as a whole, it isn’t surprising that it has been abandoned for so long. Twentieth Century Fox treated it extremely badly in the 70s due to their financial troubles (although one can’t imagine why they would produce four films in four years if they had such problems funding the series!) and Tim Burton’s indulgent time waster did not improve the opinions of young and old audiences that the series was salvageable.
But with Rise, director Rupert Wyatt breathed new life into the series the only way left available to the studio at this point: a prequel.

Reviews so far for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes have been just as good (if not better!) than they were for Rise, so here’s hoping we have a great progression for this franchise!

Review: Transformers - Age of Extinction (2D)

This first part in a new trilogy by Michael Bay has restored most of my faith in the film franchise! Most of it. This outing goes to far edgier, darker places and actually gives the titular characters time and space to breathe!

Set a few years after the events of the third film, Dark of the Moon, this new film opens with the bleak reality that humans have had enough of the Autobot/Decepticon war destroying Earth, the devastation of Chicago made as a public reminder of their menace. But the CIA has gone a step further: allying themselves with a mercenary Transformer called Lockdown, they are hunting down and killing all robots, including Autobots.
Optimus Prime, who has been in hiding since Lockdown’s appearance, is discovered by kind hearted inventor Cade Yeager (that’s quite the name) his daughter and her boyfriend. Optimus then vows never to defend Humanity again… the cost has become too high…

Let’s talk about what’s wrong with the film first. The robots have been given a new appearance, all except Bumblebee for the most part, and I don’t really like them. What I like about the first films (especially 2007) is how you can see the vehicle (or alt) mode on the robot, here the characters are better and more distinctive, but the vehicle they turn into is completely lost. Example: the Autobot character Crosshairs has a longcoat, I have no idea how the coat goes into his car mode! Or Lockdown, he has a Lamborghini alt mode, but before he transformed into one I had no clue.
There are also new Transformers. Sufficed to say, humans have acquired technology to make their own Transformers, and they have a very, very different way of transforming; think of particles, totally breaking down and reforming. I didn’t like that.

And tonnes of product placement. Good lord.

But you could say these things are superficial, I really enjoyed the film. I enjoyed the hell out of it!
You know all that dumb, childish, toilet humour of the first three films? You know: Sam’s Mom; robot fart and pissing jokes; “Deep Wang”; Wheelie humping Mikeala’s leg; basically all of TF:RotF? None of that presents itself here, and I am not exaggerating! With the focus on Mark Wahlberg’s Cade the story takes a more mature, edgier feel. Sure, there’s still humour, but it is wittier than the teenage-grade jokes before. Bumblebee has some very funny dialogue.
You know all that terrible rapid cutting and editing that plagued the first three films? Bay has actually listened to complaints and the action here is actually far more legible!
You also remember all the overpowering glorification of the US military in the previous films? Gone. The military doesn’t even feature in this movie!

The robots take a more prominent role too. Lockdown is a vicious new villain! I really like his character, and the Autobots were lively, had very humanoid faces (something the fandom bemoaned about the first trilogy) and all very distinct from each other.

The first act is decent. We see that our human characters are genuine (if very borderline pretenteous, something Bay must avoid doing in the future!) I think Wahlberg knows how to work for Michael Bay, and the second act does some intense, dark stuff! I was actually surprised with some of the things they did: they clearly want to separate this from the pulpy, teenage melodrama of the previous films!
Of course, the third act becomes overlong and the film’s runtime is barbaric at two hours forty-five minutes! Completely unnecessary. But as these films go on, I feel like I am watching a TV series and just binging on a whole season at once!

I will say it: I am stoked for more movies! If they can maintain what this film is going for, and don’t screw it all up like they did with RotF, we could be on to a really good trilogy! I know what they are building up to now, there was a heavy theme of creators and creation in this film, and any fan will be able to tell you what’s coming next. I liked this a lot.

If you never liked the original trilogy, this probably won’t change your mind too much (despite the lack of toilet humour and edgier tone) but if you are one of those people who are on the fence, uncertain, this will make you a fan again!

Additional Marshmallows: Something else worth noting. The “Witwicky Trilogy” was certainly fun in a childish way, but what could happen is that this new trilogy goes too serious, that it stops having its sense of self-awareness.
I know that’s what’s in right now; to “Nolanify” everything, but I will be honest Transformers: Age of Extinction does borderline this sort of severity at times, and really… it doesn’t work. Not because it is Michael Bay, but because it is a franchise based off toys!

Banter: Transformers (Part 2 of 2)

Speaking as a fan, as someone who will defend Michael Bay’s Transformer films (or the Bayformers, as they are called without affection) I will say right now: There’s a myriad of awfulness scattered throughout the trilogy. There are scenes that are so bad that I still cringe and feel my childhood withering under their vast stupidity.
I am making an individual blog post about these scenes, to prove to you all that despite my apparent love for the films and my defense of their existence I agree with those that do not. I am not ignorant and I am not a fool (or “retarded” or a “fanboy” or an “idiot” or someone who doesn’t appreciate good film-making!)
These scenes and these characters are so unnecessary, so hideous and often completely terrible that one can easily see why people hate entire movies because they are included.

