Crash of the Titans: The Decline of the Actor

Stars - J Law 2

Following a dour weekend stateside for new film releases, that ever-intrusive question is banging around the cinemasphere again: What has happened to our movie stars? Now more than ever films are sold to audiences through an expertly crafted marketing gaze, and it seems the most effective marketing strategy for studios these days is to repeat that which was once successful.

Through no fault of their own, actors are no longer truly bankable; even the biggest and best have financial flops lingering in their back catalogues like an unwanted infection. The same could be said for directors, many of whom have helmed a financial disappointment. If you’re not Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorsese, chances are you’re not getting top billing on the poster. In fact hiring less well-known directors to oversee large productions is becoming an increasingly popular trend in Hollywood.

Instead, distributors are all wrapped up in promoting a marketable product these days. It’s partly why franchises are in vogue; they have a ready-made narrative structure in place and are therefore easier to sell. Skyfall currently flies the most successful British film ever made banner and, as good as his performance is in the film, chances are people didn’t scramble to their nearest cinema to catch a glimpse of Daniel Craig. They went for James Bond, the character, the familiar entity. Jennifer Lawrence is arguably the world’s most in demand actor, a reputation she has carved out for herself by being very good in two huge movie series (The Hunger Games and X-Men).

In the US, this past weekend saw name-value take another hit: Bradley Cooper and Sandra Bullock both had films released, and both films succumbed to poor box office returns. Cooper stars in Burnt, a culinary drama that took as little as $5 million, while Bullock’s vehicle is the political comedy Our Brand Is Crisis. The latter only managed to recoup $3.2 million of its $28 million budget. As those films struggled, grander ventures such as The Martian continued to reign supreme — thankfully, Ridley Scott’s sci-fi jaunt is one of the year’s best (another, in fairness, is franchise reboot Mad Max: Fury Road).

Stars - Sandra Bullock

While middle-of-the-road outings such as Burnt and Our Brand Is Crisis feel the weight of their franchise-less, big budget-less predicaments, the past 12 months have brought us this lot: Jurassic World, Fast & Furious 7, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Minions, four sequels (or prequel in the case of Minions) that greatly emphasised their pre-existing worlds during the sales pitch. Heck, Jurassic World went full throttle and unveiled distinctly recognisable posters to the world before incorporating an updated version of John Williams’ wonderful score in its trailer. Those movies, incidentally, are four of cinema’s largest ever grossers.

If the waning power of the actor wasn’t so explicitly obvious before, Suffragette may well have totally pulled the plug. Focus Features heavily promoted Meryl Streep’s involvement in the project alongside main players Carey Mulligan and Helena Bonham Carter, even though the iconic actor only appears on screen for a handful of minutes. Presumably, the studio expected her name-value to grasp the consumer’s attention and subsequently increase viewership. Unfortunately, the film has only grossed $11.6 million up until now (it’s in its fourth week), $2.4 million short of its initial budget.

There are pros and cons to our present age of sequel-dom. On the one hand, we get to see exhilarating and smart blockbuster outings such as the aforementioned Mad Max: Fury Road and also Marvel’s Ant-Man, these films succeeding in spite of their pre-established identities. But we also have to sit through monstrosities such as Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, a film that when issued back in 2009 arrived on the silver screen warmed by the security blanket of a guaranteed audience. A film, sadly, that hardly values quality.

There are exceptions to rule — some may call them diminishing lights amongst the bleak darkness — and one of those might be The Revenant. Granted the upcoming film will be riding the Oscar wave, particularly given its director Alejandro González Iñárritu is fresh off a golden statuette victory himself. But even films touched by the shiny sheen of an Academy Award nomination rarely yield monster returns — the 2015 crop harvested a circumstantially low intake — and it’s worth noting that these often host the flashiest names too. Steve Jobs, starring Michael Fassbender, is another potential awards-hauler performing poorly.

