Bright – Film Review

Sometimes a premise is so unavoidably eye-catching that the resultant movie all but sells itself. Netflix’s Bright is a prime example, pitching an darkly comic alternate reality where fairytale creatures live uncomfortably alongside humans in modern-day Los Angeles. It’s basically Lord of the Rings meets Training Day, only with the sight of Will Smith bludgeoning a fairy with a broomstick thrown in for good measure. Sadly, the end result fails to live up to the expectation, resulting in a clumsy and confusing cop-comedy-fantasy-thriller-social-drama unable to blend its mish-mashed parts into an entertaining whole.

IMG_0115

All credit to director David Ayer (Suicide Squad) and screenwriter Max Landis (Chronicle) for crafting such a vivid, richly imaginative world. Two thousand years after humans banded with mythical creatures to defeat the Dark Lord, the victors have neatly divided into social factions. Elves are the elites, gliding through their glitzy gated community in sleek sports cars. Orcs are the thuggish underclass, dismissed and discriminated against by everyone for picking the losing side during the war. And humans, it seems, are somewhere in the middle, grinding out a living by doing the jobs no-one else wants to do.

While there’s a lot of clever ideas at play here – the notoriously mischievous fairies are depicted as pesky insects who need to be exterminated – it often feels like we’ve only scratched the surface of what this word has to offer. Key concepts such as a secret prophecy and the existence of brights, magic users who are closely regulated by federal forces, are introduced and then left frustratingly underdeveloped.

IMG_0117

The story is similarly underfed. Following the fine buddy cop movie tradition of chalk-and-cheese police pairings, Smith’s grouchy Daryl Ward is forced to partner with Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), the force’s first orc officer. But when a routine call lands the pair in possession of a magical wand, the movie shifts into an plodding chase movie as Ward and Jakoby race aimlessly across a gloomy Los Angeles pursued by corrupt cops, federal agents, an orc blood cult and Noomi Repace’s evil ninja elves. Quite why Lucy Fry’s waifish-looking elf also tags along for the ride is also never made clear.

Such a busy plot, coupled with Ayer’s typically frenetic pacing, leaves little time for the characters to flourish. Edgerton does well to imbue his orc with kindness, humility and pride from beneath a mound of prosethetics, yet the pain of being shunned by his own kind and the tumult of having to choose between his people and his badge never quite ring true. Smith, meanwhile, is merely required to shoot stuff and crack wise like a creaking Mike Lowrey, with little attention paid to his family struggles or his past troubles with the orc community.

IMG_0123

That also means that Bright’s admirable attempts at social commentary also fall flat. The notion of using mythical creatures to shine a light on our own social divisions is an effective, if not wholly original device, but it seems that Landis’ has nothing new to say on the subject, save for the fact that some people are unfortunate to be born without privilege. It’s almost as if a wealthy white man might not be best placed to explore the nuances of racial tensions.

The strongest moments, as they so often do with buddy cop movies, come when Smith and Edgerton are exchanging banter in their cop car. Like when Jakoby correctly surmises that Ward isn’t getting enough sex, just by examining the look on his face. It’s a smart, funny, entirely honest scene that reveals much more about their personalities and relationships than any cartridge-showering shootout ever could.

IMG_0120.JPG

Perhaps the movie would’ve been better served spending more time with these two misfit cops, rolling around this vibrantly magical world trading swipes about the sorry state of their Iives. Now there’s a bright idea…

Runtime: 117 mins (approx.)
Director: David Ayer
Screenwriter: Max Landis
Stars: Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, Noomi Repace, Lucy Fry

 

Advertisements

The Greatest Showman – Film Review

Of all the ‘human curiosities’ showcased in his famed New York circus, none was more beguiling and intriguing than P. T. Barnum himself. Born into a life of grinding poverty, the legendary showman fought his way from homeless hoaxster to wealthy founder of one of the most audacious variety shows the world had ever seen.

If The Greatest Showman struggles to capture the complexities of such a man, who supported the abolition of slavery yet sought to profit from the humiliation of those on the fringes of society, it undoubtedly succeeds in dazzling with a Barnum-style sense of joyous spectacle – delivering soaring musical numbers and a virtuoso performance from a full-blooded Hugh Jackman.

IMG_0105.JPG

After a swift introduction to our subject in his pomp, we race back to Barnum’s childhood as a penniless dreamer who nevertheless manages to woo local rich-girl Charity (Michelle Williams) with promises of a remarkable life. Yet the next 25 years bring nothing but dead-end jobs and missed opportunities, until Barnum spots the chance to con his way into a bank loan and buys a failing waxwork museum.

He promptly fills the crumbling building with a collection of unique individuals – including a bearded lady, the diminutive Tom Thumb and the world’s fattest man – to great financial success. But when his popularity still fails to grant him a seat among American high society, Barnum gambles everything he has – including his marriage – to embark on a high-class tour of the country’s opera houses with beguiling Swedish singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson).

