Tag Archives: Reviews

Fantastic Four, the reboot no one wanted or deserved

The Fantastic Four reboot was a movie we neither needed nor deserved, as 20th Century Fox managed to take a much-loved Marvel franchise and make it worse. Here be spoilers!

Source: 20th Century Fox UK/YouTube

Source: 20th Century Fox UK/YouTube

Reed Richards (Miles Teller) is a lanky, socially awkward science whiz who discovers a prototype teleporter for inter-dimensional travel from his garage at the age of eight. Ben Grimm is his gangly sidekick from the wrong side of town. Sue Storm is the adopted daughter of an influential scientist also researching inter-dimensional travel, while Johnny Storm is his estranged biological son.

There was little effort made in forming coherent character expositions and the storyline was rushed faster than a bullet train. Reed goes from the wide-eyed eight year old to an awkward teenager in matter of minutes and within the hour sets off on an inter-dimensional travel with his gangly bunch of misfits.

The existence of another dimension was a gold mine for plot if utilized properly. This was an Earth 2.0-like planet, Planet Zero, covered in fluorescent lava, which is ultimately responsible for giving the characters their super powers. But this plot device was used half-heartedly to justify character angsts of a bunch of teenagers. Once Reed and his team manages to create a working Quantum Gate, a portal to this other dimension, they are made redundant by the powers-that-be, who, very logically, wanted NASA to commandeer the exploration to Planet Zero. Not willing to be cast aside, a drunk Reed, Victor, and Johnny decide to make a trip to the other side in the dead of the night. Reed even manages to coax Ben out of his sleep to make the 45 minute journey to the facility to join in on the fun. As one would expect, letting inexperienced teenagers embark on unauthorized inter-dimensional travel is a recipe for disaster.

20th Century Fox UK/YouTube

Source: 20th Century Fox UK/YouTube

While out on their exploration, predictably things go wrong when the surface of the planet gives way. Reed and the rest make an attempt to get back to their transport pod in order for Sue to bring them back to their own dimension but Victor falls off a cliff, presumably, to his death.

In a movie heavy on disappointments, the toughest pill to swallow was the character massacre of Victor Von Doom, one of Marvel’s legendary villains, into an angst-ridden, misanthropic teenager. Victor is another young science whizz, who initially came up with the concept of inter-dimensional travel; he used to be Dr Storm’s former wayward protégé and a past love interest for Sue. His on-screen introduction was underwhelming – sitting in a dim-lit apartment full of computer screens displaying a catalog of science mumbo jumbo. He looked more like a junkie than a villain in the making. The movie fails spectacularly hard to set up any context for Victor to want to destroy the world later on.

After acquiring their superpowers, Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben, are taken to an isolated military base where they are kept under strict observation. The movie’s “greedy military” narrative worked well in this context and one can’t help but wish Marvel Studios still had the rights to this franchise to introduce in Civil War. While Dr Storm tries his best to protect the four of them, whom he lovingly refers to as his “children”, the military is more interested in using their newly acquired superpower in combat. Ben and Johnny are quick to sign up while Sue is hesitant; Reed manages to escape, becomes a fugitive, and disappears for in South America for an entire year before he’s tracked down.

Almost three-fourths of the movie passes before Reed and the others brought are back to put the finishing touches to a second portal that had been built in the mean while. This time, the U.S. Army sends its soldiers to explore Earth 2.0 and ‘lo behold, they find Victor alive (nobody saw that coming right?). In a visually cool shot, we find that Victor’s space suit had molded to his body, which made a nice transition for the iconic Doom mask.

Source: 20th Century Fox UK/YouTube

Source: 20th Century Fox UK/YouTube

 

It is a general rule in almost all science fiction/horror movie – if you find something on an alien, terrestrial world that you have absolutely no clue about, do not bring it back to ours. Victor is naturally brought back to be studied in a similar fashion that Reed and co. were.  But he snaps and goes on a killing rampage throughout the facility before escaping back to Planet Zero; without taking into account the poor set-up, this scene was probably one of the best bits of the movie. Also, the death of Dr Allen, set up to be the annoying, secondary antagonist, was very satisfactory.

The threat of Victor, as well as the death of Dr Storm, unites Reed and co to go after him. Superhero movies really need to come up with alternate and creative ways to get their quarreling heroes to play nice.

