Director: Rian Johnson Starring: Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr, Jessica Henwick, Madelyn Cline, Kate Hudson, Dave Bautista Certificate: 12A Run Time: 139 mins
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Story is a murder mystery sequel to 2019’s Knives Out and once again stars Daniel Craig as southern-fried detective Benoit Blanc. Knives Out attracted a very positive reception, performing well at the box office and Netflix quickly paid close to $500 million for the rights to churn out two standalone sequels. This is the first of them and sees Craig reunite with Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson. I wasn’t as hot on Knives Out as others and found its second half frustrating and its final twist obvious.
Craig’s detective is the only common denominator between the two films, with Johnson assembling a totally fresh ensemble cast so you don’t need to have seen Knives Out to enjoy Glass Onion. The mystery is set on a lavish, private Greek island this time around, home to tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton). He has invited Blanc, alongside with some of his friends to take part in a murder mystery-themed weekend. This expectedly takes a dark turn to reality and Blanc gets to utilise his sleuthing skills. Johnson sets the film in the height of the coronavirus pandemic and Bron bears many uncomfortable similarities to Elon Musk.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Story showcases both Rian Johnson’s best and worst qualities as a director. There’s a lot of fun to be had and Johnson takes some risks, although some aspects of the storytelling are rather clumsy. On a first watch, the first hour seems rather insignificant but Johnson re-contextualises its events in the second half. Its tone is rather boisterous and I didn’t particularly resonate with any of the contemporary quips. Generally, there’s an empty and vapid quality to Glass Onion, despite being lushly shot by Johnson-regular Steve Yedlin.
There’s some fun performances – Daniel Craig is great again as Benoit Blanc and of the rest of the cast, Janelle Monáe and Dave Bautista are the other highlights. Monáe’s given quite a meaty role and Bautista’s men’s rights YouTuber plays to the actor’s physical strengths. There’s a fun cameo too from Ethan Hawke, which I had hoped would amount to more.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Story isn’t as much fun as its predecessor, which I also found to be overrated. That said, it’s a diverting enough escape this Christmas and I admire Johnson’s ambition to attempt to further deconstruct the murder mystery genre, even if the finished product isn’t particularly accomplished.
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu Starring: Daniel Giménez Cacho, Griselda Siciliani Certificate: 15 Run Time: 160 mins
Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths is an epic Mexican black comedy drama from director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu. This is his first film since taking the Best Director Oscar for The Revenant. The film follows journalist Silverio Gama (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) as he faces an existential crisis, with scenes not appearing to follow logical cohesion.
Bardo is a rare misstep for Inarritu – a mostly bloated and self-indulgent 160 minute slog. That said, it’s not entirely without merit. The first twenty minutes are thought-provoking, especially an early sequence where a baby decides he doesn’t want to be born and wants to head back into his mother’s womb as he declares the world is a mess. Silverio also envisions a reenactment of the 1847 Battle of Chapultepec, which Iñárritu deftly brings to life.
Beyond the first twenty minutes, the film is packed with symbolism. A scene with Silverio conversing with his father is interesting as Silverio’s body is shrunken to that of a child but maintains his adult face.
Iñárritu interrogates the notion of national identity as Silverio often travels between Mexico and the United States but doesn’t feel as if either is his true home. An exchange between Silverio and a border security officer is particularly fiery, as is a sequence of historic atrocities in the middle of a Mexican square.
Daniel Gimenez Cacho gives a committed and personal performance and the film is lushly shot by Darius Khondji, a departure from cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. The score by Bryce Dessner and Iñárritu also has some bright spots.
Although an explanation is provided in the final twenty minutes regarding the disjointed storytelling and the film coalesces to a profound ending. Although, it’s too little too late. Bardo certainly deals with some inspired material and has some great moments but Iñárritu needed to be reigned in with the runtime and storytelling for this to better work on the screen.
Director: Luca Guadagnino Starring: Taylor Russell, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, André Holland, Chloë Sevigny, David Gordon Green, Jessica Harper, Jake Horowitz, Mark Rylance Certificate: 18 Run Time: 130 mins
Bones And All is the latest by director Luca Guadagnino, a romantic drama infused with cannibal horror. Guadagnino has experienced a solid career thus far – I really enjoyed A Bigger Splash. Call Me By Your Name brought him awards attention, a sunsoaked homosexual coming-of-age drama that propelled Timothée Chalamet into the limelight. Although the film received mixed reviews, Guadagnino showed real ambition with Suspiria, which for my money bettered Dario Argento’s original. Guadagnino reunites with A Bigger Splash and Suspiria writer, David Kajganich, who adapts Camille DeAngelis’ 2015 novel.