Stars - Leo DiCaprio

But back to The Revenant. There is an argument to be made that any financial success incurred by The Revenant will lie solely at the feet of its genuine A-list star, Leonardo DiCaprio. One of the last original flicks to make any real cash was Christopher Nolan’s Inception, also starring DiCaprio, though to claim that movie’s monetary success was exclusively down to said actor’s involvement would be a stretch. A genuine exception might be Spring Breakers, starring Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hugdens who, at the time, were Disney starlets. It made over $30 million on a $6 million budget.

A24 Films delivered Spring Breakers to audiences back in 2013 and since then the studio has prioritised freshness (though its movies don’t always boast big names). Its highest grossing picture thus far is Ex Machina, which featured relative newcomers Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, and Alicia Vikander. Conversely, Under the Skin starring Avenger Scarlett Johansson failed to regain even half of its initial outlay. American Hustle, of the non-A24 Films variety, done well at the box office under the guidance of a conglomeration of star power: Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, and Jeremy Renner were all involved.

Is it a good thing? Recent history suggests that the demise of the actor as a wholesale draw has meant most studios see the establishment of a brand as the only way forward. If true this approach cannot be healthy, as it would almost certainly encourage a lack of diversity in cinema (many will claim cinema is already lacking diversity). You might argue Gravity, starring Bullock and George Clooney, is an example of a film that was beefed up by its two major stars, but even that was marketed largely as an immersive and stunning cinematic experience. Clooney himself felt the brunt of ebbing clout when audiences opted not to see Tomorrowland: A World Beyond this past summer.

None of this should come as a surprise. The days of the star system are gone and in their place we have a society that subscribes to Netflix not to see a particular film, but because it’s Netflix. A Will Smith-led Bad Boys can no longer make over $140 million based solely on Will Smith’s appearance. The solution, if there is one, is an entirely different matter, though perhaps actors don’t need one. Perhaps studios and audiences just need to have more confidence in original movie-making.

Stars - Bradley Cooper

Images credit: Metro, Collider

Images copyright (©): Warner Bros. Pictures, 20th Century Fox, The Weinstein Company

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Spectre (2015)

★★★★

Spectre PosterDirector: Sam Mendes

Release Date: October 26th, 2015 (UK); November 6th, 2015 (US)

Genre: Action; Adventure; Thriller

Starring: Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes

Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography was all the rage at the Oscars earlier this year, and Hoyte van Hoytema has tapped into the technical furore. Spectre begins with a Birdman-esque gallivant through a musty Mexican city, hollow drum beats slowly drowned out by the fluid orchestral waves of Monty Norman’s classic Bond theme as proceedings manoeuvre away from Day of the Dead festivities and towards 007’s (Daniel Craig) ensuing mission. Bond shoots at his target, Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona), causing an enormous explosion that ought to terminate the wrongdoer. But just when you think it’s mission complete, Sciarra escapes. We momentarily meander back into the slow-moving parade before barrelling skywards aboard an out-of-control helicopter.

Director Sam Mendes is clearly having fun playing with our expectations, teasing tonally and pacing-wise. It is a super sequence in mechanical terms, but also a celebration of Bond: throughout the five-minute long take we see spying, shooting, surviving, and seducing. And, deviously, the film eliminates a would-be model Bond villain in record time — at one point the camera catches Sciarra looking like a cross between Jaws and Raoul Silva.

The main title montage then springs into life, this particular incarnation both encapsulating and artistically rich, affording meaning to Sam Smith’s otherwise uncertain lyrics. Perennial opening credits creator Daniel Kleinman delivers a montage that is all about retracing familiar steps, and Spectre does a lot of backwards walking. Bond, no longer in favour at a spatially revamped MI6, finds himself working outwith the espionage structure of government moderniser Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), aided covertly by Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Wishaw).

