Suicide Squad

Posted: August 12, 2016 in Film reviews
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Directed by David Ayer. Starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto and Jai Courtney.

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No matter how hard they looked a decent script was nowhere to be found.

In the aftermath of the events of Batman Vs Superman US intelligence operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) proposes building a team of super villains, who she will control through various means from emotional blackmail through to explosives implanted in their necks, to fight any meta-human threat that presents itself. After demonstrating the viability of her plan at a meeting of senior military and intelligence types— by using Dr June Moone (model Cara Delevingne who is surprisingly not terrible) an archaeologist who is possessed by the spirit of an evil force that transforms her into Enchantress—Waller gets the go ahead to create the team.

The squad will comprise Enchantress, hitman Deadshot (Smith) a man who never misses, Harley Quinn (Robbie) who was once the Joker’s psychiatrist before she fell in love with him and then fell into a vat of chemicals, Captain Boomerang (Courtney) whose ‘super’ power is bloody obvious, El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) an LA gangbanger who has flaming powers, Killer Croc  (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) a criminal with a skin condition that make him look like a reptile, and Slipknot (Adam Beach) a man who can climb anything! The team is to be led by Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) the US’s best special forces operative, who also happens to be in love with Dr Moone. The final recruit is a volunteer, Katana (Karen Fukuhara) a martial artist who wields a sword that can steal the souls of those it kills.

When a supernatural force begins destroying Midway City Waller orders the Suicide Squad into action, but can this disparate band of immoral criminals ever find a way to work together, especially when the force they’re up against is so powerful, and just how will they handle the involvement of The Joker, who wants his girlfriend back.

If you want an idea of how much of a mess this film is don’t worry, you’ll probably figure it out in the first fifteen minutes or so (if not sooner). The film opens with a clandestine meeting between Waller and various intelligence types in a restaurant where she lays out her idea for the squad, throwing a TOP SECRET file on the table before providing a snapshot of some of her recruits, most notably Deadshot and Enchantress. Don’t worry if you miss this bit, because in about five minutes or so Waller will attend a larger meeting where she’ll lay out her idea for the squad before providing a snapshot of each of her recruits. Yup that’s right, this is a film that has so little faith in its audience that it feels it has to explain everything twice…if not three times. By the time the story goes anywhere we’ll have been introduced to most of the squad members at least twice, and in Deadshot’s case about four times! There’s an axiom in writing of show don’t tell, as far as Ayer (who wrote the script as well as directed) his axiom seems to be show and tell, then show and tell some more…

Thankfully the film does get better as it goes along, but that’s not saying much given how lousy the opening section is. Yet again what we have here is DC cutting corners (just like they did with Batman Vs Superman) in an attempt to jump cut to Marvel levels of success, and as such the film has to introduce, well everyone as we’ve met none of these characters before, even the Joker is an all new Joker. Of course plenty of team based films have introduced characters cold and made us care about them in a short space of time (take The Dirty Dozen which is one of many films Suicide Squad desperately wants to be) but Ayer’s script isn’t nearly good enough to do this. Captain Boomerang gets barely a thumbnail character sketch, whilst Killer Croc doesn’t even get that. Meanwhile Deadshot’s love for his daughter and Harley’s love for Joker and shoved down our throats repeatedly, and even then neither of them get much personality beyond this. Flag is just a generic honourable soldier with a tragic romance subplot tacked on, and Slipknot and Katana are added to the team as an afterthought. El Diablo is potentially the most interesting character given he’s one of the few with genuine super powers and, despite his cliché look, is perhaps the most philosophical of the bunch, but when we get his backstory it’s as ham-fisted as Deadshot’s.

The trouble is Suicide Squad isn’t quite sure what kind of film it wants to be, in tone or in plot, and it isn’t confident enough in its characters to let them truly be bad guys, so rather than a truly anarchic (wo)men on a mission war movie, what we get is a bunch of misunderstood scallywags, none of whom are quite as bad as they’ve been painted, and no worse than Waller in the final analysis. This despite the fact that Deadshot’s killed hundreds, Harley is a psychopath, Croc may be a cannibal and El Diablo didn’t get to be leader of a gang by being nice to people. And so each character is undercut; Deadshot doesn’t kill women or children and he loves his daughter so he can’t be all bad, Harley’s fantasy is just to be a normal woman (which, and bear in mind she was a highly trained psychiatrist, apparently involves being a housewife and mother—how progressive).

