The Meg

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Release date: 10th August 2018/Watch the trailer here

Based on the 1997 novel Meg: A Novel of Deep TerrorThe Meg has had a somewhat troubled production. Although the rights to the novel were snatched up more or less immediately, the project had stalled by 1999, and it wasn’t until 2005 that The Meg resurfaced, this time with names such as Guillermo Del Toro attached to it. Needless to say, that particular attempt at resurrecting The Meg never came to fruition either – but, thirteen years later, and following rumours of Eli Roth directing before being replaced by Jon Turteltaub (best known for the National Treasure movies and, bizarrely, ’90s rom-com While You Were Sleeping), The Meg is finally able to see the light of day – although whether this was for better or worse remains to be seen.

Five years after surviving an attack by a colossal, seventy-foot sea creature, expert rescue diver Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) is forced to confront his fears in order to rescue those trapped in a sunken submersible, after a mission to explore an even deeper section of the Mariana Trench went awry. Jonas soon discovers that the creature is a Megalodon, the largest shark known to mankind and wrongly thought to have been extinct for millions of years – and now Jonas must stop the Megalodon before it hunts down the entire crew of an underwater research facility financed by billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson).

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Perhaps even more surprising than the sheer number of years that The Meg spent stuck in development hell is the fact that it took not one, not two, but three writers to come up with a screenplay chock-full of every cinematic cliché known to man. If there’s a chance for Jason Statham to deliver a trite one-liner in his increasingly bizarre accent, then The Meg takes that opportunity and runs with it – and Statham, to his credit, manages to keep a straight face throughout, in spite of the ridiculousness that The Meg throws at him.

So, yes, The Meg might be clichéd and cheesy and ultimately little more than two hours of utter silliness, but its saving grace – the factor that takes a film that should, for all intents and purposes, be absolutely appalling and instead elevates it to something that’s passable and even entertaining – is that The Meg realises all of this, and never once takes itself too seriously. It’s the perfect kind of end-of-summer popcorn movie, with the sort of schlocky, B-movie quality that will probably ensure that it remains well-loved in years to come – and even if you find yourself laughing at it rather than with it, at least you can’t say that it’s boring.

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In many ways, it’s almost a shame that The Meg didn’t embrace its absurdity even further. The characters are so one-dimensional that each could easily be described in just one word, and the acting – the supporting cast includes Li Bingbing, Winston Chao, Ruby Rose and Cliff Curtis – isn’t much better. But what The Meg lacks in character development, it makes up for in its fair share of tense chases, last-minute escapes and more than a few Statham vs giant shark moments. Unfortunately, however, the film is constrained by its family-friendly, summer blockbuster rating – and it can’t help but feel like a little bit more blood and a few more teeth wouldn’t have gone amiss. After all, this is a shark attack movie (a genre which seems to have grown strangely popular of late).

Ultimately, those who go into The Meg expecting the next Jaws will only be left disappointed – but if you’re after a film that sees Jason Statham take on a seventy-foot shark single-handedly, then The Meg will almost certainly provide you with your money’s worth.

★★

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Ant-Man and the Wasp

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Release date: 2nd August 2018/Watch the trailer here

Following on from the biggest and most ambitious film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far – Avengers: Infinity War – is a slightly more lighthearted palate cleanser in the form of Ant-Man and the Wasp. After the events of 2015’s Ant-Man (and the brief appearance of the MCU’s smallest superhero in Captain America: Civil War), its sequel sees Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) grappling with the consequences of being both a superhero and a father. Approached once more by Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), Scott finds himself donning the Ant-Man suit and fighting alongside the Wasp. The urgent mission involves journeying into the quantum realm to retrieve Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer): mother to Hope, wife to Hank, and missing and believed to be dead for the last thirty years. However, there are obstacles to be faced along the way – namely, double-crossing black market dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) and Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a mysterious masked woman with molecular instability.

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While the Ant-Man series will never reach the heights of some of the MCU’s best – Infinity WarCivil WarCaptain America: The Winter Soldier – it’s also certainly a long way from the franchise’s worst, sitting quite comfortably somewhere in the middle, never anything remarkable but always reliably entertaining. For those who prefer their superhero films to be a little bit more tongue in cheek, then it doesn’t get much better than Ant-Man and the Wasp – and the consistent, laugh-out-loud humour makes for a welcome change of pace after Infinity War; a film which left the Marvel Cinematic Universe on a somewhat sombre note after its infamously far-from-happy ending.