Opening in 1980s Virginia, the film is told from the perspective of Maren Yearly (Taylor Russell), a teenager with a cannibalistic impulse. Her father (André Holland) doesn’t let her out of the house at night and when she sneaks out to attend a sleepover with some school friends, we quickly learn why. He soon abandons her and she is left to fend for herself with her dark secret.
She quickly learns she is not the only person to have cannibalistic tendencies in the American midwest, meeting others who can ‘smell’ her along the way, including the creepy Sully (Mark Rylance). Guadagnino doesn’t explicitly say they are vampires but they may as well be. She crosses paths with Lee (Timothée Chalamet), another cannibal who she falls in love with and they begin a nomadic life together out on the road.
Bones And All is an admirable and original piece from Guadagnino, tonally resembling a cross between Bonnie and Clyde, Badlands and Nomadland. There’s some solid performances and the horror sequences make for expectedly uncomfortable viewing. There isn’t a great deal in terms of a narrative and like the duo of Russell and Chalamet, there are scenes that evoke a feeling of aimlessness. This is as well as the film’s pacing feeling rather languorous at times.
Taylor Russell carries the film well, playing a character younger than her age in reality with conviction. Chalamet, on the other hand, is rather one-note – he can perform this type of role in his sleep. Of the rest of the cast, Rylance is the standout as a particularly grotesque and unpredictable loner and he does a brilliant job of not alluding to the nature of his character’s convictions. Andre Holland gives a muted performance as Maren’s father and like Call Me By Your Name, Michael Stuhlbarg has a monologue to deliver that is particularly chilling.
The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is powerful in places, the first time the duo have worked with Guadagnino. There are three or four scenes where their score is particularly chilling, straight out of their David Fincher back catalogue. At other times, the score is surprisingly dream-like and light, uncharacteristic of their typical sound. As well as the score, the sound design also leaves quite the impression, the effects when characters are eating being particularly uncomfortable.
The film is well shot by Arseni Khachaturan, Guadagnino diverting from his usual cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom. Unlike Guadagnino’s other films where Mukdeeprom’s cinematography is clinical, Bones And All has a grungy aesthetically, often murky and a dark colour palette.
Bones And All may not be Guadagnino’s best work, but it represents an ambitious fusion of genres and makes for an often thought-provoking and uncomfortable experience. There’s conviction in the majority of the performances and it’s an atmospheric and technically alluring slice of blood-soaked Americana. I’d have liked to have seen more meat to its bones though.
Director: Ryan Coogler Starring: Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Florence Kasumba, Dominique Thorne, Michaela Coel, Tenoch Huerta, Martin Freeman, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Angela Bassett Certificate: 12A Run Time: 161 mins
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is the long-awaited sequel to the superhero’s 2018 standalone outing and is once again directed by Ryan Coogler. Black Panther electrified the superhero film genre, earning seven Oscar nominations and winning three.
I had many problems with the film and found its narrative to be very unfocussed, crumbling in its third act under the weight of a big, mindless CGI battle. Coogler also failed to fully explore the interesting ideas of Afrofuturism, world aid and family that he poses.
This sequel is anything but conventional in its development, following the death of its titular star, Chadwick Boseman, who sadly succumbed to colon cancer in 2020. With Marvel choosing not to recast the character out of respect, this resulted in a rewrite of the film without the superhero. Wakanda Forever opens on the fictional nation mourning the loss of its leader, who dyed from an undisclosed illness. T’Challa’s technologically-minded sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright) is visibly struggling with his loss, with her mother Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) urging her to continue research on a ‘heart-shaped herb’ in order to create a new Black Panther that can defend Wakanda.