Everything about Suicide Squad screams that it’s a film that thinks it’s way cooler and more anarchic than it actually is. Take the soundtrack replete with songs that were antiauthority back in the day, but now have slipped into mainstream cliché (Sympathy for the Devil ooh how daring). Nowhere is this ‘look at how rad we are’ view more apparent than in Jared Leto’s Joker. His craziness is all surface. The metal teeth, the tattoos, the outfits, it’s all external and his performance leaves much to be desired. I appreciate that a lot of his scenes apparently ended up on the cutting room floor, but maybe there’s a reason for that? He just never comes across like the Clown Prince of Crime. Heath Ledger made a fantastic, and very original, Joker with just some facial scarring and a kooky walk. He was scary. By contrast Leto’s Joker seems to have been designed within an inch of his life, which given we’re supposedly talking about a genuinely crazy, genuinely chaotic individual, kinda misses the point by several miles.

The rest of the cast do their best. Smith is probably the standout, because we are talking about a man with genuine star quality, the trouble is that you can never really buy him as an emotionless killing machine, he plays the part more like the good guy who’s just happened to fall in with the wrong crowd. Robbie is great as Harley and she owns the role, and the outfit, from the first moment you see her. She gets plenty to do and many of the film’s best lines, and however sexualised she is she never feels like she’s just there to be eye candy. Really the only problem with Robbie’s portrayal is the same as Leto’s, in that I don’t buy that Harley is genuinely batshit crazy.

It comes to something when there’s an argument for Jai Courtney being one of the best things in a film, but despite getting little to do Captain Boomerang is genuinely funny. Killer Croc could be anyone, so it’s a shame when you realise this is the guy who was Mr Eko in Lost. Kinnaman tries but has little to do aside from act tough/vulnerable as the script demands. Delevingne is genuinely creepy as the Enchantress, but convinces far less as Dr Moone. Davis seems to have mistaken just being monotone for being a sociopath but, as I’ve said, kudos to Hernandez for imbuing El Diablo with so much pathos.

As seems to be the default colour pallete for DC movies actual darkness is seem as a suitable substitute for emotional darkness, and the fight scenes tend to be generic gun/sword/baseball fights with nebulous creatures who are never really introduced, and are just there to be cannon fodder for the ‘good’ guys. The actual head bad guy is terrible. His sister is better but even so when you get to the final battle all you can think of is how much like Ghostbusters this is. It’s a weird tonal shift and sadly it doesn’t seem to be coincidental given that, once the fighting’s over, the film shamelessly lifts a moment from the end of the original Ghostbusters.

But then it’s hardly surprising given this film clearly wants to copy other films, and no more is this evident than in its aping of Escape from New York. Don’t get me wrong, EFNY is one of my favourite films, and there’s nothing wrong with homageing a classic every once in a while, but having tiny explosives inserted in everyone’s necks is just a little too on the nose, plus by drawing comparisons with Escape from New York you just make Suicide Squad’s flaws all the more telling. Carpenter made a truly dark and anarchic film, he and Kurt Russell gave us a real genuine antihero and never needed to sugar coat him in order to make him engaging.

Suicide Squad is a film that wants to have its cake and eat it, to be subversive yet also multiplex friendly and thus falls between two stools and succeeds in neither aim. If you want a subversive comic book film featuring lots of violence and a lead who doesn’t fit the standard superhero template go watch Deadpool which is everything Suicide Squad isn’t.

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Gratuitous Harley Quinn pic because…look I don’t need a reason ok!

 

Trigger Mortis

Posted: August 10, 2016 in Book reviews, James Bond
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By Anthony Horowitz

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It’s 1957, the dawn of the space race and just a few weeks after the events of Goldfinger. James Bond has returned to London with Pussy Galore in tow. He isn’t sure about their burgeoning relationship, and so when M assigns him a new mission Bond is grateful to get some space. He’s to take part in a motor race at the infamous Nürburgring track in Germany. MI6 fear SMERSH have plans to assassinate a famous British racing driver and it’s up to Bond to stop them. First he’ll need some coaching from a lady racing driver in handling the Maserati 250, and in preparing for the Nürburgring track which isn’t forgiving of novices.