I want you to know that I sympathise with your hate. If you argue with me about how bad they are, I won’t try and convince you otherwise. I will however feel bad for you that these scenes I am about to list are exactly why you find so much venom and hatred towards films about giant robots fighting each other.

Word of warning, this post does contain spoilers for all three films.

Let us begin.    

Transformers (2007)

Played by Anthony Anderson, an American comedian I’d never heard of before watching the film.

This character’s main narrative addition was to provide data analyst Maggie the means to decrypt the Decepticon transmissions. For some reason this meant stealing the data away to his house, interrupting his cousin’s game of Dance Dance Revolution (or similar) and shouting at his momma, only to climax with a SWAT team breaking in and tackling his cousin into a swimming pool. For some unknown reason, he was brought along for the film’s third act to witness the All Spark… he then disappears from the narrative. Oh, he does help solve the crucial “We have no microphones” problem I suppose.

This guy does provide the odd laugh (the doughnuts) but ultimately he does not need to be there.

Let me summarise everything the character Miles contributed to the film and its story, simultaneously reminding you what you know of him: He hung upside down from a tree.That’s it.

Honestly, if the term “narratively expendable” was in the dictionary, his picture would be there! Even Glen was given a reason to exist by the wandering plot but Miles… he literally did nothing but give the line: “Bros before Hos”.

The Police Sheriff:

This is probably the first point in Bay’s Transformers trilogy were audiences genuinely felt alienated; a momentary lapse in the senses that brings with it the thought: “What am I watching?”
Utterly needless. One isolated scene, one isolated character who never returns. The joke of the scene is Sam’s dog is taking painkiller medications, the pillbox has “Mojo” printed on it (the dog’s name), the Sheriff misunderstands that Mojo is slang for drugs… “hilarity” ensues…


Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

This might take a while.

The “Kitchen Bots”:

While Revenge of the Fallen opened (naturally) with a big action sequence, the Shanghai battle, we’d expect to get a healthy sequence of character development afterwards? Hahaha, not in Bay’s universe. Enter one of the most cluttered, awfully designed fight sequences in the entire series, in my opinion.
To show Sam’s shard of the All Spark has transformative powers, we get an ensemble of kitchen appliances changed into murderous Decepticons that proceed to chase him through his home. While these are probably a callback to the Transformer “minicons”, they are really really badly designed. Taking the already “mangled metal” look to new extremes.

But then, if I told you that Michael Bay (due to the writer’s guild strike) designed some of the RotF robots himself… well there’s your answer.

The sequence is both awkward and unwelcome, and is the beginning of the end of RotF’s credibility.

Sam’s Mom:

Oh yeah, because everybody who saw 2007’s Transformers demanded more of Sam’s parents, I couldn’t get on with my life for the endless comments, blogs, articles and forums based entirely on how incredible these characters were. Especially Sam’s Mom’s “masturbation talk”.
The film introduces our family again not only with his Mom crying over Sam’s move to college and his toddler-sized shoes she found, but continues relentlessly with their arrival at the college grounds…… and frankly, the rest is history. 
This exaggerated and overlong scene destroyed all possible credibility for this film and remains the spearhead of many haters’ arguments against the film.
Why is it included? I actually have no idea.

The dogs:

It is a sequel see, so while we had one dog in the first film we naturally need TWO dogs now. Seriously, why? I didn’t pay admission for precious seconds to be wasted on two dogs humping on a sofa. You aren’t filming Youtube: The Movie.
Sure, having the two animals running away from their… kennel… birdhouse… thing… as it explodes is kinda funny, but I ask again, why?


Leo’s inclusion to the story was a screenplay choice. Because Sam has first hand experience of the Transformers and his no longer amazed or shocked like he was in the first film, the writers felt the need for another audience surrogate in case people hadn’t seen the first film ahead of time.
What does this mean? Leo spends most of the second and third acts crying, moaning and screaming hysterically. Oh… joy.
Again, who cares if people haven’t seen Transformers 2007? I doubt even those people do! This character could have been completely cut, from every scene he features. He doesn’t feature in Dark of the Moon either.
He helps Sam locate Agent Simmons, but honestly, the film does include GIANT ALIEN ROBOTS that could have helped instead.

But I suppose we need internet culture and kitten calendars, wait.. what am I watching again?

The college Dean:

She only appears for one shot…………………………….. But what I want to know is WHY she even needs to exist? Why did the screenplay progress to such a degree that this was necessary?
This single shot is actually my definition of what’s wrong with this film

Skids and Mudflap (aka The Twins):

I don’t feel like I need to explain these two… surely everyone hates them by now?

Skids and Mudflap’s inclusion is another device similar to Leo’s, the screenwriters believed that Bumblebee, like Sam, had evolved with experience and that younger Autobots were required to fill the gap of inexperienced characters.
Because actual story evolution over a film franchise is so overrated!

What we get are Autobots created solely for the film series; they never featured in the original cartoons. More than that, they do next to nothing asides fight with the gestalt Decepticon Devastator, and spout as many racist cultural terms as possible. The film’s finale actually forgets to mention what happens to them, and they do not feature in Dark of the Moon because of the massive audience backlash. Possibly the worst things to happen since Jar Jar Binks. 