When a vibranium-detecting machine (vibranium being the material Wakanda is rich in and supposedly isn’t found anywhere else on the planet) detects a potential deposit underwater in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the CIA and Navy SEALS on-board a vessel are attacked by a group of blue-skinned creatures. They are led by Namor (Tenoch Huerta), King of the underwater kingdom of Talokan which is also rich in vibranium. Following the attack, Namor confronts Ramonda and Shuri and delivers them an ultimatum – deliver him the scientist responsibile for the machine or he will lay siege to Wakanda.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a significant improvement over its predecessor and Coogler has delivered an intelligent, sombre and politically charged sequel. Coogler makes a strong choice to fully explore the characters and how they react to T’Challa’s death, very much mirroring how audiences have mourned Boseman in reality, recreating a scenario we all understand. In a refreshing change of pace for Marvel and a trait that has plagued many of its films, Coogler retains the sombre tone throughout and doesn’t resort to cheap and disposable quips.
The performances are uniformly excellent. Letitia Wright carries the film well, with Shuri experiencing a complicated emotional arc. There is always the risk of upgrading what is a side character to centre stage and it not work out. Angela Bassett is terrific as Queen Ramonda, a monarch trying her utmost to carry the country together who has to make some gut-wrenching decisions in the process. Danai Gurira’s fiersome Okoye receives some strong character development and Coogler explores her humanity behind the tight-lipped army general image her character maintains. Although Lupita Nyong’o is absent in the first half of the film, she injects energy in every scene she’s in once she turns up.
After making a strong impression in The Forever Purge, Tenoch Huerta makes for a brilliant villain as Namor, one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best. Namor is a ruler with a tumultous past who has successfully tried to protect his kingdom from the world from discovery. You can really empathise with his position and motivation. I found Namor a significantly more interesting villain than Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger in the original, who despite universal acclaim I had many issues with.
The action sequences are much better this time around and the third act doesn’t succumb to the usual mindless CGI-fest many comic-book films descend into. Although the underwater Talokan army bear similarities to James Cameron’s Avatar, the character designs are striking and the contrast of the aqua attacks against the African landscape of Wakanda is visually arresting. On that note, Autumn Durald Arkapaw’s cinematography tops Rachel Morrison’s of the original film. Morrison resorted to an inordinate amount of quick cuts in the action sequences and it was often hard to make out what was going on. Arkapaw revels in the colour-rich world Coogler creates and knows when to hold onto a shot.
After winning an Oscar for his efforts on the original, Ludwig Göransson’s score is once again excellent. He interestingly rarely refers to his original themes in the first film, opting to craft new ones and it really works. He deftly fuses the African-rich instrumentation for the Wakandan themes with the more mysterious yet forebodic Mayan-inspired tracks.
Ultimately, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a successful sequel that improves upon the flawed original. With an elegiac quality sustained throughout, Coogler’s sequel balances both a grim tone with the idea of future hope and prosperity for the fictional nation. The extended 161 minute run time wasn’t an issue for me and the film kept me engaged throughout. This is much more of a slow-burn, which I appreciated, and the decision to introduce Namor and the Kingdom of Talokan is a wise one. It’s streets ahead of both Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Thor: Love and Thunder that Marvel released this year. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a satisfying and exciting end to Marvel’s Phase Four, although I’m not sure future sequels will be able to live up to this, especially as the spectre of Boseman’s death won’t hang over the production to the extent it has on this film.
Director: Damian Leone Starring: Lauren LaVera, Elliott Fullam, Sarah Voigt, Kailey Hyman, Casey Hartnett, David Howard Thornton Certificate: 18 Run Time: 138 mins
Terrifier 2 is the third feature length film to feature the blood-soaked, havoc-wreaking Art the Clown. Once again directed by Damian Leone, this sequel picks up immediately where 2016’s Terrifier finishes. The clown also features in Leone’s debut anthology film All Hallow’s Eve, which I found a mixed bag although not without some fascinating ideas. Terrifier was a properly grisly slasher with many memorable slayings, although the film was predominantly confined to two locations and received criticism for its lack of story.
Leone has clearly taken this feedback on board and Terrifier 2 is a slasher epic running 138 minutes. The film introduces a new protagonist, Sienna Shaw (Lauren LaVera), a teenager who is busy crafting a Halloween costume that was designed by her recently deceased father. She lives with her insurance adviser mother, Barbara (Sarah Voigt) and quirky brother, Jonathan (Elliott Fullam), who has a habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
When Sienna dreams of Art the Clown in her sleep and a fire ensues in her bedroom, she becomes convinced that the two are destined to cross paths and she tries to escape her fate and protect what she has left of her family.