The humour in Ant-Man and the Wasp is largely achieved through its sharp, witty script, as well as the occasional clever sight gag, but it’s also in large part thanks to its likeable cast. Whilst Paul Rudd being both funny and utterly charming will come as no surprise, it’s often the supporting cast who steal the show – in particular, returning scene-stealer Luis (Michael Peña) and FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park). It’s also gratifying to see Hope be given more to do this time around, and as the Wasp she succeeds in being both more capable and often more entertaining to watch than Ant-Man himself.

And while the physics in the Ant-Man movies make very little sense – nor do they pretend to – the constant shifting in size of mundane, everyday items and a villain who’s capable of phasing through solid objects makes Ant-Man one of Marvel’s most cinematic heroes. It also makes for some really fun action set pieces, and while they might not be some of the most awe-inspiring in the MCU, there’s something undeniably gleeful in the goofiness of a third act that involves our heroes zooming around the streets of San Francisco in a miniaturised car.

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There was always going to be a lot of pressure on the first film in the MCU following the epic, universe-changing events of Infinity War, but Ant-Man and the Wasp is firm proof that Marvel still know exactly how to make a crowd-pleaser – even when their films have slightly lower stakes and are on a much smaller scale (literally).

★★★★

Incredibles 2

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Release date: 13th July 2018/Watch the trailer here

As impossible as it might be to believe, The Incredibles was somehow released fourteen years ago. Still one of the most beloved Pixar movies to this day, the film told the story of a family of superheroes who are forced to live a quiet, suburban life while hiding their powers from the world – and the long-awaited sequel picks up immediately from where the first film left off, with the Incredibles pursuing the Underminer. It was a cliffhanger ending that fans had been left on the edge of since 2004, but if there was one question more pressing than the outcome of the Incredibles’ fight with the nefarious Underminer, it was this: will Incredibles 2 be worth the fourteen-year wait?

Pixar don’t have the most reliable history when it comes to sequels: while plenty will argue that Toy Story 3 is the best in the series, the same can’t quite be said for the sequels to Pixar classics such as Finding NemoMonsters, Inc. and Cars. Thankfully, Incredibles 2 falls into the former category: not only is it a worthy follow-up to its predecessor, but it even manages to surpass it in some ways (although deciding which of the two films is the superior one is too close a call to make).

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In the aftermath of the events involving the Underminer, superhero fan and owner of a telecommunications corporation Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) presents an offer to Bob (Craig T. Nelson) and Helen Parr (Holly Hunter), proposing a publicity stunt to regain the public’s support in superheroes. But while Helen is chosen to spearhead the stunt under her old superhero identity, Elastigirl, Bob is left at home, looking after the kids – Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Huck Milner) and baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile), who is starting to display powers of his own. While Elastigirl confronts the mysterious new super-villain Screenslaver, Bob struggles to relinquish the role of Mr. Incredible, instead playing the part of a stay-at-home parent, helping Violet with her boy problems and Dash with his maths homework, all the while struggling to deal with the onslaught of Jack-Jack’s new superpowers.

Perhaps the most important thing for an animated family film to be is great fun, which is something that Incredibles 2 possesses by the bucketload. While the superhero genre is undoubtedly far more prevalent (and successful) in 2018 than it was in 2004, there’s still a lot of satisfaction to be found in watching the Incredibles join together to save the world – with the help of their good friend Frozone, voiced to perfection by Samuel L. Jackson – and animation injects new life and potential into the genre, creating exciting and fun action set pieces that would never have been possible with live action.

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But the film also doesn’t forget a large part of what made the original so well-loved in the first place: that The Incredibles is every bit as much of a sweet family story as it is a fun superhero caper, and thankfully Incredibles 2 has just as much heart as the first film, if not more. As satisfying as it is to watch Elastigirl defeat super-villains, it’s equally satisfying to watch Bob on his journey from stressed and slightly clueless to super-dad. Returning writer and director Brad Bird’s strong script ensures that the sharp, witty interplays between the characters are just as entertaining as all of the action and the world-saving that make up the rest of the film.