Alice (aka the Pretender Transformer):

Even some fans of the entire Transformers franchise (and I mean toys, comics, cartoons and films) had never heard of the Pretender Transformers. Pretenders were a toyline Hasbro invented that bombed quite severely, and involved ugly plastic Transformers to be hidden inside a shell of plastic that looked like a human character. So Bay decided… paradoxically… to add this to his “bigger and better” second film!

Sure, we had Scorponok (an homage to Beast Transformers) in Transformers 2007, but the character of Alice is an obscure reference and also knocks a massive plothole in existing lore. If a Transformer could be so advanced that it could perfectly disguise itself as a human being…. why don’t they all do that? Why not kidnap/kill Mikaela and replace her to get close to Sam?

Her inclusion provided a poorly executed lovers’ quarrel between Mikaela and Sam, which did absolutely nothing for subsequent scenes asides prove Mikaela is incredibly dumb by not noticing the girl was a homicidal killer robot.
Perhaps if they knew Megan Fox was going to drop out of the series they could have capitalised on the story arc. Then again… why am I trying to justify this?     

Agent Simmons and too much information:

Do I need to write about this?
Okay, so sequels follow a trend of “more of the original, only better”. We saw John Turturro disgraced by Mikaela (with plenty of reason, I might add!) by stripping down to some ugly, baggy Hawaiian boxer shorts.

But in Revenge of the Fallen… Simmons proves not only that the previous fashion was an off-day for him, but also proves he doesn’t care about exposing himself, willingly undressing in broad daylight.
With a ridiculous foreground shot.
Thanks Bay… Thanks.

Completely avoidable, added nothing but a cheap laugh and an image scarred into audiences’ collective minds forever. Why the scene exists, can never be answered.

(I really am very sorry I had to show you that again)

Egyptian checkpoint guard:

Did we really… really need a scene were Agent Simmons convinces an Egyptian police guard that Sam, Leo and Mikaela were is family so they could proceed? Would anyone think the film was unbelievable if they hadn’t been shown this??
WHY does this exist??

Devastator’s junk:

This example, is the most telling and most devastating (ba-dum TISH) for Michael Bay’s creativity, or lack thereof.
Revenge of the Fallen was written and produced during the writer’s guild strike, and as a result Bay himself “helped” with the script. Already that explains a lot, no?
Well, go onto the blu-ray extras for RotF and you will find documented footage of a concept artist showing Bay artwork for the Decepticon Devastator (sans testicles) Bay is seen looking at it before having a stroke of creative genius…

(seriously, go check it out: the RotF Special Features disc, under “The Human Factor” feature and in the “Seeds of Vengeance” chapter. It is truly depressing.)

Funnily enough, despite Devastator himself being made of several robots/construction vehicles, not one of those vehicles are equipped with wrecking balls.

Again, provides nothing but a cheap laugh at the robots’ expense. If I were a robot with the name DEVASTATOR you know what I wouldn’t do with two giant wrecking balls? I WOULDN’T HANG THEM USELESSLY BETWEEN MY LEGS FOR ABSOLUTELY NO REASON AT ALL.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Carly’s butt camera:

Now… normally this sort of thing wouldn’t qualify in a list like this, especially given this is a Michael Bay film and this is expected. But this example, this scene, is Bay at his most deliberate and self gratifying.
Dark of the Moon opens with the Autobot and Decepticon war that destroys most of Cybertron, important and valuable history never shown in the film series in such detail. This follows with the serious, inspirational (and not to mention, a proud American moment) NASA moon landing that is sanctioned by President Kennedy to uncover the Transformer Ark space ship, integral to the plot of the film. You can imagine, serious overtones, dark foreshadowing, lots of men in suits talking and looking grim.
Then BOOM. One cut later and we see Michael Bay’s camera practically climbing up and inside his not-Megan-Fox starlet-of-the-day Rosie Huntington-Whitely.

There’s juxtaposition, then there’s just smashing the audience in the face with how much you don’t care.

Carly, herself:

So between Revenge of the Fallen and the third film, Michael Bay and Megan Fox fell out over creative differences. Fox was quoted as saying something like: “I want to be in films that require actual acting” - only to go and star in Jonnah Hex. Good job, Megan.
So because Bay needs a hot girl, the third film introduces Carly as Sam’s new girlfriend, and that is about all she is to the storyline. My gripe is that, in terms of character development (and making the best of an actress leaving your franchise) having Sam single during Dark of the Moon would have been far more powerful!

Sam is lost and angry: he has lost everything, lost his girlfriend, lost his hero status, lost Bumblebee, lost his purpose. He has nothing and he hates himself for it. Oh, but he does have this supermodel-hot girlfriend for no discernible reason. Wait… how?

Something we suffer from with Bay, he doesn’t understand that sometimes having less is to actually get more. 


Alan Tudyk, what are you doing?
This character is a mystery to me. So at some point Agent Simmons required to get a butler/bodyguard, played by cult favourite Alan Tudyk. He seems relatively meek and straightforward, a background character without much purpose. But during Simmons’ unmemorable subplot, Dutch goes berserk and awakens some dormant military training that Simmons had been repressing… what am I… what even is this?

Sam Vs Starscream:

During the film’s finale, we see much loved Decepticon Starscream attempt to destroy Sam, to not only fail… but to be killed in the process.