IMG_0110

The film breezes through its plot in under two hours, so its hardly a shock that there’s no time for a more nuanced look at Barnum’s success and the troubled lives of his circus attractions. Instead we’re served a hackneyed rags-to-riches journey filled with mawkish themes of family and inclusivity as Barnum, blinded by his success, forgets what’s truly important – an undemanding arc where the dramatic beats are so clearly telegraphed you’ll barely need to pay attention to the story.

That turns out to be no bad thing as you’ll be so transfixed by the spectacular set-pieces on show that you won’t be able to focus on anything else. The film delivers a succession of foot-stompingly catchy songs (the soaring This is me is a highlight, swelling with emotion and a pop-tinged chorus that invites you to sing along) written by La La Land’s Pasek and Paul, which first-time director Michael Gracey deftly choreographs with splashes of lavish colour and glitzy flourishes. And at the centre of it all is an effervescent Jackman as the unshakable Barnum – a whirlwind of burning ambition, brash charisma and twinkling charm who commands attention in every scene.

IMG_0114

Like the outlandish carnival of entertainment from which it drew inspiration, The Greatest Showman is unlikely to garner much warmth from critics thanks to its reliance on hoary cliches and underwhelming plot. Yet, for the rest of us, there’s something undoubtedly charming and really quite moving about a film where everyone involved pours their heart and soul into welcoming the masses and sending them home with a big smile across their faces. Mr Barnum would be proud.

Runtime: 105 mins (approx.)
Director: Michael Gracey
Screenwriters: Jenny Bicks, Bill Condon
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, Zac Efron

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Film Review

“This is not going to go the way you think,” Luke Skywalker warns Rey on the rain-swept island of Ahch-To. As it turns out, that line isn’t just a tantalising soundbite for the trailers, but a full-blown mission statement for Rian Johnson’s Star Wars sequel.

Following The Force Awakens, a movie that delighted with plenty of fan service but all too often felt like a blow-by-blow remake of A New Hope, The Last Jedi pushes the saga into a deeper, darker and richer territory than ever before. Make no mistake: The Last Jedi delivers answers to many of the Big Questions on fans lips; but they come wrapped in a satisfying narrative filled with hidden twists, unpredictable character arcs and gut-wrenching beats that will hit you like a bolt out of the blue.

IMG_0095

If Johnson does pinch one thing out of The Empire Strikes Back playbook, though, it’s his decision to split the core cast for much of the movie. Gung-ho fly-boy Poe Dameron leads a revolt against cautious military chief Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dean), the Reisistance’s defacto leader after General Leia is incapacitated. Finn (John Boyega) teams-up with wide-eyed maintenance worker Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) on a mission to infiltrate a First Order ship. And on the dark side, Supreme Leader Snoke pits Kylo Ren and General Hux against each other in a bid for his favour. Meanwhile, back on Ahch-To, Rey seeks out awol Jedi Master Luke in the hope of luring him back into the fight.

IMG_0103

Handing every major player their own mission means everybody has got more to do this time out. Oscar Isaacs, Domhnall Gleeson and Andy Serkis, in particular, register far stronger here – even if their characters are still frustratingly one-note – while Carrie Fisher’s scenes take on an added poignancy after her untimely death last year.

Of course, the biggest beneficiary of this greater character focus is a certain beardy bloke last seen standing on a picturesque cliff edge in the North Sea. Needless to say, Mark Hamill is handed a meatier part this time out and doesn’t disappoint, layering Luke with greater depth and nuance than ever before to perfectly capture how a hopeful farm boy could become such an embittered and regretful figure.

IMG_0096.JPG

That being said, The Last Jedi belongs to the new generation and the rich, complex bond between Daisy Ridely’s scavenger and Adam Driver’s reckless apprentice. Both excel once again as the connection that binds them develops in powerful, thought-provoking ways and the scenes of them engaging in a battle of wills are the movie’s most shocking and engrossing.

For all his grandly conceived character arc and plot twists, though, Johnson isn’t adverse to letting his giddy, geeky side show. The Last Jedi delivers everything you could hope for from a Star Wars movie – daring dogfights, ferocious lightsaber duels, exotic creatures and plenty of offbeat comedy. Even a poignant reunion between two pivotal characters opens with a gag about hairstyles.

IMG_0102

Yet Johnson is also unafraid to throw new elements into the saga’s established visual palette. The rickety rust-bucket set designs remain just as charming, but they’re infused with operatic tracking shots, scenes where real-world sounds have been ripped out leaving only John Williams’ evocative score, and a finger-snapping sequence so trippy you’ll think you’ve stumbled into a completely different movie.

It doesn’t all work. The film is overlong and feels overstretched in the middle section, while a detour to the Cantina-aping Canto Bight is entirely superfluous to the plot – but when it hits its stride, The Last Jedi is a bold, ballsy, inventively challenging movie that defies expectations and culminates in a jaw-dropping finale that effectively leaves J. J. Abrams with a clean state from which to create the final episode of this new trilogy. Over to you, J. J.

Runtime: 152 mins (approx.)
Director/Screenwriter: Rian Johnson
Stars: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher