Now You See Me: The Second Act

A sequel that will hopefully disappear into thin air

After being persuaded (read: forced!) by my friend Sam to watch ‘Now You See Me’ I was pleasantly surprised – the cast were charismatic enough,  the tricks they pulled off were entertaining and, aside from a plot twist that made no sense whatsoever, it was a nice slice of fantasy entertainment. 24 hours later, after coming out of its sequel, I felt no such positivity.  ‘Now You See Me: The Second Act’ is bland, boring and blithely bloated. You come out of the cinema not feeling fooled or tricked – but scammed for giving up 129 minutes of your life for such maddening rubbish.

One year on since they outwitted the FBI and the Four Horsemen have become Three – J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) , Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) – as the ‘lady horseman’ grew tired of waiting around for further instructions from the Eye. Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is still working at the FBI, doing all he can to keep the Horsemen in hiding and under the radar. He sets the Horsemen a new mission to hijack the launch party of a new software, inviting Lula (Lizzy Caplan) to join them. The mission gets hijacked by Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe) who kidnaps the Horseman and forces them to use their skills to go steal a data-mining device. Dylan has no idea where the Horseman are so breaks Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) to help find them. What are the chances that vengeance-seeking Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) may be involved somehow?

Writing the above paragraph was exceptionally difficult in the attempt to avoid being convoluted as that is what the film is – a far too convoluted series of ‘tricks’ that make no sense whatsoever. Whereas the first film was fun and flashy this one gets bogged down by attempts at pathos. Much of the plot is devoted to Ruffalo’s character mourning the death of his magician father 30 years on. This wouldn’t be so bad a plot point  were it not for the fact that Dylan is not a likeable enough character for the plot to hinge on and the fact it doesn’t go anywhere. There’s also an overwhelming sense when watching these sequences that the filmmakers are hoping for a third movie with a seemingly impossible reunion.

If magic is entertaining the masses with the impossible this film is the opposite – entertaining no one with the improbable. Very rarely does the story actually make sense – with the twists, trickery and questionable character motivations trying so hard to be clever they end up failing. That’s also true of some of the dialogue which regularly made no sense whatsoever. Ordinarily I’d then quote of one these lines as evidence but they must have been that ridiculous that my frontal lobe totally rejected storing them for future reference.

These crimes against cinema would be somewhat forgivable if the characters were likeable or the cast were enjoyable to watch. Sadly that is not a saving grace here. My disdain for characters played by Jesse Eisenberg continues, Dave Franco is unbearably vanilla and Radcliffe is supremely irritating. Harrelson would be the film’s saving grace  were it not for the fact he ends up playing a dual role as the evil twin brother of his character. He’s  so stereotypically camp that it’s offensive, his costume horrendously cheap and played so hammily you can’t quite believe what you’re seeing. Lizzy Caplan is a welcome addition – as she is to everything she stars in – yet is still stuck in a one-dimensional role as a manic pixie girl type chasing after Dave Franco’s character. Although she is given some rather meta dialogue – about being the ‘lady horseman’ and who will be playing the ‘floozy’ when they go undercover – these are not admirable additions by the script writer. More the least they could do by using such one dimensional characterisation.

Although there is one impressive set piece (the heist to steal the data chip) and it was more than thrilling to see my ‘ends on the big screen (hello Greenwich!) the rest of the film is lacking in warmth, wit and, well, magic. It’s short on logic and right now seems to represent this year’s very dull summer of blockbusters.

1 star

 

 

Mother’s Day

A smorgasbord of star-studded schmaltzy smug-ish sentiment.