So, with all of that being said – not to mention the exceptionally detailed animation and an outstanding score from Michael Giacchino – the answer to that pressing question is a resounding ‘yes’: better in some ways, slightly worse in others, but absolutely and undeniably worth the wait. Now let’s just hope that we don’t have to wait a further fourteen years for Incredibles 3.

★★★★

The First Purge

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Release date: 4th July 2018/Watch the trailer here

The fourth instalment in The Purge franchise of dystopian horror films is The First Purge, which acts as a prequel to the three previous films in the series, depicting the origins of the annual ‘Purge’: a twelve-hour period in which all crime is legal. Following the rise of a third political party, the New Founding Fathers of America, a sociological experiment is conducted: no laws for twelve hours overnight on Staten Island. No one must stay during the experiment, but there is a $5,000 reward for anyone who does so – an amount which will only increase should the person choose to ‘participate’ in the Purge.

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As the franchise has continued to grow beyond its horror movie origins, it has become more and more political in the process – the third film in the series, released in 2016, was not-so-subtly subtitled Election Year – and The First Purge does nothing to shy away from this trend. The political commentary is the furthest thing from subtle, but perhaps that’s not such a bad thing: after all, one thing that the Purge films largely succeed at is playing with very real fears. Some moments may be eye roll-worthy in their heavy-handedness, but those same moments can also be viewed as empowering if the audience chooses to do so – and there are far worse things for a film to be seen as than one which gives the crowds an opportunity to cheer for the good guys and boo and hiss at the bad guys.

Even so, The First Purge is still the weakest film in the franchise so far. It’s competently made, so the blame doesn’t lie at the feet of first-time Purge director Gerard McMurray (all previous films in the series were written and directed by James DeMonaco, who remains as writer for The First Purge). The problem is, the franchise has been moving further away from horror and closer towards action movie territory ever since the second film in the series, Anarchy. While this has previously worked in the franchise’s favour – Anarchy and Election Year are the strongest entries in the series – it works to its detriment in The First Purge, trading scares for shootouts and becoming frustratingly generic along the way. The action is well-choreographed for the most part and there are some thrilling moments, but there’s little that sets The First Purge apart from the rest.

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It’s well-acted – particularly by leads Y’lan Noel and Lex Scott Davis – but it’s not so well-written, with clichés abounding and dialogue that often sounds forced and unnatural. Strangely, Marisa Tomei stars in The First Purge as the architect behind the whole idea of an annual Purge, but her character feels like an afterthought who was added in reshoots. The bizarre resolution of her character’s subplot, along with some questionable CGI and green screen, means that The First Purge has its fair share of unintentionally laughable moments in a film that is otherwise unrelenting in its grimness and cynicism.

Ultimately, The First Purge isn’t bad – but it’s not good, either. All the same, this is a low-budget, successful franchise with a great idea buried at the centre of it, so it stands to reason that one day, The Purge franchise might produce a film worthy of that idea – but until that point, entertaining yet rather on-the-nose popcorn movies will just have to do instead.

★★

Sicario 2: Soldado

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Release date: 29th June 2018/Watch the trailer here

If there was ever a film that didn’t need a sequel (much less a franchise, which appears to be the direction the series is going in), it would be the excellent Sicario, the 2015 Denis Villeneuve-directed film about an idealistic FBI agent (played brilliantly by Emily Blunt) enlisted by a government task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the US-Mexico border. Neither Villeneuve nor Blunt chose to return for Soldado, with Stefano Sollima taking over directing duties and the only returning talent being writer Taylor Sheridan (also known for Hell or High Water and Wind River) and stars Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro, both reprising their roles as CIA agent Matt Graver and undercover operative Alejandro Gillick, respectively.

In Soldado, the drug war has escalated, with the cartels now trafficking terrorists across the United States border. In response, the CIA sends Graver and Alejandro to eliminate the problem, which they choose to do by kidnapping Isabel Reyes (Isabela Moner), the daughter of a drug lord, in an operation designed to incite war between the rival cartels.