The film is an entirely different prospect to Skyfall; this, in many ways, is Bond back to basics. Somewhat shunned by the morose undercurrent of its predecessor, Spectre revisits the franchise’s sly vein of humour. Ben Wishaw continues to grow into the role of Q, his pinpoint comedy timing affording the character greater charm. We dash all over the globe, though admirably the outing never succumbs to the artificial sheen of a travel brochure. Snowscapes make a comeback — there’s something to be said for beautiful blanket-white mountain locales and Bond often speaks fluently in this regard.

Just when you think the film won’t eclipse its previous action set piece, an even bigger and better one explodes on screen. Heck, we even get a hulking villain in Hinx, the bruiser given personality by Dave Bautista whose terminally arrogant-cum-ominous grin suggests total control. He brawls with Bond aboard a train in a punch-up that looks and sounds brutal — words such as vigour and pulp spring to mind as you begin to think Hinx might actually be a Terminator.

Some shots could have easily been borrowed from a Sergio Leone western, prompting quite the departure from what is otherwise a modern espionage jaunt. These pit Bond as the ageing gunslinger, a field agent feeling the brunt of a very real existential crisis provoked by Denbigh’s mechanical tactics, but also an operative who is still able to get the job done. Taunted by Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) who, like Denbigh, is also plugged into the new world, Bond must confront the ghosts of his past in order to remain operationally relevant.

See, while reviving the franchise’s historical spirit, Spectre also roots itself in present day amenities. Denbigh is the corporate stooge infecting our treasured institutions, the guy who wants to take MI6 “out of the Dark Ages”. He heads up the Centre for National Security, or “George Orwell’s worst nightmare,” as M (Ralph Fiennes) puts it, a base designed to undemocratically scrutinise the globe. His vision is all-encompassing, a desk-based surveillance system that identifies and eliminates potential targets. Keyword: potential.

As Bond battles enemies in the field, seeing Fiennes and Scott engage in a dual over career politics is a warranted change of pace and one that never ceases to intrigue. A paranoid air arises based on the premise that any misstep might be critical, and this trope no longer only applies to Bond. The argument relayed by the old guard, essentially, is that espionage is too cloudy to be conducted in an impersonal manner.

This clash between old and new also incorporates Waltz’s Oberhauser, though the less said about him the better. He struts on screen encased in a cloud of shadow, Hoytema’s cinematography imbuing the character with immense mystique. We know exactly what Christoph Waltz looks like and yet we can’t help but wonder what sits beneath the darkness. Interactions between Oberhauser and Bond are few and far between and you do find yourself yearning for more, but perhaps the restraint employed by Mendes and his team of writers (John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Jez Butterworth all contribute) is what funds the tantalising energy surrounding both men.

Romantic (or unromantic) strands are still odd and awkward to sit through, especially in 2015. Bond’s infallibility when it comes to courting women remains a key characteristic that is tough to get along with, though his relationship with Lea Séydoux’s Madeleine Swan is at least sort of understandable — Madeleine is, after all, the daughter of spy. His fleeting flirtation with Monica Bellucci, playing a grieving widow, isn’t quite as logical.

A word finally on Daniel Craig, who looks like he is once again enjoying himself after the stunning solemnity of Skyfall. Spectre may or may not be his last tux session. Either way there is no denying the actor’s quite remarkable achievement since donning the attire in Casino Royale: imperfectly humanising a foolproof iron man. I’m not so convinced viewers these days aspire to live the life of Bond, and that is a good thing.

Spectre - Daniel Craig

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider

Images copyright (©): Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, Columbia Pictures

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

★★★

Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation PosterDirector: Christopher McQuarrie

Release Date: 30th July, 2015 (UK); 31st July, 2015 (US)

Genre: Action; Adventure; Thriller

Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner

The Mission: Impossible films, in general, are good because the franchise knows exactly what it wants to be, and subsequently what it is. Rogue Nation, which once again pairs Tom Cruise with his Jack Reacher director Christopher McQuarrie, understands its place in the action-thriller lexicon just as well as its four predecessors. The film opens with an exhilarating sequence familiar to those who have seen the trailer: IMF agent Ethan Hunt attempting to clamber inside a gigantic cargo plane as it takes off.