Having not seen ‘Valentine’s Day’ (2010) nor ‘New Year’s Eve’ (2011) I knew of the infamy of director Garry Marshall‘s ensemble romantic comedies but I don’t think I was truly prepared for ‘Mother’s Day’. It took me about 1/4 of the film, roughly 30 mins, to realise that the only way I could endure (the only verb choice that really captures how I felt) the remaining 3/4 would be by turning off my settings for common-sense, logic and cynicism. As a result I found only the first section truly excruciating, the remainder only vaguely unpleasant. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film so contrived or ridiculous. ‘Mother’s Day’ is essentially a feature film that is the personification of a money-free Hallmark card. Paper thin and totally empty.

Bradley (Jason Sudeikis) is a widow with two daughters; his wife was a marine who dies in combat. Sandy (Jennifer Aniston) is a divorcee with two sons. Her ex-husband Henry (Timothy Olyphant) has just married a twenty-something called Tina (Shay Mitchell). Sandy’s best friend is Jesse (Kate Hudson). Jesse is married to Russell (Aasif Mandvi), an Indian doctor; they have a young son together. They live next door to Jesse’s sister Gabi (Sarah Chalke) who is married to her lesbian partner Max (Cameron Esposito); Max has a son whom Gabi adopted. Jesse made a new friend at her mother & baby group, a young mum called  Kristin (Britt Robertson). Kristin is in a long-term relationship with Zach (Jack Whitehall) who is an amaterue comedian. Kristin won’t marry Zach until she meets the mother who gave her up for adoption, a legendary business-woman and workaholic called Miranda (Julia Roberts). 

That is genuinely the most contrived plot summary I have ever written in my 14 months of writing this blog. I intentionally included facts about race/sexuality/personality which often feel needless when I write about other films. The reasoning is simple – Mother’s Day makes such a big deal about being ‘inclusive’ and having a range of representation. But it doesn’t. Not really. Yes there is a lesbian couple, but we don’t actually get to know them. They merely serve as plot points for Jesse’s storyline about telling her seemingly racist mother that she married someone of another race. The majority of the film’s ‘jokes’ come from these exchanges, where her mother calls her new-found son-in-law a ‘towelhead’ amongst many others. It’s a huge misstep as the way it is treated and mined for laughs is in itself racist. The movie tries to be self-aware about racist and homophobic attitudes yet uses them in such a casually offensive manner.

Another recurring excruciating element of the film are Jack Whitehall’s stand-up sequences. They are painfully contrived, like most of ‘Mother’s Day’ in all fairness, but considering being a stand-up is Whitehall’s job it feels like an advanced skill that the film manages to get them so so wrong.

Then there’s Julia Roberts, rumoured to have been paid $4 million for three days worth of filming. The film uses an approach to show just how ‘big’ Miranda is by having her appear everywhere within the film, frequently using adverts and infomercials to showcase her omnipresence.  It’s a touch I quite like (sound the alarm!) if only the ads themselves had been infuriating. There are glimmers of Roberts’s talent here, certain looks she gives, that remind of just how talented she is. Unfortunately that is lost by her having to play a previously stereotyped ‘business-woman’. She has no personal life, only business. Therefore she is cold and treats practically everyone as if they are worthless. So glad to see we’ve progressed beyond that cliche!

It does hurt to say this, but I did quite like the performances and storylines involving both Aniston and Sudeikis. Whilst there was still a whole lot of ridiculousness, particularly with his female harem of friends which included seemingly the only black person in the whole of Atlanta (a larger lady who is loud and proud. Sigh.), it was during these storylines that showed the film had a tiny murmur of well-meaning intent.

Otherwise ‘Mother’s Day’ is devoid of charm and rather sickly. It’s an opportunity to see actors you have liked in other movies interact with each other in contrived scenes and only communicate with pseudo psycho-babble. It’s smug and begrudgingly acted. Avoid.