When they return to Planet Zero, this time with Sue in tow, Victor mocks them (or rather Mankind in general) for their greediness and brags about the superpowers the mysterious, glowing lava gave him. Mostly telekinesis, but at this point, it was, unfortunately, hard to take him seriously as a credible villain. The final battle is as anticlimactic as you’d expect; Victor’s evil plan is a crossover between Transformers 3 and Man of Steel – he wants to bring all resources from Earth 1.0 to Earth 2.0 and rule over humanity. After initially struggling to contain him, Reed and co. finally manage to defeat him in a showdown that lasted less than 10 minutes of screen time.

In the end, returning as heroes back to Earth 1.0, Reed and co. manage to negotiate with the army to be left alone. They are given a new facility to conduct research in and stay away from prying eyes – think Avengers tower – and in more attempts to rip off of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ben comes up with the group’s name. He says “Fantastic…F” before the camera fades to black.

Overall, it was an uninspiring superhero movie that tried to take itself too seriously and fell into the trap of most DC films. The poor character developments, terrible script, and a haphazard narrative made it worse. Besides, it never stood a chance against a naked Chris Evans sitting in a pool of melted snow.

 

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Jurassic World: Reboot 66 million years in the making

Source: YouTube/Universal Pictures

Source: YouTube/Universal Pictures

SPOILERS AHEAD!

In 1993, rich billionaire John Hammond had a dream: to open a one-of-a-kind theme park that would take visitors 66 million years back in time, into an ancient world of gigantic proportion. Hammond’s fascination with dinosaurs, the reptilian remnants of a distant past, mirrors our own – between big-budget motion pictures, small-screen documentaries, best-selling novels, and sold-out attractions in museums, everything Dino-related sells. And they sell fast – the newest offering from the Jurassic age broke all kinds of records in the box office, including an ultra speedy finish to the billion dollar benchmark. Jurassic World grossed $1,000,000,000 at the global box office in just 13 days, overtaking the previous record holder Fast & Furious 7 (17 days). It was also the first film to earn over $500 million in its opening weekend worldwide.

Source: YouTube/Universal Pictures

Source: YouTube/Universal Pictures

22 years after Drs. Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler, and Ian Malcolm deemed Jurassic Park unfit for operation, the establishment is finally open – rather, the park had been open a decade prior to the events of Jurassic World. At the story’s center is a dysfunctional family in the midst of beginning divorce procedures. To distract their kids from the imminent separation, the Mitchells send their sons, Zach and Gray (Ty Simpkins of Iron Man 3 and Insidious fame), to spend a weekend with their aunt, Clare Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard). Clare is the tireless operations manager at Jurassic World. When the boys arrive at Isla Nublar, where the park is situated, off the coast of Costa Rica, things go downhill quickly as the park’s newest attraction, a genetically modified hybrid dinosaur, escapes from its forested northern enclosure and kills everything in sight.

Jurassic World delves into a problem that many corporations grapple with today – the necessity to do whatever it takes to remain relevant. The park management is challenged with maintaining visitor attendance to the park, at a time when kids “look at a stegosaurus like it’s an elephant at the zoo,” moans Clare to a group of potential investors. In a world where innovation is key to the survival and longevity of a business, the film also poses an ethical question. How far would one go to sustain public interest in a species that have become so quotidian? InGen’s, the bioengineering startup founded by Hammond, answer to this is to create a brand new dinosaur – the Indominus Rex. As an aside, B.D Wong, sadly, was the only member of the original cast returns as chief geneticist, Dr. Henry Wu.

The Indominus is designed to “give parents nightmares” as park owner, Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), rightly says. A test tube mash up of DNA from a variety of reptilian, there is nothing natural about the Indominus’ existence. She gets her predatory instincts from the T-Rex, which makes up the base component of her genetic makeup; she gets a whole lot of other cool features like camouflaging and the ability to modify her body temperature – which eventually allows her to escape. The best bits of her genetic makeup is kept classified – her supreme intelligence. Those faithful to the original Jurassic Park will almost immediately figure out where that comes from.