When he eventually boards, the spy-cum-trapeze artist aims a sly shrug at the camera and a shocked bad guy, before parachuting out of the plane with tonnes of nerve gas in tow. The moment reaffirms Cruise’s insanity whilst also ushering in an infectious tongue-in-cheek vibe that thrives indefinitely. “I’ve heard stories, they can’t all be true,” says an Impossible Missions Force operative to Hunt in the calmer scene that follows. They’re definitely all true.

This story centres on the IMF’s unauthorised motion to take down a terrorist organisation reeking global havoc, known as the Syndicate. It’s righteousness versus evil. Mission: Impossible knows it isn’t as gritty as Bourne or as intelligent as Bond, and Rogue Nation’s high-concept plot somewhat reflects that. McQuarrie’s movie is not in any way mindless though — quite the opposite. It purveys a frothy exuberance that relentlessly breathes life into the screenplay and a coyness reflected in said screenplay’s playful genre jabs.

The film constantly pokes fun at itself, reaching out and nudging viewers amid all of the high intensity nonsense and popcorn silliness. “Nessun Dorma” chimes out as Hunt and a big baddie perform combat acrobatics on a lighting rig above an opera performance. The higher the note, the more absurd it gets. But it’s entertaining, one of a few tremendous action set pieces. An underwater spectacle conveys the same technical merit as Gravity and is probably the best of the bunch, highlighting some really intuitive camera work from Robert Elswit — his shots manoeuvre with the stunts and become part of the slick show. We shouldn’t be surprised given his portfolio (There Will Be Blood, Nightcrawler), and here Elswit introduces a cheery energy that those films didn’t have.

At one point Hunt ponders the location of a MacGuffin. Morocco apparently. Cue Lalo Schifrin’s mischievous theme and an ironic Cruise smile (not another sunny location!). He and Simon Pegg are fun to watch as odd buddies whose friendship you genuinely buy into. They meet up with Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust who, in an earlier scene, promptly turns Hunt’s condescending, “You should go before it gets ugly,” into something more appreciative (she rescues him by beating up a ragtag band of tough guys as he struggles to unlock his handcuffs). The character is a super addition and Ferguson nails it. She is tough like Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow, but a great deal more emotionally receptive than Rita Vrataski.

Back to Morocco, where Faust outlines a seemingly impossible mission. Wink, wink. Her five minute spiel detailing the most difficult heist in history is delivered with such credible nonchalance that we actually believe the group can pull it off. They do. The conclusion of said heist signals a lengthy stretch during which the film loses steam. Like many overexuberant blockbusters, at almost two and a half hours Rogue Nation is too long, which means we get unnecessary gap-filling acts where characters speed around in fast vehicles with very little at stake.

McQuarrie tries to inject ambiguity into an otherwise conventional narrative by contemplating the trust-related pitfalls faced by agents (“There are no allies in statecraft, only common interests”). A fleeting Cold War-esque paranoia infects the air and sort of muddies various characters’ credibility. The aforementioned opera scene includes a three way shootout embodying this uncertainty. Is Faust a double, or triple, agent? Is Jeremy Renner’s — whose brilliantly snarky performance warrants much more screen time — William Brandt secretly liaising with Alec Baldwin’s CIA director? The suspicion mantle is overworked, demeaning characters’ decision-making and suggesting their motives lack focus.

On the other hand, the film’s modern day socio-economic terrorism angle isn’t explored enough. Sean Harris’ Solomon Lane is an underwhelming villain. He relentlessly places misguided trust in Faust, which only serves to undermine his intellect. Lane is not a hulking enemy — a guy called the ‘Bone Doctor’ fulfils our hard-hitting desires — which is fine, but because we don’t comprehend his savvy as much as we should he never feels like much of a threat.