Dark of the Moon did a lot to show that humans could also fight Transformers. That’s fine… the original 1980s cartoon did as much (sometimes, and usually with robot suits) but a line is crossed when you kill Starscream. Another line is crossed when you kill Starscream with Shia LeBeouf.

Compared to everything else on this list… this scene was horrible to watch. I don’t mean horrible to watch because it was frantic and badly photographed no, I mean it was heartbreaking to see a character (regardless of his new appearance) from my childhood getting killed slowly by metaphorical paper cuts.
You have to understand. In the cartoon, both Autobots and Decepticons were given personalities (term used loosely) and as such you had your kids who sided with one or the other because the characters were all uniformly awesome. This, narratively, is presumably revenge delivered on Starscream and Decepticons in general. While in every other story this would be met with victorious cheers as we support the hero… no fan should see this! Starscream has died before in the history of the franchise but this… this is just an awful way to go, it is a bloody, nasty way to die. Why Starscream?? Why not a dime-a-dozen Decepticon instead?

I was gutted, to the pit of my stomach.
Poor Starscream…

Carly Vs Megatron:

This scene is bizarre, and frankly shows how little Bay cares about character progression throughout the franchise, and how he takes scenes as isolated incidents.
During the penultimate scenes of Dark of the Moon, love interest Carly discovers a battered and despondent Megatron in an alleyway. Carly manipulates him into join the fight, calling to his tyranical nature, to destroy himself in the process.
Carly is new to the series, Carly doesn’t know Megatron. Carly is naturally terrified of most Decepticons.
Megatron is the leader of the Decepticons, a leader of evil robots who are named with the art of deception in mind!
How does this scene make sense? It feels like a leftover from when Mikeala was still involved. This scene ultimately becomes important as it seals Megatron’s fate, but for Carly to be the one to do it?? Carly didn’t even show this side of her character; she never came across as manipulative or deceptive before now. The scene comes bang out of nowhere!
Megatron has had zero luck and zero compassion from these screenwriters and I think it reaches a new low here. Like a lame dog he is forced back into the light of day only to be put down… again… by a random-hot-chick!

Poor Megatron…

Trilogy Review: Transformers (Part 1 of 2)

Despite what many might say, Transformers has not had the best of histories in terms of reception, going right back to their humble beginnings.
Did you know that Hasbro bought the toys from Japanese toy company Takara Tomy, from lines called Diaclone and Microman toys, and that by 1985 these lines were discontinued?

Hasbro reinvented the toys that they bought off the Japanese, literally giving the toys names and personalities alone and producing a cartoon out of them. Vehicles such as trucks, sports cars and vans were the heroic Autobots while planes and weapons were to become their eternal rivals the Decepticons.
This fledgling franchise would eventually become one of Hasbro’s most memorable and successful toylines over the decades. “Generation 1” had its own movie event in 1986, and afterwards the series would go through multiple reinventions.

Personally, I adored the original Generation 1 cartoon but I did not go further than the 1986 movie. The cartoon should be remembered as a distinctly action packed and repetitive laser battle between the same robots again and again, frequently throwing in new “characters” without any introduction so they could sell more toys!
I love it dearly, but I know what it was and it was very good at it!

I did however lose sight of the Transformers for over a decade. I didn’t read the comics, I didn’t watch the Beast Wars series or future series. I didn’t even rewatch my old favourites until news of Michael Bay’s movie was announced! Then everything started again.

I bought toys, I followed the online forums and got all the concept art leaked about robot designs. I was hooked. I couldn’t imagine Transformers being brought into the real world through CGI, but here it was!

Of course, so far, Transformers has had a difficult time in Hollywood. I still defend it to the hilt as a good source of entertainment, but there are many, many people who somehow claim they are the worst films ever made.

No, the Bloodrayne movies are the worst films ever made. Get it right.

So let’s go through this. Let’s roll out!

Transformers (2007)

I feel very sorry for those many people who jumped on the bandwagon of hatred towards this series and forget how outright enjoyable the first movie really is.

A simple story of a boy getting his first car, only to discover his car is an advanced alien robot in disguise! He finds himself caught in the middle of an intergalatic civil war between the noble Autobots and merciless Decepticons, and Earth becomes the battlefield.

When Michael Bay stepped up to direct the first live action interpretation of the 1980s cult cartoon Transformers (yes, I use the word “cult” specifically) there were some groans and doubts. But think about it, what does he do best? Explosions and cars. What does Transformers constitute of? Explosions and cars. Under the executive producer eyes of Steven Spielberg and Dreamworks Studios, Bay’s outright silliness is restrained and this film actually feels structured.
This comes from some decent acting from/direction of Shia LeBeouf as Sam, regular boy who wants to win the affection of Megan Fox’s Mikaela. It takes a good forty minutes before the action takes off and our planet is bombarded with thirty-foot tall talking robots. As a fan, my inner child was (and still does) itch with anticipation! This is the Transformers mandate, heck it is in their motto: Robots in Disguise! We see Bumblebee, Sam’s guardian, as a regular car… the film knowingly holds off showing us transformations for as long as possible.
This makes the reveal of all the others, especially childhood cartoon hero Optimus Prime, incredible to see!