1 star

Alice Through The Looking Glass

Disney provides a sequel that no-one actually asked for

Alice Through The Looking Glass is, quite literally movie-making by numbers. The end-product is tick-boxing, almost as if it is following a guide called Pretending To Be Weird For Dummies, but it was only ever made due to the admittedly very large numbers of the first film. Six years ago Alice In Wonderland made a worldwide total of $1,025,467,110 at the box office. It currently ranks at number 23 of the highest grossing films worldwide. It’s therefore not unsurprising that this film was made, though the fact it took six years to get it done is and the fact its sequel film is equally mediocre is no excuse at all.  Interestingly Alice Through The Looking Glass was predicted to earn $55–60 million  from its opening weekend but instead earnt only $27 million. Alice In Wonderland earnt $116 million  in its opening, a difference with its sequel of 70%.  Considering it earnt so much money Alice In Wonderland had a frosty reception with critics and audiences alike. Clearly the people sat around the table who greenlit Alice Through The Looking Glass cared more about getting money out of its audience as opposed to actual enjoyment or satisfaction. Deciding to see ATTLG was due to curiosity and to quote the 1951 animated Alice In Wonderland, “Curiosity only leads to trouble.”

Alice (Mia Wasikowska) has spent the past three years sailing the high seas upon her father’s beloved ship ‘Wonder’. Alice returns home she finds that her family’s finances are so poor that they will have to either give up ‘Wonder’ or the family home. It’s at this point that Absolem (Alan Rickman) in the form of a butterfly calls her back to Wonderland. The Mad Hatter/ Tarrent Hightopp (Johnny Depp) believes that his family may actually still be alive. No-one else believes him which is causing him to fade away. Alice must use a time travelling device stolen from Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) to save Hatter. Old foe Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) wants the time travelling device for a different reason, to get revenge on her sister White Queen (Anne Hathaway). Will Alice succeed in her mission to save Hatter, will she be intercepted by Time or will Wonderland be destroyed forever through her trying to change time?

 SPOILER ZONE (SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH IF YOU WISH TO AVOID SPOILERS) The main problem with this film, its fatal flaw if you will, is that so much of it is so utterly pointless. Time tells Alice from the outset that she can’t change time. But she tries anyway, for an hour of the film’s running time, only to find out that she can’t and in the process may have destroyed Wonderland for ever. Not only does it lead to feelings towards Alice akin to my current view of Bran from Game Of Thrones ( I still can’t hear the phrase ‘Hold The Door’ without nursing an internal sob) but there’s also an ironic feeling of having had your time wasted. Time is established as a villain who accent-wise seems to be impersonating Arnold Schwarzenegger yet arguably (this may have come about due to my less than satisfied feelings towards this film) he was surely trying to do the right thing? Alice is the one who nearly destroyed everything, yet she is the one lauded and celebrated from stopping it happening..? 

Anyways…the big problem that Alice In Wonderland had was that it tried to be weird. The ridiculousness of Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter personified this problem with a truly grating performance. Mercifully he has less screentime in this one but it is still enough to make you wince and feel slightly creeped out. It’s a combination of make-up, costume , performance and vocal choice that I just do not understand. Wasikowska is wonderful as Alice, an actual wonder to watch in a land filled of synthetic versions of it.In fact I’d argue the film’s best moments are when Alice is bringing that wonder into the real world – how society views her with such ill-regard and her brief stay in the ‘care’ of female hysteria speicliast Dr Bennett (an underused Andrew Scott) are moments when the film feels real fresh and lacking the self-consiousness that lingers of the rest of it.

A surprising appearance of Richard Armitage as King Oleren reminded me of Middle Earth and how Peter Jackson managed to create a fully fledged world that athough different from ours seemed equally real. That has not happened with AIW or ATTLG. Instead we’ve been given two films that try to be quirky and strange yet are truly not – neither film has heart to it – and are instead synthetic manifestations of it. The first film may have succeeded on trying to profiteer from the ‘strange’ but the huge defeat of its sequel suggests that people have learnt their lesson. On a grander scale it’s hard not to ponder what this huge loss means for future Disney films. Nearly all of Disney’s upcoming slate is of remakes or reimaginings as they seemed to be safe entities with a pre-sold audience. Just a few weeks ago with Jungle Book (click here to read my review)  Disney proved it could do it well. But after this, I’m not so sure now. Hollywood has taken an approach of putting all of its eggs (monies) into one safe basket (a film based on a book/previous film) yet the scale of ATTLG box office after numerous others may require a change in thinking.