This sticks its tongue out until the very end and earns the right to be whimsical. There aren’t any attempts to sit at tables already reserved by other action staples. The film resultantly doesn’t have a sharp bite, which might be for the best given the flippant nature of its only moderately engaging thematic endeavours. Rogue Nation is still probably the IMF’s best outing to date though.

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation - Cruise & Ferguson

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collier

Images copyright (©): Paramount Pictures

Spy (2015)

★★★★

Spy PosterDirector: Paul Feig

Release Date: June 5th, 2015 (UK & US)

Genre: Action; Comedy; Crime

Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Jude Law, Jason Statham

When James Bond saunters into town, his pristine Armani suit hiding any number of high tech weapons, hair nestled to the last strand, there often isn’t an awful lot of room for laughter. To solve: swap Bond for Melissa McCarthy and his Armani suit for her grey cardigan. Paul Feig’s Spy is many things, but first and foremost the writer-director has made a film that ridicules other films through sharp satire and vulgarity. It is ridicule born out of admiration, though mercy is somewhat lacking.

Susan (Melissa McCarthy) works for the CIA as Agent Bradley Fine’s (Jude Law) office-based earpiece. She is self-depreciating and lacking in confidence, which makes it easy for those who she obsequiously admires to take advantage of her skills. When Fine runs into trouble while trying to locate a nuclear device, Susan ditches her hesitant psyche and volunteers to observe potential bomb supervisor Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne) in the field.

Feig romanticises the spy genre before sticking a bullet in it. The contractual car chase sequence (there are two actually) matches slick low camera angles with precise steering, but is ultimately a nightmare for Susan who desperately needs a seatbelt. Later on a spot appears to be free at Boyanov’s poker table — of course the baddie plays poker — but Susan’s efforts to join are scuppered when she finds out the spot is reserved. The humour is fairly light-hearted, particularly during the first hour as the underlying stupidity of the genre unravels before our eyes.

Topical jokes about Jurassic Park bats eventually secede from the ongoing shenanigans, ironically at around the same time tough guy Agent Rick Ford starts rearing his hilariously bloated head. The influence of Jason Statham pours into the screenplay and the film thereafter becomes a hotbed of amusing profanity. Statham does a tremendous heightened impersonation of himself and steals the show in the process: eyes constantly bulging, words packed with punch.

He instigates a lot of “fucks” too — an additional thirty minutes and Spy might have given The Wolf of Wall Street a run for its sweary money. Solitary f-bombs increase in quantity as the film progresses, universally well-delivered but not as gratifying as Statham’s completely baseless, hyperbolic remarks (he claims to have survived a car crash on top of a moving train while on fire, or something). Ford is a reflection of the nutty stunts and brash egos prevalent throughout the Bond franchise, but he’s only one branch on the film’s satirical tree.

We travel with Susan to numerous glamorous cities, visiting Paris and Rome and Budapest, Robert Yeoman’s cinematography consistently painting each locale with a prosperous gloss. If this wasn’t so obviously a spy outing you’d be forgiven for confusing the whole thing with a holiday brochure. Early on, some cotton wool-wrapped admin staff marvel at all the incredible gadgets: hoverboards, Aston Martins, palm-sensitive weaponry. None of that for Susan though. She receives some security disabling aerosol disguised as anti-fungal spray.

Spy incorporates a large volume of female characters whose attributes range from quiet, to funny, to powerful, to supremely effective in combat. Rose Byrne hams it up with delectable aplomb as Boyanov. She’s a nefarious villain, indisputably, but she is also smart and sexy. Allison Janney snaps away as Susan’s boss, always ahead of the curve. Even as the goofy best friend, Miranda Hart gets in on the action. Susan is the antithesis of convention personified. She’s all of the above, but also kind and proficient when it comes to terminating bad eggs. McCarthy retains her Bridesmaids crassness and is such an affable screen presence.