Terrifier 2 has received a fair amount of media attention for its gory murders, with reports of some viewers vomiting and fainting. The first film had its fair share of gruesome killings, most infamously an extended sequence where a character is sawn in half.
Not only does Terrifier 2 lives up to its gory hype but Leone has also crafted a gleefully riveting and original horror epic. Leone has demonstrably grown as a filmmaker and although there are some holes in the narrative, the time taken to develop the characters is a welcome one and sets the stage for events to unfold.
I particularly appreciated the hallucinatory, dream-like elements, which afford a tangible scope to the story. The practical effects and make-up are brilliant and although it’s a bloody film, there is a sardonic edge to the kills. Terrifier 2 reaches creaky territory in its conclusion, where it starts to introduce some fantastical elements. While I got on board with it and appreciated the over-the-top execution, others understandably won’t.
The cast are uniformly excellent, with Lauren LaVera proving a commanding screen presence, injecting much-needed humanity with a ‘final girl’ quality. She is surely destined to receive inundations of role offers following her work here. David Howard Thornton is, once again, endlessly expressive as the demonic clown. He is particularly depraved this time around, covered in blood throughout most of the run time and isn’t satisfied with simply ending someone’s life – he then likes to go on to eat or play with body parts. Art the Clown is joined by The Little Pale Girl in this film, who he initially seems to hallucinate but becomes more and more real as the film progresses.
Of the rest of the cast, Elliot Fullam makes a strong impression as the misunderstood brother. Casey Hartnett is also brilliant as the charismatic Allie, one of Sienna’s best friends. Sarah Voigt is fine as the mother, although there are some scenes where she has to discipline her children where her delivery is hammy.
In keeping with his work on the original, Paul Wiley’s score is once again excellent. George Steuber’s cinematography is brilliant and he crafts some genuinely haunting images of Art the Clown. Many have labelled the film as on the indulgent side and while it could be cut down further to service the story, the long edits of each scene allow the striking visuals to shine.
Terrifier 2 is an excellent slasher that outdoes its predecessor in pretty much every single way, other than the gnarliest kill which I think still belongs to the first film. It’s superbly directed, the increased character development compliments the gore and Leone crafts some arresting images. If Leone proceeds with a Terrifier 3, which an ambitious mid-credits scene alludes to, he has his work cut out to create a sequel that can better this.
Director: Edward Berger Starring: Felix Kammerer, Albrecht Schuch, Daniel Brühl Certificate: 15 Run Time: 147 mins
All Quiet On The Western Front is a German-language adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 anti-war novel. Developed by Netflix and directed by Edward Berger, the film is set in the closing days of World War I. It primarily follows an impressionable young soldier called Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer) who enlist in the Germany army alongside some of his school friends. At first, they have a romantic view of the war but this is very quickly shattered when they spend their first night in a trench on the Western Front. Berger intercuts Paul’s story with scenes of the armistice negotiations, led by Matthias Erzberger (Daniel Brühl).
All Quiet On The Western Front is an interesting albeit flawed take on the opposition’s account of the First World War. Berger does an excellent job of conveying the loss of innocence of many naive and young German soldiers, and compares them with imagery of young animals. Technically and visually, the film is reasonably adept, although it’s nothing you’ve never seen before in a war film. Surprisingly, the sound is oddly unconvincing at times, for example when two characters converse over soup. James Friend’s cinematography is impressive at times, a long take of a truck at risk of crushing enemy soldiers is particularly harrowing, shot from underneath in a claustrophobic manner. Volker Bertelman’s memorable and affecting synth-based score is another bright spot, performing a lot of the heavy lifting.
Felix Kammerer gives a committed performance as the young Paul, who slowly transforms into a shell of his former self, but it’s Daniel Brühl who steals the show as the no-nonsense negotiator. The scenes between Brühl and the aggressive French General Ferdinand Foch are particularly tense (Thibault de Montalembert) and give the film a needed kick of energy.
Berger’s direction is rather heavy-handed though and he doesn’t particularly stray away from convention. The film’s also not quite as absorbing as it should be and with a 147 minute length, like the war it documents, its pacing has the tendency to trudge. At least, Berger nails the ending when it comes, which is dark and suitably harrowing.
All Quiet On The Western Front has an admirable concept – there aren’t a vast selection of First World War films authentically told from the German perspective. When it works, it soars but it’s a shame the execution is generally rather workmanlike as it could have been so much more.