You have to understand. As a kid this sort of thing, showing real life Transformers, was only a thing of dreams, the technology wasn’t here until this movie. This film glorifies the act of these regular vehicles changing shape and continuing on their way. I still get some chills as Starscream swings around, leaping into the air and transforms.

Another thing this film achieved is often overlooked now. It was a massive success. I mean a massive success. Not only was it nominated for Academy Awards for special effects (and was robbed in broad daylight, The Golden Compass, seriously?!?) but Transformers was always a geeky, disrespected cartoon even at its height (sorry fandom, but it was) and this film broadened the franchise’s influence tenfold. Everybody loved Bumblebee, for example, and learned how people like me respected Optimus Prime as a character. It was wonderful! So many newformed fans appearing everywhere. Even my sister enjoyed it!
If you are one of these people and in denial of your initial feelings towards this film, I feel very sorry for you. There is a huge number of fickle-minded people out there.

Is it perfect? No.
Michael Bay still has some influence, though not a great deal, and there are a handful of human characters who do not belong. The story takes unnecessary detours and bypasses just to include human characters who could have been cut completely to make a sharper film. Does it detract from the film as a whole? No.
Yes, there are suspensions of disbelief, yes it is silly and the climax is a myriad of explosions but honestly! This is Transformers! For a first try at making something so ridiculous as this cartoon a living, breathing film, this hits it out of the park and lays a good foundation for improvement. Sadly, for this film (not unlike The Matrix) its sequels do their best to avoid improvement…

It is a fun, entertaining action romp. Exactly what Transformers was and should forever be.

Additional Marshmallows: On a personal note. When I used to watch the cartoon as a kid, I have the distinct memory of saying to my sister: “Hey, we always see Starscream fly off at the end of the episode!” Like this:

Now imagine, with that memory so persistent in your mind, that even after the riotous fun of the climax of Bay’s 2007 film (and with a cheering audience around you!) you see…. this as the final credit clip:

I was gushing with so much childish joy! Once again, Starscream blasts off at the end of the episode!

(I made these GIFs specifically to deliver this point to all of you. Naturally these clips are copyright of Hasbro and Dreamworks)

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

What a way to shoot yourself in the foot. Dive bombing so much promise into an eternity of hatred; instantly switching a blooming franchise into a notorious cluster of nonsense.

With Decepticon leader Megatron disposed of, the Autobots receive reinforcements and team up with human soldiers to hunt down the remaining Decepticons. But little do they know that an ancient Decepticon, known as The Fallen, seeks to destroy Earth. Sam, a college freshman now, holds the key to The Fallen’s final plan.
Or something like that.

Okay, so I will be honest… this film is deplorable. A fine line divides what I consider good (the 2007 film) and this, and it mostly comes down to a tragically misaligned screenplay. Scenes come and go, no build up, no tension, no anticipation, no reason, and this mash lasts for over one-hundred and fifty minutes!
The reason for this is simple; during the film’s development and production there was a strike at the screenwriter’s guild. Lead writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman only had a premise before filming began (that’s right, no script) so a third writer, Ehren Kruger, was called in to start work on the film. Plus, Michael Bay himself worked on the script, story and even design of some robots. They also had no plans for a sequel to begin with since Transformers ‘07 was a bigger hit than expected, and a release date barely more than a year after conception was far too optimistic.

Need I say more?

A lot of people don’t appreciate how Bay’s influence here is much greater than in the first film, or all of these production problems, and ultimate condemn all three films to be equal to its worst part. This part.

This film should be the darker turn in the series: the Decepticons are here and want revenge but no… RotF is packed with unnecessary characters, scenes and a surreal focus on all the wrong things. Terrible comedic turns, cool characters are ignored for unbearable racist stereotypes, character development that bears no emotional impact. The script is noisy and repetitive and the editing is ugly (did I mention that Bay actually re-uses footage, including some from the first film!)

You could argue, as I have in the past, that this is Transformers! It is silly and it is a cartoon for kids, it shouldn’t mean anything. But there’s being entertaining, and then there’s being obnoxious.

The film still looks good. The opening battle in Shanghai is awesome and feels like a good start to the continuation of the series, the robots are fifty-fifty of good and bad designs outside of the returning characters (some of them are very creative looking). It was wonderful to see Ravage in live action, and I am one of the few who liked Jetfire and Soundwave.
Sadly though the climax of the movie is far too messily shot to feel rewarding and the worst crime of all: we barely see the Transformers actually transform. Unlike the first film, this one doesn’t glorify it with any scenes tailored specifically for transformations.

I was disappointed even upon the first viewing, and though I still say the Transformers themselves redeem some of its awfulness, the more I watch it… the more I get tired of the rife Bay-isms. At best this is a guilty pleasure, more than the other films in the series.
Additional marshmallows: How on Earth can a film so badly constructed and narratively implemented include such an ironic line as: “Beginning, middle and end. Facts, details, condense, plot; tell it.”

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

After their disastrous second outing, few people had faith in the third part, but Dark of the Moon rights a lot of the narrative faults and feels like the sequel the first film deserved.

A despondent Sam finds himself out of the limelight as the Decepticon threat appears to have lessened, Mikaela and Bumblebee have left him and he struggles to find a job and direction in life. But when Optimus Prime learns that humanity had found a vital Autobot ship crashed on the Moon, he rescues Sentinel Prime from the wreck, just when the Decepticons return with a plan to restore their homeworld of Cybertron.