A huge budget and elaborate sets yet no-one appears to have worried about the plot. It’s a mess.

1.5stars

The Neon Demon

“Beauty isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”

Where to start? Yesterday I had the privilege, courtesy of Little White Lies film magazine, to attend a preview screening of Nicolas Winding Refn‘s The Neon Demon, at the very schmancy Soho Hotel with my friend Galia. The film is not released until June 24th in the States and not until early July in the UK. However the film had its international premiere at Cannes last month which led to a substantial amount of reviews. As it stands on June 2nd the film has a rating of 6.8/10 on IMDB and 47% on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s looking like The Neon Demon is not going to be the new Drive (7.8/10 and 92% respectively) and there’s one really good reason for that. Refn’s return to LA is with a film that confuses depth with emptiness, mistakes meaning with vapidity and chooses style over substance. The result is an exploitation movie disguised as art, smothered with layers of pretension.

16 year-old Jessie (Elle Fanning) has just moved to Los Angeles. No-one appears to know or care that she is there. Jessie knows she is beautiful, She also knows that beauty is dangerous and that other women would kill for it. After her first photoshoot with amateur photographer and potential love interest Dean (Karl Glusman) Jessie is befriended by makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone). Ruby offers to be the friend Jessie so desperately needs yet Ruby’s other two friends Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee), models only slightly older than Jessie, view Jessie instead as threat and competition rather than a new-found friend. It soon seems like everybody in LA wants a piece of Jessie, her beauty is admired and envied in equal measure – but what will it end up costing her?

What rather infuriates me reading back the plot summary I have just written is that I have made the film sound fun. It isn’t really. Moments of the film are, when the film casts a satirical eye on LA and the modeling industry, but when the film loses focus and Refn seems busy being self-congratulatory about his own brilliance – that’s when you see the film for what it really is. Vapid and empty. I’m sure it would be easy to argue that was intentional, a reflection of the 21st Century’s perception of models and beauty (blah blah yah yah)… but no.

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Prior to the film’s screening its director and lead were invited to talk about the film and answer some questions (picture courtesy of Galia). Refn said, and not for the first time in the promo for this film, that ‘I wanted to make a film about the 16-year-old girl inside me’. This resulted in awkward stifled guffaws from an audience who hadn’t yet seen the film. For the first half of the film there are instances where you can see very loosely what he means by this. Jessie’s interactions with casting agents (Christina Hendricks), auteur photographers (Desmond Harrington) and wildly miscast ‘scary’ motel owners (Keanu Reeves) explore the vulnerability of the young in an industry that can be so parasitic and vampiric. It is during this period that the cast really shine. Fanning possessing an ethereality – an otherness that draws yet repels – Malone unnerving as a metaphorical wolf in friends clothing, Heathcote and Lee wonderfully cold as Jessie’s rivals.    

It is these more conventional moments that are some of the most engaging. They are intersected with moments that are more exploratory and ‘artistic’ (read: rather deluded and self-indulgent). These moments are overlong, assaulting the senses in a way that should be poetic but instead aggravate. However the soundtrack during the entire film is phenomenal – throbbing away and pumping tension into each scene. And, it must be said, the use of colour and lighting during these moments and the film in it entirety is truly extraordinary. Refn’s color blindness means that his use of colour must alway be in high contrast so he can see it (fact courtesy of Galia). The use of lighting and colour within each of these sequences establish then reflect the tone and ongoings in each sequence. It’s almost as if his use of colour reflects the dichotomy of the human experience…. (sorry I had to try at sounding like a proper film critic!)