Director: Zach Cregger Starring: Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, Justin Long, Matthew Patrick Davis, Richard Brake Certificate: 18 Run Time: 102 mins
Barbarian is the directorial debut of Zach Cregger, most famous for his acting career. This is a high-concept horror-thriller that packs plenty of satisfying surprises up its sleeve throughout its run time.
The film opens with Tessa Marshall (Georgina Campbell) parking up at an AirBnB rental home in the outskirts of Detroit the night before a job interview. The house looks like the only furnished property on the street, with the rest of the community visibly well past its heyday. Strangely, she discovers a young man named Keith Toshko (Bill Skarsgård) is also at the house, claiming that he too is renting the property.
Initially unnerved by Keith (who wouldn’t be after Skarsgård’s deranged portrayal of Pennywise in It?), Tess decides to try and find someplace else but he dissuades her from doing so, rightly criticising the state of local community. What impresses out of the gate is the fact Tess acts like a typical human, unlike in many other horror films where characters make baffling decisions to advance the story. She duly asks to see Keith’s documents and identification and considers every decision twice. To reveal anymore of the plot would be to spoil the film, but needless to say, Cregger leaves you constantly guessing the narrative’s trajectory. Horror veteran Justin Long rounds out the cast as AJ Gilbride, a sitcom actor accused of raping a co-star.
Barbarian is an excellent horror-thriller and a barnstorming debut from Cregger. This is a taut, claustrophobic and mostly satisfying piece that had me hooked throughout. It runs out of steam a little in its last ten minutes, where the ending is not quite as subversive as the rest of the film and Cregger feels the need to overexplain a little too much. However, this is forgivable considering how reserved the rest of the film is at showing its hand. Cregger balances the horror elements with pepperings of comedy, a notable highlight being Justin Long bringing a new meaning to measuring the square footage of a property. Barbarian is further elevated by its rich exploration of social commentary too, with plenty to say on the state of America, gender and race.
The performances are uniformly excellent, with Campbell proving a domineering yet sympathetic lead – we want her to survive whatever it she is getting herself into. Campbell is surely destined for future greatness. Cregger plays on Skarsgard’s creepiness and we’re not sure whether he can be trusted or not and Long’s over-the-top horror shtick offers a biting and satirical edge.
There’s a great score by Anne Dubilich too, full of foreboding and portentous cues and the film is very well shot by Zach Kuperstein. Kuperstein’s camera peers around corners and corridors, keeping us in the dark shadows as much as Cregger withholds information to the last moment.
Barbarian joins the club in 2022 as another excellent horror film with films such as The Black Phone, X and Nope. It’s a terrific debut from Cregger and I can’t wait to see what he does next. Barbarian is one of a few films I can remember recently that has gripped me throughout and it will be interesting to pick up on the smaller details on subsequent rewatches.
Director: Martin McDonagh Starring: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan Certificate: 15 Run Time: 114 mins
The Banshees of Inisherin is the latest by writer-director Martin McDonagh, whose three film track record is untarnished so far. Both In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths are melancholic masterpieces, up there with some of my favourites from the last decade and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is also a very fine piece and attracted awards attention.
Reuniting In Bruges stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, McDonagh’s latest is set on the fictional island of Inisherin, off the coast of Ireland in 1923, set during the Civil War. Farrell plays Pádraic Súilleabháin, who is quite content living with his sister Siobhan and his animals in a cosy house. Gleeson plays Colm Doherty, a more contemplative individual who finds peace in writing new music and poetry. Despite their obvious personality differences, we learn that the two of them have enjoyed an inseparable friendship over the years. When Pádraic goes to Colm’s house to invite him out to the pub, which we’re led to believe is an everyday occurrence, Colm ignores Pádraic’s knock. Pádraic, not thinking anything is wrong, heads to the pub and when Colm enters, he bluntly informs Pádraic he doesn’t like him and doesn’t wish to speak with him anymore and the narrative escalates from there.
The Banshees of Inisherin is another excellent McDonagh feature. The script is full of the director’s signature black, dry humour and the first half of the film is full of comedic moments. The film gets progressively grimmer and McDonagh deftly balances the initial laughs with the heavier subject matter and tone. There’s a lot of substance to the story, McDonagh being both critical and drawing parallels of the events on-screen with the Civil War, infused with a Shakespearean quality.