It is evident, and reiterated by cast members in the press junkets, that the Indominus is a representation of how damaging corporate greed can be. The need to constantly innovate and create something bigger, better does not always bode well (hello Skynet). In the process, not only do people get hurt, in this case mauled, but the good is destroyed and the bad gets worse. One really poignant moment in the film that shows this is when star Dino-wrangler, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), stumbles upon a dying Apatosaurus, one of the biggest creatures from history. Its massive size is countered by its gentle nature, none of which were of any use when the Indominus attacked.

Source: YouTube/Universal Pictures

Source: YouTube/Universal Pictures

Though Hammond, played by the esteemed late Richard Attenborough, does not make an appearance in Jurassic World, his presence is clearly felt with many throwbacks to the film that started it all. Easter eggs include, but are not limited to, an original Jurassic Park t-shirt, a hologram of John Hammond, the statue of John Hammond, Mr. DNA, “God creates Dinosaur” (homage to Dr. Ian Malcolm’s famous speech), the skeleton of the Spinosaurus from the unmemorable Jurassic Park III, among others. In the middle of the film, a full segment is spent revisiting the old park, decrepit from neglect. Jurassic World has enough throwback moments to send hardcore fans catatonic with glee. Masrani, to whom Hammond entrusted his vision for the park, echoes his predecessor’s sentiments by declaring no expenses were spared to turn the park into an extravagant glimpse to an ancient past. Masrani, like Hammond in the original film, represents the likeable, good-at-heart character, whose poor decision-making skills make things worse for the main characters.

The element of control is another issue the film tries, somewhat successfully, to address. When the Indominus escapes, there’s a moment at the central control room where Clare snaps at Grady. “You are not in control here,” she says with forced calm as they track the Indominus on screen. Clare likely means the decision, to kill the $25 million investment, is not up to Owen to decide; but her words echo throughout the rest of the film. In an island where everything is bigger, and more ferocious, can Man truly say he is in control? Even Masrani, at one point, admits that control is an illusion.

Source: YouTube/Universal Pictures

Source: YouTube/Universal Pictures

In an earlier scene, Grady remarks to Hoskins, InGen’s head of security, about how he trains the raptors. Hoskins has a nefarious ambition  to use domesticated raptors as bio-weapons for the military and he thinks they can be taught to obey. Grady warns him that the only reason the raptors do not eat his face off is because they have build a working relationship based on mutual respect; not because he is ever in control.

Jurassic World takes almost two hours to build up to its climax – the showdown between the Indominus and the household stars of Jurassic Park, the T-Rex and the raptors. In the first film, the raptors almost stole the show from the T-Rex, and in this one, the former king of the prehistoric food chain mostly lurks off the screen. Until now. With all of their options exhausted, including the raptors – which almost backfires because, voila, the Indominus is part raptor! – Clare realises they need a bigger weapon to fight their monstrous creation. Or as Gray, the evidently smarter brother, remarks, “We need more teeth.” At this point, you could almost hear the gasps of excitement ringing through the theater.

The Tyrannosaurus-Rex is a staple in every Jurassic Park film. Prior to the creation of the Indominus Rex, it was the top terrestrial predator in the park. Its noticeable absence from the screen builds up to the WWE-style showdown; in one corner, the current rampaging top dog and on the other, the challenger, returning to reclaim its title as king of the food chain.

The fight sequence is excellent. I only wish there was more of it, in lieu of less character expositions.

The Indominus easily overpowers the T-Rex. As she is about to deliver the killing blow, Blue, the surviving raptor, enters the fray, leading to a Dino-tag team of epic proportions. Even then the Indominus could have probably won if she did not get dragged to her death by the enormous Mosasaurus. It is a hilarious kill steal – a term commonly used in the gaming vernacular to describe people who will wait until you are nearly done battling your obstacle before delivering the killing blow. In doing so, the kill stealer makes away with half the XP and gold/item drops (in some games the portion may vary) without deserving it. They are infuriating.

Source: YouTube/Universal Pictures

Source: YouTube/Universal Pictures

Overall, Jurassic World delivers exactly what it promised on the tin – an action-packed dinosaur theme park. Many movie-goers have griped about the lack of plot in lieu of more action sequence; it is hard to imagine someone willingly watching a franchise like Jurassic Park and expecting deep, meaningful plot. The ending of Jurassic World sets up the stage for a sequel where, I suspect, we will see the next level of mankind’s greed: where dinosaurs are employed in warfare. It’ll be like Terminator going way back in time – 66 million years, to be precise.