Watching Dark of the Moon feels like an endurance test by the time it finishes, this is due to a ridiculously drawn out battle set in Chicago for the climax. While it makes up for Revenge of the Fallen’s terribly underwhelming finale, it does become a blur of insignificance after a while because there’s simply too much happening!
But if there is one thing done right this time is a correct use of characters. A lot of the ludicrous padding and fluff from RotF is completely missing; our human characters are involved but not excessively (ie. Sam’s parents hardly feature at all!) and let’s say this film provides us with humans who aren’t noble and just.

There’s a lot more of the Transformers too (you would hope so) and it feels like they have a lot more respect shown to them now. Decepticons genuinely appear threatening and the Autobots are shown to have personalities again, continuing from the first film’s groundwork (a scene with a silent, brooding Optimus-in-truck-mode is a favourite). The action is off the rails too. More in keeping with the original film we see them transform during battles.

There are some deeply unsettling scenes too. The setup involves assassinations against humans who knew about the mission to the Moon, executed by Decepticon Laserbeak (great to see him too), one where he infiltrates a family’s house by pretending to be a friendly Autobot playing with their daughter. Woah, woah! RotF was too cheesy, but this is really dark all of a sudden!

As a fan of the Transformer characters, this film sees a lot of deaths. Some are most unforgivable. We haven’t seen this many prominent robot deaths since the slaughter that was the 1986 Transformers: The Movie!

The only other gripe I mostly have about this film asides deaths and a bloated finale is Carly, Sam’s new love interest (the forgettable Rosie-Huntington Whitely) who is given things to do thanks to the plot, but is far less notable than Fox’s Mikaela (I cannot believe I just wrote that) but I do believe the film would be stronger without a love interest. But it is Michael Bay, we need a girl for those slow-mo shots.

It is a vast, vast improvement and a faithful sequel to the 2007 film. It is too long, and it does make some unforgivable decisions regarding Transformer characters, so it feels less perfect in those regards. It is still a fun film though.

Now there is a fourth film coming soon, and I am fully up for it! While I do admit, I would have preferred a new trilogy by a new director… Michael Bay has had his turn… but a Transformers movie is still a Transformers movie to me. So long as it still provides me bright, exciting entertainment with plenty of giant robots transforming before my eyes, I’ll be happy with it!
Review: White House Down

Probably one of blockbuster-director Roland Emmerich’s better movies over the last ten years or more, White House Down ticks all the boxes as a solid action film.

John Cale (Channing Tatum) is a man out to prove himself to his wife and emotionally distant daughter by signing up to become one of the US President’s (Jamie Foxx) bodyguards. But just as he is declined, his chances arises when the White House is taken over from the inside by terrorists and everyone inside is held hostage.

It is undeniable that the comparisons to Olympus has Fallen are rife with reviewers, both films released last year with barely a month between them (one of the reasons I wanted to review both back-to-back). There are weirdly similar elements besides the blatantly obvious (the titles are effectively the same!) both have scenes referring to the British attack on the White House from American history, and I’m sure both have a villain say the line: “Welcome to my house”.

For all its infrequent cheesiness and let’s be honest here, “Emmerichisms”, this film is better paced and has more emotional connection than its overly-serious counterpart. The setup feels more believable (incredibly, considering the tonal differences of both films!) our villains appear to have a thought out plan, the heroes become tied into the action with actual reasons. Heck, I even felt these characters were actually vulnerable, unlike the scenery-chewing Gerald Butler. 
Sure, when action hero Cale teams up with the US President we get quips, we get wise cracks and the film starts to become a surreal buddy action movie that… for all intensive purposes… makes no realistic sense. But at least White House Down runs with it, it knows what it is: a bit of entertainment!

(there’s no overbearing and trumpeting score, or any all-praise-America baggage here!)

It is by far a good movie, its characters are pretty stock, the action and effects aren’t actually as good as Olympus in my opinion, and it may have been a little long in the tooth by the end. But it has good pacing otherwise and doesn’t feel restricted by its own presence and gravity. The levity comes from the dialogue, both from heroes and villains.

Like with Olympus, I doubt I will remember this film for much longer, but I can tell you right now that this film was more enjoyable and… paradoxically for Emmerich… felt more genuine than the serious-toned alternative.

A bit of high grade action fun, the sort of thing Emmerich is good for, without the ghastly ham-fisted nature of his worst movies!


Review: Olympus has Fallen

Well I had always intended to watch this… but now that I have I have discovered some awful not-supposed-to-be-funny ‘Murica trite.

When a terrorist attack on the American White House ends with the President and his aids taken hostage and the House turned into a fortress, only an ex-Secret Service agent (who was retired due to an earlier accident that caused the death of the President’s wife) can save the day.