It’s the film’s second half that gives into Refn’s epicureanism, resulting in the film becoming even less of a narrative (there wasn’t really one to start with) and more a spiral of ‘well that escalated quickly’. Things get weirder, even weirder, and then weirder yet. It is these moments that are the most problematic. I like weird. I am weird. But I need my weirdness in cinema to be purposeful. I don’t need to see a character deepthroating a knife without purpose nor a character performing necrophilia on a dead model again without purpose. Don’t even get me started on the shower sequence. I’m not the only one of the audience of about 50 of us who felt this way. The gasps and intensity of audience focus hugely shifted at this point, with the grosequeties accompanied by laughs of disbelief instead of the intended wonder.

These scenes have resulted in extreme horror from The Daily Mail (quelle surprise) with headlines such as “Coming soon to a cinema near you: Grim film featuring murder, cannibalism and lesbian NECROPHILIA that even shocked Cannes is now set for British screens” and “Has cinema ever been so depraved and the censors so amoral? CLARE FOGES on the extreme violence, cannibalism and lesbian necrophilia in new film The Neon Demon” These headlines are ridiculous for two reason. 1) I’m sure anyone who has seen a solid amount of film could name you films more graphic than this one. 2) Such headlines would give its pretentious twonk of a director an egotistical thrill and further fuel his perception of himself as some sort of revolutionary.  He’s not worth it.

The film favours an approach of Message over an actual storyline, choosing to drift between scenes as opposed to following a narrative and having loose outlines as opposed to actual characters. The more extreme moments are so needless they undercut everything that has occurred prior and throw any perception of The Message out of the window. If Refn wanted to criticise the modelling industry these scenes confuse The Message completely. Initially the film relies on the perverse pleasure of being voyeur of the voyeurs (we watch the watchers watching the watched) whilst pointing out the dark side of the industry. Yet once the aforementioned silliness occurs it is is almost like we see the film for what it really is – a mastabororty experiment where Refn gets to sadomasochistically annihilate his inner 16-year-old girl.

There are images and messages galore on offer within The Neon Demon, but the majority of these are like gaudy baubles. Beautiful to look at but totally empty.

2.5

Bastille Day

Remove brain and enjoy the stupid

To put it simply, there is nothing clever about this film. It’s too po-faced about going about its business to be a parody even when the film really feels like it’s parodying ‘the maverick detective’ genre – our ‘maverick’ is even introduced via a CIA briefing where a prior report described him as ‘reckless and prone to violence’, he does things that are so against the rule book that he’s ‘own his own’ and he punches or shoots everyone he comes into contact with. Aside from this not a single character has any actual characterisation, each one simply remains a job title or character trait. Yet somehow, and if you really try not to think too hard, this film has enough charisma and talent to actually be rather entertaining… for the most part.

Zoe Naville (Charlotte Le Bon) is persuaded by the man she thinks she loves to walk into the office of a political party candidate after hours and leave behind a bomb. He promises her that it’s safe, the office will be empty and no-one will get hurt. When Zoe finds the office to be full of cleaners she ends up being stuck in the middle of Paris with a literal ticking time bomb. That’s when con artist and thief Michael Mason (Richard Madden) spots an opportunity and steals her bag without knowing the contents. After stealing her phone he drops the back of at a bin – time has run out and the bomb explodes. Michael survives but CIA surveillance now implicates him as the instigator of the bomb so they put their best rogue lone-wolf officer on the case, Sean Briar (Idris Elba). Once Mason proves his innocence and his masterful skill of pick-pocketing the pair team up to find out the truth and stop any further lives being taken by the terrorists, who are soon found to be part of the French police force. – but just how high up does this conspiracy go? 