Book Review: Beasts Of No Nation

It is stunning to think that Uzodinma Iweala was only 23 when he wrote Beasts of No Nation. The book is a haunting debut where readers are sucked into a gruesome civil war in an unnamed African country from the first page of the 142-page novel. There’s blood, there’s gore, rampant savagery, rape, sexual abuse, and the utter hopelessness of a nation torn by internal strife and mindless violence.

The protagonist of the novel, Agu, is a young, studious boy who is one day uprooted from his peaceful family life and thrown into the barbaric world of a child soldier. Given the choice to live and join the rebels or death, Agu chooses the former. His transition to a child soldier is not without obstacles as he is in a constant battle with his internal conscience, trying to justify to himself (and to the readers) his actions. At one point, he says “If I am doing all of this good thing and now only doing what soldier is supposed to be doing, then how can I be bad boy?”

His justifications are, however, now spared the horror both Agu, and the readers, feel when he kills. Recalling his first kill:

It is like the world is moving slowly and I am seeing each drop of blood and each drop of sweat flying here and there. I am hearing the bird flapping their wing as they are leaving all the tree. It is sounding like thunder. I am hearing the mosquito buzzing in my ear so loud and I am feeling how the blood is just wetting on my leg and my face. The enemy’s body is having deep red cut everywhere and his forehead is looking just crushed so his whole face is not even looking like face because his head is broken everywhere and there is just blood, blood, blood… I am hearing hammer knocking in my head and chest. My nose and mouth is itching. I am seeing all the color everywhere and my belly is feeling empty. I am growing hard between my legs. Is this like falling in love?

The description is powerful and intense, and shows the toll it takes on him. The allusion to falling in love is a throwback to what the Commandant of the militia told Agu about killing, alluding it to love. Similar language is seen throughout the book, where Agu’s experiences as a child soldier are amplified and presented as almost out-of-the-world types.

Iweala’s use of the present tense also makes the action, and the violence, more real. On one hand, readers are walking side by side with Agu as the militia goes raiding through villages; on the other, they are paralyzed with fear as they watch Agu, and his compatriots, hack down innocent civilians to death. Intentional grammar, tense, and syntax disagreements throughout the book make the language a patois and distinctly places it within Africa.

Agu’s life as a child soldier is interspersed with his past life in the relative peace and quiet before the outbreak of war. His father, presumed dead in the present, was a school teacher; his mother was religiously devout; he had a sister, friends, neighbors, and a full community of people. The novel is quick to remind readers that this past, which Agu longs for, is gone and replaced by the brutal reality of civil war.

As the novel progresses, Agu finds himself becoming more isolated from the world as it burns up in flames all around him. His only true friend and companion in the novel is a young boy named Strika. It is implied that Strika had become psychologically mute due to the horrors he witnessed in the war. Though Strika doesn’t talk, not until his final moments in the book, his presence serves to ground Agu in his new reality. Both  him and Agu are shown to  be innocent, young boys who are dragged into the quarrels of grown men; yet readers are again reminded that age bears no limit to barbarity and violence as both Agu and Strika strike down civilians to death without mercy. There is, however, solidarity between them in their suffering.

The novel’s shortness doesn’t deter its delivery of a powerful message about the horrors of civil wars. History is filled with examples, not only in the African continent, where nations devolved into violence and savagery and their traumatic consequences on generations of youth. What hits home with Beasts of No Nation is its current relevance as child soldiers are still in abundance throughout the African continent.

Personally I didn’t enjoy this book; and I mean that as a compliment because it is hard to enjoy something so horrific and so anguishing as Beasts of No Nation. There were times when the violence that came out of the pages because so overwhelming, I had to put down the book and breathe. It always reminded me of my position in this situation; I was an observer with a free pass to walk away whenever things became too much to bear. It also reminded me, like a sharp jab to the ribs, for some this is still the reality with no route for escape, except death.

Beasts of No Nation ends with Agu walking down the road, literally and metaphorically, to recovery after he escapes the militia. As he remembers his old life, the aftermath of his brief time as a child soldier bears down on him, cold and unforgiving. He says “I am remembering the sound of people coughing…the smell of…dead body everywhere. This is the only thing that I am knowing,” and readers know it is something that will continue to haunt him as long as he lives.

[Read | Skim | Toss]

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