Both Farrell and Gleeson turn in excellent performances. 2022 has proven a hat-trick for Farrell with brilliant performances also in The Batman and Thirteen Lives. He’s saved the best for last though as Pádraic, described by the other islanders as nice but dull. The ruminative transformation he undertakes through the course of the film is brilliantly delivered. Gleeson’s character doesn’t have quite as much to say but he turns in another searing performance, expressing more through his body language and actions but he also gets some excellent lines.
It’s not just the central duo who make an impression. McDonagh constructs a memorable and unique community, with each character having their quirks. Kerry Condon is brilliant as Siobhan, showing compassion to others and acting as an intermediary between Pádraic and Colm, but she also has her own issues. Barry Keoghan plays the dim and tormented Billy, who just wants a companion to navigate life with and escape the clutches of his pig-headed policeman father (Gary Lydon). The landlord of the pub, Jonjo (Pat Shortt) is another highlight, acting as an intermediary between Pádraic and Colm. The unnamed priest (David Pearse) gets some cracking lines too and old woman plays a Shakespearean witch like character.
McDonagh’s regular composer Carter Burwell helms the score and it’s very fitting and memorable, resorting to a variation of themes that are developed as the film progresses. The film is gorgeously shot by Ben Davis, who beautifully captures the Irish landscape and vistas, as well as the pets and animals of the island and their innocence.
The Banshees of Inisherin is another knockout from McDonagh. Having seen the film twice, it gets better on a rewatch as you start to pick out the smaller minutatie and the foreboding signs of the narrative direction the film is heading in. It’s definitely McDonagh’s grimmest watch to date and the film leaves you stone-cold in its closing moments with characters that have lost their way. The film isn’t quite perfect though – it doesn’t seem to have quite as much substance as McDonagh’s first two films and the film’s pacing sags briefly just before it enters its final act. Still, The Banshees of Inisherinis one of the best films of the year and deservedly is likely to receive awards attention later in the year.
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Aldis Hodge, Noah Centineo, Sarah Shahi, Marwan Kenzari, Quintessa Swindell, Mohammed Ammer, Bodhi Sabongui, Pierce Brosnan Certificate: 12A Run Time: 125 mins
Black Adam is the latest in the DC Extended Universe and with Dwayne Johnson attached to play the titular character since September 2014, it’s taken quite some time to reach the big screen. The film was delayed for a number of reasons – Johnson was originally to star in a film opposite Shazam as his nemesis but DC decided to let Shazam have his own film first and then introduce Black Adam. The production was also not helped by the coronavirus pandemic and DC’s own inner turmoils surrounding their film slate.
In the director’s chair is Jaume Collet-Serra, responsible for a cluster of Liam Neeson action vehicles and last year’s reasonably fun-in-the-moment yet utterly disposable Jungle Cruise.
Black Adam opens with the titular character’s origin in 2600 BC before jumping ahead to the present day where he is awoken via a spoken incantation. The character was believed to have been the rescuer of the fictional country Kahndaq, which is now being oppressed by Intergang, an organised crime syndicate. University professor and resistance fighter Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) and her teenage son, Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) function as the audience’s insight to the country.
The film also introduces the Justice Society team, consisting of Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and Ant-Man rip-off Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) to take Black Adam into custody, as they believe him to be a societal menace. They are sent into action by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), who was last seen managing The Suicide Squad, who has somehow been shoehorned into managing this team.
Black Adam is a mixed bag and is generally pretty mindless and disposable, albeit reasonably entertaining. Despite a two hour run time, the film never takes the time to breathe and focus on developing its character, instead choosing to prioritise action sequence after action sequence. By the end of the a climactic battle towards the end of the film’s second act, it’s pretty derivative superhero fare but the third act somewhat reframes the first two acts in a more interesting light.
Crucially, Johnson’s great in the titular role and it will be exciting to see his anti-hero come face-to-face with other DCEU characters in the future. Of the other performances, both Shahi and Sabongui make for solid reference points to Kahndaq, and Mohammed Amer gets some rousing lines as Amon’s Uncle.
The Justice Society are particularly problematic, saddled with poor dialogue and cliche-ridden. An eye-openly poor opening sees them convene after receiving orders from Waller to locate Black Adam and the manner in which they leave Doctor Fate’s mansion on a fighter jet is lifted straight from X-Men. Hodge puts in a good effort as Hawkman, both Centineo and Swindell fail to leave an impression and Brosnan is just here to pick up the cheque.