The men don’t fair quite so well. They are smutty, degrading, idiotic and full of ridiculous non-truths. Good spies are actually bad spies, they’re apparently just good at being dicks. “I like things that are easy,” says Fine, referring both to the control he has over Susan and her penchant for making his job exceedingly less difficult. Peter Serafinowicz turns up the creep factor as chauffeur Aldo, essentially a reimagining of Bond with his sleaziest characteristics intensified.

At one point Janney’s character tuts, “Women,” and it feels like a nod towards the unfortunate consequences of institutional misogyny found within classically male-dominated workplaces — especially Hollywood, and spy films, where women have often been (and sometimes still are) defined as plot points rather than well-rounded characters. This time some of the men are purposefully shallow. They do have redeeming qualities — Fine isn’t really a rubbish person, he’s simply indicative of a groan-inducing fake macho culture — but here the gender roles are well and truly (and refreshingly) reversed.

The violence is comical, reminiscent of those splattery outbursts in Hot Fuzz. A tremendous kitchen fight scene spiritually resembles the supermarket brawl in Edgar Wright’s movie, with baguettes, lettuce and hand-piercing knives all used in an inventive manner. Not every gag hits the mark, especially ones driven by aimlessness rather than intelligent wit; Susan invades an outdoor techno entertainment event and chases around a slightly chubby Elton John-lookalike, with the whole endeavour feeling a bit lazy. That’s not the norm though. The film has a lot in common with the underrated Johnny English when it comes to silly comedy.

The plot gets increasingly convoluted as more deals are struck and more bosses are revealed, but that is sort of the point. It’s part of the overarching joke. You’ll see Spy for the humour, which is adept and plentiful. But the film also has its finger on the cultural pulse, ready to pull the trigger on irreverent gender roles and uneven social standards via a barrage of well-earned laughs.

Spy - Melissa McCarthy

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider

Images copyright (©): 20th Century Fox

The Wolverine (2013)

★★★

The Wolverine PosterDirector: James Mangold

Release Date: July 25th, 2013 (UK); July 26th, 2013 (US)

Genre: Action; Adventure; Fantasy

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima

Wolverine is a tough customer, but even he struggled to chop his way through Gavin Hood’s frankly disappointing attempt at a Wolvie origin story (unsurprisingly, the only of its kind). Step forward James Mangold, of Walk the Line fame, a man who seemingly boasts a better grasp of X-Men lore. But the refreshing thing about his film, The Wolverine, isn’t necessarily anything to do with comic-book compatibility — having never read them I wouldn’t know. Rather, this outing flavours the antics of its familiar hero with a style and sleekness. The setting has changed and for the better. In a way, this is the past meeting the future before Days of Future Past and it’s good up until a point. Unfortunately, Mangold’s infusion of difference carries an expiry date and The Wolverine goes bad before the credits roll.

Now ticking by the hours amongst bears and sporting a wild-man look that sees a ragged beard and matching hair, Logan (Hugh Jackman) has more or less shelved the Wolverine persona. That is, until he is approached by the mysterious prophetic mutant Yukio (Rila Fukushima), representative of a dying officer whom Logan saved during the Nagasaki bombings in 1945. Upon reaching Japan, Logan finds himself embroiled in a game of morality in which his powers of eternal being are the highly sought after prize.

Early on a checkout woman asks, “You’re not a hunter are you?” to which Logan replies solemnly, “Not anymore”. With every crack and crevice of the redemption story already explored, particularly when it comes to superhero-esque flicks, The Wolverine opts to go down a slightly different route. The basis is set in stone — Wolverine must reacclimatise to life without his deceased wife Jean Grey as he continues to battle demons of immortality — but the delivery is somewhat altered. What we are watching is a film-noir crime thriller that bubbles with tension and gleams stylishly. Decorative villas host men wearing fashioned suits armed with polished weaponry. Wolverine’s claws appear shinier than ever before. Its efficient visuality won’t come as a surprise to those who know of director James Mangold’s previous work. (Walk the Line and 3:10 to Yuma are wonderfully constructed optical specimens). The film is a moment in time, a spin-off concocted from James Bond DNA. Wolverine: The Japan Years. This glossy air infuses vitality, at least for a while.