Again, I reiterate, there is nothing genre-defying or genre-defining here. The plot is riddled with more bullet holes than actually feature in the film – which is really saying something as every single character appears to try to shoot their way out of every single situation. Considering the main issue at hand is terrorism there is nothing logical about how any of the involved parties handle the situation.  The terrorist use a hashtag for their exploits, which magically transforms all the citizens of Paris into Bastille Day warriors. I’m sure there are many social media advertising companies who would love to know their secret.

Their ‘secret’ may just be Idris Elba who genuinely saves this film from being utter dross. He manages to droll lines which are so poorly manufactured and cliche-ridden that other actor would need to do the whole ‘nudge-nudge wink-wink’ to the camera. Instead Elba can say utterly farcical fare in such a way that you still get the joke and can laugh at multiple people’s expense. His charisma and sheer screen presence make the film as enjoyable as it is. That and the fact the film is a lean 90-odd minutes, no plot device or scene out stays its welcome and there is more than enough action. If you can ignore the utter waste of Kelly Reilly‘s talent and some of the film’s complicated (read: flawed) ideas about numerous topics then you’re good to go. 

It’s cheesy and hackneyed and only saved by Idris Elba. But, if you make sure you switch off both your phone and your brain at the start of the film, then you’ve found an entertaining enough way to while away 1.5 hours.

2 stars

Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Meh. Vanilla. It’s okay.

The three statements above are the three different ways I’ve answered the question, ‘What did you think of Batman V Superman?’ in the past 14 hours. Although there are aspects of the film that are good and entertaining that is just what they are, aspects. The film overall is a bloated disaster – 151 minutes of too many ideas fighting for screentime which end up being incoherent and underdeveloped. Instead of a typical review, in which my thoughts on the film would be as nonsensical as the film itself, I’m going to use a list to let my great ideas have an organisation and a flow (lesson to the film-makers there…)

The good

The visuals

Aside from Cineworld at the o2 Arena screwing up the calibration of the sky superscreen (having forced the audience to watch all the ads, trailers and 25 minutes of the film with only one eye open as the projection was out of focus, they then decided to stop the film and spend 15 minutes reformatting before restarting the film. Cineworld have done not anything to compensate for this screw up and literal headache) when watching this film you can see where the money went. In fact, I suspect that is what director Zack Snyder wants us to do. The fights are big and brash, the costumes and special effects are spectacular. The cityscapes are breath-taking (if of debatable geography). In terms of big screen spectacle, it’s all here. Some sequences appear straight out of a comic book in terms of iconography and style, such as when Superman arrives at a Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration and he is being aligned as a Messiah-eque figure.

MESSIAH

 Batman

Whilst I was initially in the ‘Say No To Ben Affleck as Batman’ camp, I did begin to change my mind when the first trailers and posters arrived. As a lover of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns I could see how Affleck’s portrayal would be most similar to Miller’s Batman. A Batman who is aged, haggard and embittered by battle.(The image below shows the film’s main link to the 1986 seminal comic book.) For the most part in this movie it works. Affleck is charismatic enough as Bruce Wayne and imposing enough as Batman. It’s almost a shame that he didn’t get his own standalone movie prior to this one to fully establish his character, though perhaps the decision to open this movie with yet another retelling of the Wayne shooting/origin story indicates to us that a standalone Batman movie may have possessed little originality. 

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Wonder Woman

I don’t think it is a spoiler to say that Gal Gadot plays Wonder Woman/Diana Price. The trailers gave that one away long ago, yet the film treats it as though it is a secretrading by hinting then having a big reveal that is slightly unnecessary. Though she may not look exactly like the Wonder Woman from the comics I used to read (she’s rather slim-line in comparison to the Golden age version) she does possess a lot of power and successfully shares the screen with her male counterparts (as opossed to having them steal the limelight). The moment when the three are first united did induce a real Fangirl moment for me, seeing the Trinity together. In fact I would happily argue that she steals the show from the broody boys…

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Easter eggs

There are many moments in this film that are for the fans, moments that casual fans may get but not appreciate or may not even ‘get’ at all. I’m not going to state them fully here, just in case you’re reading this and want to avoid spoilers, so I’ll write them out but fill in the gaps. I liked seeing ………… in the ……….. I also loved the use of …… to show …………. Finally, the appearance of ……….. in the ……….. was an excellent yet subtle touch. These three aspects alone got me more involved in the next film than the film I was currently watching. By the way, there ARE NO AFTER CREDITS SEQUENCES. Don’t sit through all the credits it’s pointless (Hey Sam if you’re reading, yes I am referring to you here!)