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Had Soldado been a standalone film in its own right, it would be all too easy to view it as a competently made and sufficiently entertaining movie – quite good, in other words – but the fact that it’s attached to Sicario in any way makes it all the more disappointing. The absence of the talent involved in its predecessor is felt throughout Soldado: in the lack of the central character to root for that Blunt’s Kate Macer provided the audience with in Sicario, in the tragic loss of another terrific score from Jóhann Jóhannsson and, most notably of all, the lack of the genius of Villeneuve’s (whose impressive filmography also includes PrisonersArrival and Blade Runner 2049) direction. Unfortunately, despite being far from a bad film, ‘lacking’ is simply the most fitting word to describe Soldado. There’s very little to be found here that made the original Sicario quite so special.

That’s not to say that there’s nothing redeemable about Soldado, however. While it might be difficult to rival the sheer intensity of the border crossing scene in Sicario, there are still more than a few impossibly tense, edge-of-your-seat shootouts that occur in Soldado and, when coupled with another strong performance from Del Toro – darkly threatening, mercurial, while also at the heart of the film’s most surprisingly poignant moments – it’s not so farfetched to believe that Soldado once had the potential to be a worthy successor to Sicario.

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No secret has been made of the fact that the finished product of Soldado greatly differs from Sheridan’s original screenplay, and it shows – because, surprisingly for a Sheridan film, the script is the film’s biggest downfall. This is most evident in the way in which the film all but falls apart in the final act, falling victim to plot holes and unresolved endings for most of the characters and their respective subplots. For almost two hours, it feels as though Soldado is building towards something great, but it never gets there – in fact, the film’s climax feels practically non-existent, ending with a whimper when it should have finished with a bang.

There are fragments of a good film buried somewhere within Soldado, but as a whole, it fails to rise above mediocrity: a fate made even worse when compared to the depth and thoughtfulness of its predecessor – qualities which have been cast aside in favour of guns and violence with little that’s meaningful to say about the strife and conflict at the heart of it.

★★

Ocean’s 8

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Release date: 18th June 2018/Watch the trailer here

Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s trilogy of heist movies is rebooted by Ocean’s 8, a film which this time is directed by Gary Ross (best known for The Hunger Games) and with Clooney, Damon, Pitt and co. having been replaced by an all-female cast, led by Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), sister of Danny and, at the start of the movie, recently paroled from prison. Not quite ready to leave behind her life of crime, Debbie hunts down her former partner Lou (Cate Blanchett), and convinces her to join the heist that Debbie has been planning during her five-year sentence. Debbie and Lou quickly assemble the rest of their team: disgraced and indebted fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter), jewellery maker Amita (Mindy Kaling), skilled hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna), street hustler and pickpocket Constance (Awkwafina), and Tammy (Sarah Paulson), a friend of Debbie’s who has been secretly selling stolen goods out of the garage of her family’s home.

The heist in question involves stealing the Toussaint, a Cartier diamond necklace worth $150 million, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual Met Gala. In order to do so, Debbie plans to use the gala’s co-host, famous actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway), as an unwitting mule who’ll wear the necklace to the Met Gala, leaving it free for Debbie and her team to steal.

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Ocean’s 8 is, first and foremost, fun. Those hoping for it to be much more than that will ultimately be left disappointed, but for those who simply want to watch an all-star cast steal diamonds while looking fabulous, there’s a lot to be enjoyed here. Of course, it’s a film that wouldn’t be half as enjoyable without the aforementioned cast – and while some have far better roles than others (Hathaway gives the film’s standout performance by a mile, whereas Blanchett is handed an underwritten character and left with little to do), any moment where a combination of the eight share the screen is worth the price of a ticket for the chemistry alone – not to mention how refreshing (and ridiculously rare) it is to watch a film with a predominantly female cast in which they all happen to get along with each other.

Fashion lovers will have a ball (pun absolutely intended) with Ocean’s 8, too. Impeccable costume design by Sarah Edwards, more celebrity cameos than you can count on both hands, and of course the film’s illustrious setting – which acts as an inspired way to liven up the heist movie genre – combine to make for a film that is every bit as stylish as the Met Gala attendees themselves.

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Unfortunately, however, there are moments when Ocean’s 8 can’t help but feel a little like a wasted opportunity. It could have been sharper, it could have been funnier, it could have been smarter – and while it’s perfectly entertaining, the fact that it’s rarely anything more than that means it’s a lot more forgettable than a movie with a cast as diverse and talented as this one deserves to be.