The 1990s were full of action political thrillers and Olympus has Fallen appears to be trying to rekindle that genre of film: grounded, realistic and most importantly contemporary stories based around sieges, hostages or conspiracies. But either Olympus has missed the point completely, or something has been lost over the last fifteen years.
First of all, this film (as someone from the UK) is so overwhelmingly America, just… in your face AMERICA. Okay, that’s fine for a while. But when every single scene for the first twenty minutes is noble politicans striding boldly through corridors while the score blares with trumpets and warbles with drums, over and over again, I’m sorry but you lose any sense of nobility.
We then have the actual attack on the White House which is spectacular, there’s no denying that the action in the film is well done (there’s no obnoxious shaky-cam for a start, I generally knew where everything was!) but again the total lack of defense around Washington DC was outright laughable.
"Suspension of disbelief" is all well and good, but when a tone of a film is generally seen as realistic or gritty, behaving like an action thriller than a standard popcorn flick, these sorts of issues become targets for criticism. Sure, trumpet how awesome America is just before obliterating everything it stands for a moment later! …
The film is a bloody sequence too: televised executions, beatings, stabbings, traitors, all shown through a lens of gritty hardship. I can’t actually call this pro-America, it comes across more like self-defecation!

Then there is Gerald Butler… Oh boy. I don’t dislike the man; I enjoyed Law Abiding Citizen (for example) but this film’s script and acting is atrocious. I’ve already said this film is bringing the 1990s back, and that is right. I’ve seen all of these cliche sequences before. I had all of the emotional attachment for him and his wife/girlfriend/partner/person as I do for my toothbrush: every now and then, I am reminded that it’s there.
Butler’s character is, for want of a better analogy, The Terminator. We see these terrorists enter the story by massacring hundreds of civilians, and so naturally Butler can go on a bloody rampage executing any terrorist he sees with impunity. Imagine Die Hard, but without the sense of humour or self awareness. He just growls and murders his way to inevitable victory (oh, could that be a spoiler? You mean you weren’t sure if the personification of America would survive this ordeal?)

Ugh. Suspension of disbelief can carry you so far, but after that you need to tone down the pretentiousness. It is a forgettable action film that doesn’t know how to act. “We are realistic and contemporary: We… have hi-tech Hydra weapon platforms. We Stand for American integrity: We use a three-code nuclear activation system called Cerberus.”

I need a good note to finish on… uhm… uhm… It is better than A Good Day to Die Hard?

Avoid, unless you want to have some noise in the background while you do something productive.

Review: Edge of Tomorrow (2D)

Tom Cruise continues to show us he isn’t getting old by strapping on a gun-totting exoskeleton to blast some aliens. But luckily for him his co-star is excellent and the film’s implementation is entertaining.

In our very near future aliens arrive via meteor shower. Before long the entirety of greater Europe has been reduced to an infested wasteland. The military of all major countries amass around the borders and attempt to push the expanding tide back with state of the art weaponry. Cruise plays William Cage, a military spokesperson who is drafted against his will, only to get himself killed in the final battle. However, through unknown means he finds himself reliving the day, again and again, each time he dies.

This sort of thing has been done before, from Source Code to Star Trek television episodes, the hero trapped in a time loop offers an affordable bit of entertainment with the reuse of sets and even dialogue. Luckily, I’m a sucker for this sort of story.
Think Groundhog Day mixed with the visuals from the battle for Zion in Matrix Revolutions. Based off a Japanese graphic novel called “All You Need is Kill” (originally the film’s title until it was changed to suit wider audience appeal… sigh…) the film starts out with contemporary settings and a very un-Cruise like Tom Cruise. His character is a downright coward, and we see him trying to shrink and squirm his way out of army recruitment. This was a great way to start as it proves that maybe this film will be unique.
Then you have a literal montage of Cruise dying… a lot! As is the film’s gimmick; Cruise must learn (and in turn inform the audience) about the mysterious alien invaders through the only way he can: by fighting through a hopeless battle over and over again.
He finds help through Emily Blunt’s character Rita, a veteran in this future war and quite probably veteran show stealer. Certainly Cruise’s continual deaths are the funniest thing he’s done in a long time (take that as sadistically as you want!) Blunt’s grim reality is a great foil for him, especially when she must… instigate his day’s repetition.

It does have some cliche of course. The unit that Cruise’s character is settled with could be replaced by the Saratoga’s marines from Aliens, and I’ve already mentioned how the entire premise has been done before. The way the story naturally develops does mean that our lead hero becomes more and more Tom Cruise-like too. It is perplexing, but the more interesting character is seen to be slowly replaced by the all too familiar film star. It also has a terrible ending that reeks of massive cop-out. Far from the worst I have seen but certainly up there, a very unsatisfying end after everything that had happened.
The action is also far too frenetic. Coupled with the aliens appearance being very, very fast and covered in tendrils, it is incredibly difficult to see what is going on! I only saw this in 2D but I am grateful for it… this mess would induce a headache in 3D.

But, it proved good entertainment and as a sci-fi fan I enjoyed it. I laughed a lot more than I expected to and I would consider it well above average.

Review: How to Train Your Dragon 2 (3D)

Four years in the making and this sequel does what few ever manage; soaring as high as its predecessor!

Life on the island of Berk has improved since Hiccup proved to the viking people that the native dragons could be friends, even pets. We see Hiccup’s impression on the village with everyone using gadgets and inventions, however our hero is not feeling confident with his father’s plan to make him the new chieftain. But when a notorious dragon training tyrant called Drago has plans to take their pet dragons for his army, Hiccup feels he can resolve the problem without violence.