Soundtrack

I don’t think you can go wrong with a Hans Zimmer soundtrack.His collaboration here with Junkie XL is immensely successful. The score for this film is beautiful and emotive, something I would actively choose to listen to outside of watching the film which I don’t often think/do. My personal favourite is the rather aptly-named ‘Is she with you?’ 

The bad/ugly

Superman/ Lois Lane

I know it’s cool to hate on Superman, but I am quite fond of him. To some he may represent archaic ideas of patriotism, but so does Captain America and that guy walks around wearing stars and stripes. Yet Dupes has never had the cinematic renaissance that Batman has had twice (1989 and 2005). The 1970s/80s films are enjoyable yet of their time, Lois and Clark was entertaining yet cheesy, and Smallville was ocassionally good if rather tween-y.In more recent years, Superman Returns was long and dreary whilst Man Of Steel was interesting yet lost its audience in the overlong battle-heavy final sequences.  Batman V Superman is not his movie either. Poor Henry Cavill spends most of the movie showing off his range of emo frowns. It’s that or rescuing Lois Lane THREE times. It’s all Amy Adams gets to do in the movie, which is a real shame as she is an incredible actress playing a character with incredible potential. 

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Dreams

Of all the time-wasting nonsensical moments in the film, it is the dream sequences which really stand out for all the wrong reasons. There’s no entry point into them, you’re suddenly immersed in them with no idea of what is going on in them. Then the character wakes up and the audience is even more confused abiut what is going on. If the plot was more coherent it would be less problematic, but as the plot is so stodgy and indecifrable the moments just confuse as opposed to enhance what is going on in the main event.

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The plot

Speaking of the plot, very little of it actually makes sense. Motivations are blurred from the outset with very few that are actually convincing or believable. It feels like this is a Batman movie forced in with a Superman movie, the story jumps between one then the other without any link. Moments drift, storylines are picked up then dropped and things happen without explanation. I’m going to stay intentionally vague on this one to avoid further spoilers. Let’s just leave this with saying that everything is miscalculated and heavy-handed. Ultimately it’s a very hollow 151 minutes of things happening for little reason or care.

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‘Hello darkness my old friend’

A schism has formed over this movie between critics and fans. As someone who considers themselves to be both, I think the main argument over the ‘darkness’ of this film is flawed. I’ve read a lot of reviews talking about how this film is ‘too dark’ and fans retaliating with ‘the comic books are dark, it’s how it should be’. My answer to this? No. Yes some of the comic books are dark. Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, Jim Starlin’s Death in the Family and Jeph Loeb’s Hush (to name but three Batman story arcs) are dark, haunting and Gothic. Christopher Nolan‘s Batman trilogy is dark, haunting and Gothic. Batman V Superman is not dark, haunting and Gothic. It’s murky and shallow. Its darkness is artificial and synthetic. It’s a wannabe-emo in contrast to the aforementioned masterpieces. It pouts, moans and frowns. It tries to make important statements and points but these are empty and ill-informed. It’s like wearing a band t-shirt when you don’t really know the band (one of my biggest pet peeves). Having your actors grimace and setting most of the action at night, fighting for ‘what is right’ does not a maketh a ‘dark’ movie. A coherent plot, one with depth, does.

