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Non-Review Review: Creed II

Creed II is a much better sequel than Rocky IV deserves.

At the heart of Creed II is the grudge match that fans of the franchise had been anticipating since the core concept of this “legacy-quel” series was first suggested. Adonis Creed in the ring against Viktor Drago. The son of Apollo Creed squaring off against the son of Ivan Drago, a generational rematch of the bout that cost Apollo Creed his life in Rocky IV. Adonis Creed is haunted by the name that he inherited from a father that he never met, and so it seems only reasonable that his film series would circle back around to allowing him closure on this.

A Rocky Road Less Travelled.

There is an irony in all of this. One of the central themes of Creed was the challenge of this spin-off movie franchise existing in the shadow of the original beloved Rocky series. Co-writer and director Ryan Coogler rose to that challenge, and created one of the great franchise success stories of the twenty-first century. As a result, it occasionally feels like Creed II is not so much fighting to escape the shadow of Rocky IV as much as it is wrestling with the weight of Creed.

Creed II is a solid and sturdy sequel to Creed, although not a superior one. It isn’t necessarily the sequel that Creed deserves.

To the Viktor, the spoils…

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Non-Review Review: Escape Plan 2

Escape Plan was a rather disappointing exercise.

The first Escape Plan had a hell of a hook entirely separate to its central plot. Escape Plan brought together eighties action movie icons Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger for the first time as equals; not one cameoing in the other’s movie, not a sly wink or a nod, but as leads in an action movie together. This was the b-movie equivalent to Heat, an opportunity to watch two titans square off against one another inside the framework of a vaguely defined science-fiction b-movie. The results were underwhelming, the film feeling too late and self-indulgent.

Escapes and scowls.

Escape Plan 2 is just a bad movie.

Escape Plan 2 seems to assume that the appeal of the original Escape Plan was not in its combination of two iconic action stars collaborating as equals, instead suggesting that the audience for the original Escape Plan was really there for the reheated prison movie clichés that had been handled much better in other movies. And so Escape Plan 2 drops Schwarzenegger for an even more complicated escape from an even more complicated prison. This feels like a fundamental misunderstanding of what the audience wanted. An unsatisfying prison movie without the Stallone/Schwarzenegger team is just an unsatisfying prison movie.

It’s all going according to plan.

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Non-Review Review: Escape Plan

Escape Plan doesn’t demand too much. It doesn’t demand too much from its lead actors, and it doesn’t demand too much from its audience. A film about watching two of the biggest action stars of the eighties teaming up should be a celebratory occasion – a trip down memory lane, one last go-around for old time’s sake as we watch this dynamic duo escape a mysterious “off the grid” prison which seems quite like the place I imagined all eighties action stars go in the end.

Instead, Escape Plan feels like the middle section of John Woo’s Face/Off extended out to a two-hour feature film, the story of a man who shouldn’t be in prison forced to escape from a futuristic science-fiction gulag through a series of overly-elaborate action set-pieces. There is, quite frankly, not enough here to support the movie’s extended runtime, with the script never daring to swerve sharply away from expectations or clichés. Escape Plan delivers exactly what the premise promises, but nothing more and never with anything approaching enthusiasm.

Old-timer hard-timers...

Old-timer hard-timers…

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Non-Review Review: Hansel & Gretel – Witch Hunters

There is a gem of an idea buried in Hansel & Gretel. Indeed, there isn’t too much excavation required to recover it. It lurks near the surface, visible to the naked eye. What would happen if you took a fairy tale and reworked it as a bombastic action adventure, complete with the clichés, archetypes and gimmicks you associate with such films? Hansel & Gretel veers on wry self-parody at points, as if an acerbic take on Hollywood’s fondness for “gritty” reimaginings of familiar concepts. With producers including Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, it’s not too hard to believe that this subversive exploration of genre tropes was explicitly intended as a sly joke at the expense of these sorts of nonsensical and gratuitously violent and aggressive takes on old classics. There are moments where Hansel & Gretel flirts with genuinely post-modern greatness.

Unfortunately, there’s also a sense that the film lacks the will to follow through on that somewhat sarcastic premise, and the result is that the shrewder gags are undermined by a surreal earnestness that seems to ask the audience to accept Hansel & Gretel for nothing more than what it is. The result is a discordant and scattered piece of film, one that seems almost at war with itself.

The hottest adaptation of Hansel & Gretel you have ever seen...

The hottest adaptation of Hansel & Gretel you have ever seen…

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Non-Review Review: The Last Stand

In theory, The Expendables demonstrated that age was no real impairment when it came to the task of kicking ass and taking names, even if you might need to put your reading glasses on first. So, you could argue that the issue of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s age doesn’t really need to come up during The Last Stand. We know that he is 65 years of age, and we also know that he’s probably a great deal fitter than most of us will be at that age. (Being honest, I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that a hexagenarian Arnie could trump most people in their prime.) As a result, the fixation of The Last Stand on the age of its leading man feels a little strange.

It feels especially strange because it eats into a lot of the film. The Last Stand is mostly functional, but its pacing suffers greatly. We’re going to see an Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, so it’s safe to assume that (a.) we’re okay with his advancing age, and (b.) we want to see him kick some whippersnapper ass. Unfortunately, The Last Stand seems to misjudge the audience’s interest in an Arnie film, and as a result our leading man spends most of the first three-quarters of the film doing very little.

The Last Stand is clearly intended to demonstrate the viability of its leading man in this modern age, but it seems to lack the confidence to just dive into the action that this sort of film is meant to provide. The result is a strange mish-mash of a film that winds up wasting a lot of good will long before it reaches its climax.

He's back!

He’s back!

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Non-Review Review: Die Hard

I know it’s a bit cliché at this point, but Die Hard really is my family’s ultimate Christmas movie. The season hasn’t truly started (or, if we’re delayed, truly ended) until all of us have sat down on the couch and indulged in the seasonal spectacular. Even if you don’t quite buy into the “Die Hard as Christmas movie” argument, it’s still impressive how tall John McTiernan’s action movie stands when compared to the bulk of eighties action films. Like Nakatomi Plaza itself, it towers over the competition – and it’s not because it does anything especially or novel or innovative in a genre that has always been fairly conservative. Instead, I’d argue, Die Hard succeeds because it executes all the conventional action movie beats exceedingly well, and because it doesn’t treat any of its plot points as necessary items on a check list.

Jump-starting Bruce Willis' action career...

Jump-starting Bruce Willis’ action career…

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Annihilators (Review/Retrospective)

It’s a bit of a shame that Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s run on Marvel’s “cosmic” comics ended up ending like this – whimpering away rather than finishing with a bang. The pair have been responsible for one of the most cohesive and entertaining aspects of Marvel’s publishing line over the past half-decade, producing some of the best events in recent years, and even providing the Guardians of the Galaxy run that will (apparently) inspire the upcoming blockbuster. I sincerely hope to see an omnibus collection of that run. However, Lanning and Abnett seem to fade from the scene, following up the climax to their cosmic events, The Thanos Imperative, with two Annihilators miniseries, the second of which didn’t sell well enough to merit a hardcover collection.

It’s a bit of a shame because, despite some admittedly serious flaws, their Annihilators four-issue miniseries actually has a lot of promise, and is something I wouldn’t have objected to seeing extended past the two miniseries.

Talk about an Ikon-oclast…

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