Mark Bomback and Scott Frank’s screenplay succeeds in tandem and for just as long as Ross Emery’s cinematography. Surrounded by new characters, Wolverine, previously left beaten and worn-out by his last solo run, just about regains his panache (though there’s still a way to go in this aspect). Modern meets tradition as Jackman’s mutant, juggling recognisable morals, finds himself in a contemporary setting; imbued by technology and the bright lights of Tokyo. Weapons vary from the time-honoured bow and arrow to the upgraded Uzi. The violence-oriented syndicate Yakuza, well-versed in global cinema — they’ve even got their own genre in Japan — are given a current update, forced into rapid pursuits throughout the hyper mobile urban machine that is Japan. Mariko, granddaughter of Logan’s WWII ally Yashida, must contend with a conventional arranged marriage, but even these are given a modern makeover by way of corporate intentions. The film’s mixture of 21st century comic-bookishness and past histories is a compatible one; we feel comfortable and connected to a familiar face in Wolverine, but also rejuvenated by a new climate.

Unfortunately, it’s a climate that eventually succumbs to a torrential downpour of sameness. At around the half-way point a romance blazes, the same one that we’ve spent the past hour begging not to. It’s that usual love story that seems to be written into the contract of every blockbuster, and this time it simply ain’t believable. Nor does it aid the narrative’s progression. Instead, the romantic exploits are blasé and distracting, if nothing else. Not only does the pace simmer to an unsatisfying canter as it supports these non-necessities, the love aspect also dampens Wolverine’s domineering aura. Jackman isn’t to blame, quite the opposite, he’s the one who rekindles a degree or two of verve through his blunt humour and hard-working personality. The Aussie is a very watchable presence — it’s a character issue that arises, as opposed to a performance one.

The piece tonally scampers around too, though this favours rather than hinders goings-on. On one hand, we have a dark underbelly that sees Logan possess a semi-suicidal state of mind. He must endure the mental scars of previous actions, and his inherent prerogative to save lives — such as preventing Mariko from jumping off a cliff — doesn’t exactly rub off on himself. (“You are a soldier… [you seek] an honourable death.”) Yet the seriousness never really wields unfathomable weight. In one sense, this means the film can’t be taken as earnestly in dramatic terms, but it does usher forth a loosening up, combining entertainment with solid if not wholesome sentimental musings. One of the film’s best scenes is also its most bonkers: a brawl atop a moving train severely tows the line of realism, and it’s damn fun to watch.

As previously mentioned, Jackman does his best Wolverine impression, but it is just that. His quick-wittedness and excellent comedic timing coalesce with the film’s at times briskly humorous breeze. (“I feel violated,” states a clean Logan.) Rila Fukushima is energetic as recruiter Yukio and, along with Tao Okamoto, brings a much appreciated newness to the screen. Svetlana Khodchenkova plays Viper, one slice of a villainous pie, exuding intelligence and power in the role. She’s the quintessential Bond character transferred over to Marvel, classically camp and elegantly sexy.

The first half of this is something to admire: formalities are given life through hushed slickness and a collision of tradition versus modernity. It’s a shame that The Wolverine ultimately bears the brunt of genericism, but Mangold’s solid effort shouldn’t be discounted by any means.

The Wolverine - Hugh Jackman

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider

Images copyright (©): 20th Century Fox

Who Should Direct Bond 24?

It’s only been a few months since Skyfall hit cinemas around the world and delighted audiences and critics alike. Sam Mendes, boasting the likes of American Beauty, Road to Perdition and Revolutionary Road, took the helm and directed arguably the best Bond film to date — full of intrigue, emotion and good, old fashion Bond-esque action and gadgetry.