Furthermore, frustratingly for a heist film there’s also never a sense that any of the eight are ever in real danger, and the film entirely lacks in tension as a result. The heist itself should have been the most entertaining portion of the movie, but since very little seems to ever go wrong for Debbie and her team, it soon becomes clear that Ocean’s 8 is instead at its best when introducing its characters and allowing them to interact with each other, as opposed to stealing diamonds from around the neck of a wealthy celebrity.

At this point, Ocean’s 9 feels like more of an inevitability than a possibility – but it will be this cast and this set of likeable characters that guarantees audiences will want to see it, rather than the potential of another heist that will undoubtedly go far too smoothly for all involved. Whether or not the sheer charisma of the cast alone will be enough to carry a sequel remains to be seen – but for now, they’ve just about pulled it off, and clearly had a lot of fun while doing so.

★★★★

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

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Release date: 6th June 2018/Watch the trailer here

Set three years after the events of 2015’s Jurassic World, its sequel Fallen Kingdom sees dinosaur expert and trainer Owen (Chris Pratt) and Jurassic World’s former operations manager-turned-dinosaur rights activist Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) returning to the abandoned Isla Nublar in the face of an impending volcanic eruption that threatens the existence of the world’s remaining dinosaurs. Although Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow remained involved to write the screenplay for Fallen Kingdom, directing duties were passed on to J.A. Bayona (The OrphanageThe ImpossibleA Monster Calls) this time around – and, to his credit, he does attempt to bring something new to a tired franchise that is now five films in – and while the original Jurassic Park is nothing short of a masterpiece, its sequels have ranged from ‘not bad’ to ‘pretty terrible’. Sadly, Fallen Kingdom veers closer to the lower end of that spectrum for the most part.

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As it happens, the volcanic eruption and dinosaur rescue mission takes up little more than the first hour of the film’s runtime, and the second half picks up significantly once the location changes to a gothic mansion in northern California. The mansion belongs to Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), the former partner of John Hammond – but it is soon revealed that the rescue mission was actually a part of a greater scheme involving the creatures being auctioned off, including a dangerous and intelligent new hybrid dinosaur (yes, another one) known as the Indoraptor. The problem is, however, that despite taking the franchise to a new location and returning to the slightly darker, horror movie-esque tone of the original, the Jurassic films have very little that’s new to offer the audience. Those hoping for fun and exciting action set pieces involving dinosaurs will of course be far from disappointed, but these are all set pieces that we’ve seen a variation of time and time again. Combine this with the film’s trailers having ruined the outcome of many of Fallen Kingdom’s most suspenseful scenes, and it’s very difficult for the film to build any kind of tension – something that should be a given when your movie includes sharp-clawed and even sharper-teethed prehistoric predators.

Perhaps a large part of the reason why the more recent sequels have struggled to live up to their predecessor is the characters: while Jurassic Park was filled with memorable and now-iconic characters (and, admittedly, in Fallen Kingdom Jeff Goldblum does reprise the role of Dr. Ian Malcolm in an all too brief cameo), the same simply cannot be said for the Jurassic World series. Owen and Claire (who at least gets to wear sensible shoes this time) are dull, unlikeable and have so little chemistry that the insistence on forcing a will they, won’t they romance on their characters is baffling (and it says a lot about a film’s script when it even manages to make Chris Pratt, who is usually charm and charisma personified, dull and unlikeable). As for the new characters introduced in Fallen Kingdom, they can easily be divided between forgettable and under-developed sidekicks and clichéd, moustache-twirling villains who may as well wear a sign on their back that reads ‘I will be eaten by a dinosaur before this film is over’.

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Still, as summer blockbusters go, you could probably do a lot worse than Fallen Kingdom. Bayona’s direction does a lot of work to lift the film into something better than it should be, and there are some surprising instances of stunning cinematography as well as more than a few moments of genuine darkness interspersed within the typical popcorn movie silliness. This is a franchise that knows what it’s doing: even if Fallen Kingdom is the film that makes you want to swear off dinosaurs for good, the premise that the last five or so minutes sets up for the final part of the trilogy is intriguing, interesting and just daring enough to guarantee that you’ll continue to give the Jurassic movies your money by the time summer 2021 comes around, whether you like it or not.

★★