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Lex Luthor

Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor appeared like a strange choice since it was first announced. This was embraced by Zack Snyder who promised great things, new take on a classic archvillain. In the comic books Lex Luthor is a charismatic business magnate who is physically powerful and formidable. He is shown to be a true threat to Superman. Charismatic, powerful and formidable are not phrases one would associate with Eisenberg. So perhaps this would be a refreshing new take on the character? Nope. It’s Jesse Eisenberg playing  Heath Ledger playing the Joker as Lex Luthor. He is weedy, has daddy issues and rambles. Everything he says is either shouted or mumbled. His hand mannerisms are twitchy and strange,  dominating each frame. This man is no threat but a nuisance who gets in the way. To use his performance as an analogy for the entire film – it’s devoid of depth and is ultimately lacking. 

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Zoolander No.2

Another example of a sequel that is a poor imitation of the original.

In 2001 (15 years ago!) the world was posed a question, a question for the ages, “Have you ever wondered if there was more to life, other than being really, really, ridiculously good looking?” Derek Zoolander found the answer by the end of the film (spoiler alert!) with family, friends and a charity project running “The Derek Zoolander Center For Kids Who Can’t Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too.” Within the first three minutes of the sequel all of that resolution is turned on it head, then burned to the ground and thrown away. If the intent was to then set up the sequel as being completely different, and ‘fresh’ compared to the original, then the fatal flaw in that plan is writing a film that’s funniest (and only) laugh-inducing moments are references to the original…

Justin Bieber is dead. After running away from assassins on motorbikes (having displayed some serious parkour moves) he is shot countless times. In his dying moments he manipulates his face into Blue Steel and takes a selfie, then gives into his fatal injuries. He is the latest in a long line of celebrities to be assassinated, taking a Derek Zoolander-themed selfie before dying. The fashion division of Interpol need his help but no-one knows where he is. Seven years ago, after the death of his wife and losing custody of his child, he decided to become a ‘Hermit Crab’ and go into hiding. Only one man can bring him out of his slump…

From the opening sequence alone you can tell how the rest of the ‘humour’ of the film will play out. An opening sequence is so key to a film, so crucial for setting the tone and level of the rest of the film. In this case? Well, it’s such a pandering sequence – ‘Hey! You average Joe, you hate Justin Bieber right? So we’re going to kill him off to make you laugh. We can make your dreams a reality. Love us!’ It’s a problematic choice for multiple reasons.

1) Hating Justin Bieber seems so last year/s. He’s had a bit of a renaissance in the past 18 months so the hate has become, for most, either ambivalence or embarrassed adoration. Therefore the slightly dated nature of the script becomes apparent. He’s also an easy target, one of many that are used to minimal effect, within a script seemingly tailored from social media circa 2013/4.

2) It’s an overlong sequence. Stretching out the humour becomes a motif of the film. Pacing of jokes never really seemed an issue with the first film (queue my rewatching it ASAP) but it is a real issue here. The ratio between gag build-up and punchline is definitely off.

3) Having Bieber appearing to do parkour, then being shot at least 30 times before taking a selfie before dying demonstrates how overblown and tacky the film will be. Zoolander No.2 presumably has a bigger budget, gladly and gawdly shows this fact off.

4) He is one of the countless celebrities to be shoehorned into an overwrought and clunky script. Though his role in the events of the story is clear (if rather ineffective) many others are not. A few stand out in terms of strange but also strangely funny (I’m looking at you here Benedict Cumberbatch and Kiefer Sutherland) but others are borderline pitiful (Anna Wintour and your crew, you didn’t, to quote Tim Guun, ‘make it work!’) 

Zoolander No.2 is a difficult watching experience for fans of the original. The plot is thin, the jokes humiliate rather than delight and the frivolity leaves the film rather throwaway. Like its eponymous character, Zoolander No.2 is empty and full of air. It may be filled of those who are ‘really really ridiculously good-looking’ but it’s forgotten that there’s more to life than that.

I hope they had more fun making the film that I had watching it. Disappointing.