But the question now is: who’s next? With Sam Mendes making it clear that he has no intention to return to direct a Skyfall sequel, the door is wide open and names have been thrown about with reason (and without) ever since. Everyone from the enigmatic and charismatic Quentin Tarantino to Zero Dark Thirty’s Katheryn Bigelow to Britain’s new favourite director Danny Boyle has had their name attached to the franchise.

The way I see it, there are three people who I personally would love to see put their spin on Bond. I have not taken into account any possible schedule clashes (Bond 24 is thought to be in line for a 2015 release), this is purely fantasy film booking on my part.

Up first, the most likely candidate for the job — Christopher Nolan.

“I’m looking… and I’m seeing Bond.”

With reports surfacing this week that Chris Nolan is the producers’ primary target for the hot seat, it would be far from surprising if he did end up taking the reins. Nolan is said to be a big fan of Daniel Craig (who is also in line to reprise his role as James Bond) and has in the past expressed interest in the job, seemingly making this a match made in Bond heaven. Nolan, coming off the hugely successful and critically acclaimed Dark Knight trilogy, would certainly have the name value and clout to obtain as much financial backing as he needed and would also be accustomed to the unrelenting buzz and hype which surrounds the franchise. In terms of his directorial style, I think it is fair to say that Nolan would make an excellent Bond overseer: he often delves into revenge and terrorism with characters who are somewhat flawed and out for vengeance (as with his Dark Knight films), or idealism and deception (the characteristics of his 2006 film, The Prestige). Plus, Nolan has previously stated his belief in shooting using film rather than digital methods, making an alignment with Bond inevitable for nostalgic purposes on its 50th anniversary, right?

Next, fairly inexperienced but very good — Rupert Wyatt.

“One planet down, one to go.”

Formerly a producer, in 2007 Wyatt turned his head to directing when he spent the year creating his first feature film, The Escapist, which premièred at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2008. Admittedly I have yet to see The Escapist, however based on its reception from critics it was a fine outing for Wyatt in his first directorial role. However, my basis for Wyatt being the right man to steer Bond 24 is in his 2011 Planet of the Apes reboot, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, starring James Franco, Freida Pinto and Andy Serkis. Not only did Wyatt successfully create a fresh, vibrant Apes origin story, he did so with style and elegance. Balancing the action with just enough humour and drama was the key to Wyatt receiving the audiences’ admiration and in my opinion he did this and more. Wyatt, although young and perhaps not experienced enough in the view of some in regards to handling such a massive film phenomenon in Bond, would offer a new take on the franchise in the same vein as he did with Rise of the Planet of the Apes. If he gets the nod count me in.

Finally, my wildcard pick — Duncan Jones.

“Bond you say? Pfft, easy.”

I do not recall seeing Duncan Jones’ name mentioned anywhere in relation to Bond 24, which is somewhat surprising to me given not only his small-yet-brilliant film portfolio, but also his enthusiasm towards the industry. Much like Wyatt before, Jones has only directed two feature-length films in his short directorial career, but the two he has bestowed us with thus far are exceedingly good. First, Moon in 2009, starring Sam Rockwell, is a science fiction drama film which was nominated for two BAFTA awards, with Jones winning for Best Outstanding Début. It was showered with praise from critics, and for me was a truly astonishing debut which focused more on emotion and drama to grasp the audience, as opposed to thrills. Instead, the thrills came two years later in the form of Source Code, making it the opposite of Moon in that regard — a compelling and heart-thumping science fiction film which again received vast amounts of acclaim. So where do two science fiction films fit into the Bond mould? Well, two simple sci-fi films is not how I see it. I see two completely different films — one based on ideas, materialism and realism, the other fuelled by a clever, pacy and exhilarating script — both carrying emotional weight and a sense of character attachment (a must-have in a successful Bond film). Duncan Jones is the most promising director in Britain in my eyes, and I would love those eyes to see a Bond film made by him.

Empire magazine recently provided their input in the Bond director situation and outlined 14 potential candidates for the job. Two of my preferred choices made it in, what about yours? Check it out!