The visual effects are often ropey, considering its sizeable $200 million budget and the film is far too reliant on CGI. Despite sterling work on Joker, Lawrence Sher’s cinematography is also disappointing, resorting to quick cuts. Lorne Balfe’s score is certainly loud but not particularly memorable.
Collet-Serra’s direction is rather anonymous but the hallmarks of a more adult-oriented film are evident. Prior to the film’s release, the studio were required to make cuts to achieve a 12A / PG-13 rating – arguably, a 15 / R rating is just what the film needs to elevate it.
There’s also a mind-boggling reference to Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in which Collet-Serra contrasts a Mexican standoff with Black Adam’s superhero ability, which is unforgivable.
Black Adam isn’t the DCEU’s crowning achievement and it’s a shame it rarely strays from superhero convention. At least it takes a handful of narrative risks in its third act that make it worthwhile and whilst there are inklings of a more genre-progressive film, the framing of the titular character as an anti-hero is an inspired creative choice. Still, Black Adam functions in setting the foundations of the character with Johnson is clearly game in the role and the film is entertaining, even if you’ll forget it shortly after the credits start to roll.
Director: David Gordon Green Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Andi Matichak, Rohan Campbell, Will Patton, Kyle Richards, James Jude Courtney Certificate: 18 Run Time: 111 mins
Halloween Ends is the final film in the new trilogy directed by David Gordon Green and set after the events of John Carpenter’s original 1978 film. The series had previously experienced a rather rough life until Green’s innovative 2018 sequel that decided to ignore all that had come before and pick the story up forty years after the original.
It was brilliant – both Green and comedian Danny McBride, who collaborated to pen the script, demonstrated a clear understanding of the elements that made Halloween (1978) work. Unfortunately, despite Green and McBride saying it was the plan all along, shortly after the success of Halloween (2018), it was announced they would bring two more films to form a trilogy.
Halloween Kills, the first sequel, was a retrograde abomination, undoing most of the good work of its predecessor. The story, characters and script were all laughable and the film suffers badly from middle film syndrome. Naturally, expectations were rather low for this trilogy capper.
Halloween Ends is set three years after the events of Michael Myers’ last killing spree in Halloween Kills, who has since vanished. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is living with her granddaughter, Alysson (Andi Matichak) while writing a memoir of her experiences.
Green introduces a new character, Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell), who is accused of murdering a boy he was babysitting, before being exonerated. As Corey reintegrates himself into society, he enters into a relationship with Alysson while being a victim of bullying. A chain of events culminates in the inevitable return of Myers, with expectedly grisly results.
Halloween Ends is an interesting finale to the trilogy and is to be admired for trying to do something different. It has a promising first 45 minutes or so, in particular a chilling opening where Green introduces Corey and the fateful babysitting venture. He also deftly explores Corey’s pariah status, following his exoneration and introduces some thought-provoking themes such as how perpetuators of crime can come from mundane beginnings.
That said, other elements such as Laurie’s newfound peace are delivered heavy-handedly and cliched. The multiple attempts at romantic encounters are also cringeworthy.
Unfortunately, you can’t have a Halloween film without Michael Myers and the way in which he is integrated into the plot 45 minutes in is rather befuddling and the result is a decidedly mixed bag.
The bloody violence staple to the slasher horror genre is for the most part, more muted and infrequent this time around. Despite Halloween Kills’ disaster status, it was certainly more mean-spirited than other films in the series in its gore and horror. That said, there is one kill involving a DJ that will surely go down as one of the best kills of the series.
Green offers a more measured quality to his direction this time around over Halloween Kills, although returning cinematographer Michael Simmonds’ work isn’t as creative as his previous two efforts. The score is once again by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies and as you would expect, the trio conjure some memorable themes.
Although Halloween Ends chooses to conclude the series in a decidedly different direction to what one would expect, it’s undoubtedly a significant step-up from Halloween Kills. I’d much rather see a filmmaker take a bold risk than stick to convention and despite the fact the result is a mixed bag, it’s a memorable way to end the series. However, both Green and McBride would surely have been better off walking away after the success of Halloween (2018) and leaving the series on a high note.