I felt the 2010 film didn’t require a sequel; it functioned as a single feature and even the series of books it is based upon does not give it a sequel, but… this new film is great!
Our characters have grown up, but they maintain their snappy dialogue and relations and possibly the best part: they aren’t angst-ridden teenagers! Hiccup may have identity issues, but the film does not linger on this, it doesn’t even try the old cliche of putting deliberate wrenches in his relationship with Astrid (this is very tastefully handled in general!) Toothless too has retained his cute charm and gains plenty of knowing looks towards Hiccup’s more harebrained ideas. I love where they take his own personal story. Hiccup’s father, Stoick the Vast, remains one of my favourites, in fact a lot of the film is focused on his past which I really appreciated; it fit what we did and did not know from the first film.
I was going to argue that Drago (Djimon Hounsou) the exotic villain of the piece, is the weakest element, but upon further reflection he does provide a tremendous amount of weight to our lead characters, and even acts as a mirror to Hiccup’s own ethics (being a dragon trainer himself) and I believe his character will improve over further viewings.
The graphics are gorgeous. Over the four years between films the characters and locations have been virtually made high definition, most obvious being Astrid’s hair! The 3D too was very good, much like the first film.

I’m talking a lot about the characters, but that is because I love good characters more than the stories themselves, and these two films have had a consistently great cast!

My only gripe does not affect the film itself. While the plot’s narrative felt far more predictable this time around, I hate this film’s trailer. The trailer gave way too much away! Trailers need to stop doing this because there are reveals in this film that should be both intense and surprising, but if you’ve seen the trailer entire scenes become needlessly ambiguous. This review is not giving away any of this and I implore you: if you haven’t seen the trailer yet… don’t! Just believe me and go and see the film (and the first one if you haven’t already!)

HTTYD2 does what sequels rarely do these days; it takes everything that made the original good and didn’t mess with it. It doesn’t over-complicate its already splendid characters with cliched yo-yo plotlines, it doesn’t throw in grandiose concepts that break the narrative’s simplicity, it merely gives us what we want: more! Expanding the world, explaining the lore just enough to keep things light and fun but also challenge us with intensity and daring.

I think I have a new Film of the Year.

Additional Marshmallows: All the way through this film I was listening to one particular character’s voice… for ages I was like: “Is… is that…? Is that really Jon Snow’s actor in this film??” Yep. Game of Thrones’ star Kit Harington features as a newcomer and he is pretty funny too!

Review: How to Train Your Dragon

2010 was a tough, tough year to rate films; so many excellent films, it remains the most memorable year for me. Inception won out, but even with Tron Legacy and Toy Story 3, How to Train your Dragon came a very, very tight second behind Christopher Nolan’s mind-warping thriller. Even now… I question that choice: in my top 50 films of all, this film comes a solid 18th (one place higher than Inception).

I adore this movie.

In a fantastical land, warrior vikings battle dragons on a daily basis, but one viking Hiccup is not like the others; he is meek and sheltered and instead of battling he creates traps and gadgets, instantly becoming a laughing stock of his peers and a disgrace to his father. But when Hiccup wounds a mysterious new dragon and begins to form a friendship with the beast, his world is turned (sometimes literally) upside down!

I remember the early posters for this film. I remember scoffing: “Hmpf, How to Train your Dragon? Another lame animation full of crude humour from the studio that brought us Shrek? Count me out.” But then the trailer appeared and wow. Then I watched it and I was floored.
For a ninety minute feature it is crammed with story and great characterization! The dialogue first and foremost is witty and snappy but never overbearing or obnoxious (something a lot of animation suffers from at least a couple of times) this comes from having genuinely wonderful characters. Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel, probably now typecast for life) is not whiny or too hopeless, using intellect and unorthadox thinking to win out, and the film’s core being the developing friendship between him and his dragon Toothless, which is both very powerful and fun to watch! I don’t think I can forget their first scenes together on screen!
Toothless, what can one say? Media has had a lot of great dragons in the past, Toothless is right up with the best of them! Somewhere between a dragon and a cat, his is intensely cute and fiercely loyal to Hiccup. They become like joshing best buddies.

It doesn’t stop there either, the supporting cast are excellent too. Gerald Butler gives a fantastic performance as Hiccup’s father, the amazingly named Stoic the Vast (the father-and-son “talk” scene is actually one of my favourites) and even potential love interest Astrid (America Ferrera) isn’t anywhere near two-dimensional.

It isn’t all fluffy cuteness either, the overarching story is intense; these vikings live to hunt and kill dragons, this is a war going on and at times How to Train Your Dragon does not pull any punches. There are some challenging, heart wrenching moments in the third act, and as such this film single-handed showed the world that Dreamworks Studios are capable of standing as tall (if not taller) than Disney and Pixar combined.

The music is a soaring Celtic and orchestral mix, the graphics are often eye-popping (the sky and rock effects are incredible) and the animation on Toothless is to die for, the screenplay is tight and never wasteful and the dialogue is smart and refined.

Dare I say it, nothing is wrong with this film!

Additional Marshmallows: If you haven’t already, I recommend you find the How to Train Your Dragon short animations, they are great additions to the world and provide even more wonderful character dialogue!