Before Bond can get to Germany events with Pussy will reach a head, but even after he takes part in the race this will prove only the start of the adventure. Whilst observing the Russian team he will see a notable SMERSH general in conversation with a Korean businessman named Jai Seung Sin, whose name has been Americanised to Jason Sin. In investigating Jason Sin Bond will be led to America, to a rocket base and eventually to a diabolical scheme that threatens to cause huge destruction in New York. He’ll also meet a young woman named Jeopardy Lane, and he’ll discover just how cold, ruthless and evil Jason Sin is.

 

And so Anthony Horowitz, author of the Alex Rider young adult spy thrillers, as well as the man behind Foyle’s War on ITV, becomes the latest novelist to take on the mantle of Fleming. Horowitz’s novel might be the most Fleming like not to have been authored by Fleming, in part because a few hundred lines of text, and certain story elements came courtesy of an aborted TV show Fleming himself had been working on. Horowitz explains at the end roughly where Fleming’s prose kicks in, suffice to say that it’s nigh on impossible to see the join, which is testament to Horowitz’s aping of Fleming.

This is also a novel that feels more like Fleming due to its setting. This is, apparently, the first Bond novel to sit in the 1950s since Kingsley Amis wrote Colonel Sun. This also allows Horowitz to follow on immediately after a Fleming novel, and to bring back an iconic Bond girl, although to be honest this doesn’t really go anywhere, and one can’t help feeling that the involvement of Pussy was just for publicity’s sake, and perhaps even to add to some padding—but I’ll get on to the plot later.

Firstly as I’ve said Horowitz’s take on Fleming is top drawer. Horowitz writes a story that feels like Fleming, without having to rely on the mimicking of all too familiar tropes, ala Sebastian Faulks’ effort. The period setting negates any of the technical issues that plagued Jeffery Deaver’s present day take on the character (where Bond had an app for everything), and Horowitz’s 007 feels more at home in 1950s’ Germany and America than William Boyd’s did in 1970s’ Africa. In some ways Horowitz’s prose is a little too close to Fleming, in particular in how he writes the female and non-white characters; Horowitz walks a fine line but just about manages to write like Fleming without quite falling foul of mid twentieth century casual racism and sexism.

The plot, once we get there, is interesting, even if it does feel a little by the numbers, and it’s aided by Jason Sin who’s a nasty piece of work. Still the problem is how long it takes to get there. The first section of the book which involves Bond training to be a racing driver, whilst also resolving the Pussy Galore storyline, feels largely extraneous, and Horowitz loses points for replaying an iconic murder technique so blatantly.  Once the race at Nürburgring is out of the way the book picks up pace, and it’s nice to see Bond playing detective as he follows Sin’s trail. Jeopardy Lane is far from just being a damsel in distress, and saves Bond’s bacon several times, yet she still never quite manages to stand out from the Bond girl crowd, and her name seems a little too on the nose, much like the book’s pulpish title, one can’t help thinking Fleming might have come up with something a little better.

It’s a good book though, with a slightly too familiar plot outweighed by Horowitz’s way with prose, his portrayal of Bond as someone not quite as bad as the villains, and for subjecting Bond to something I don’t think we’ve ever seen before which, given it’s a fear of my own, worked a little too well.

Not perfect but for my money the best of the four most recent Bond entries. Given they’ve yet to reuse an author I wonder who we’ll get next?

Star Trek Beyond

Posted: July 29, 2016 in Film reviews, Star Trek
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Directed by Justin Lin. Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban and Idris Elba.

 

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To not watch this film would be illogical

 

The USS Enterprise is three years into its five year mission under the command of Captain Kirk (Pine) and several members of the crew are on the verge of making big decisions about their futures. Kirk is struggling to find meaning in their continuing voyages, and has applied for a Vice Admiral position at the huge Yorktown star base, suggesting Spock be given command of the Enterprise. Meanwhile Spock (Quinto) is considering leaving Starfleet to re-join the remains of his race on New Vulcan, a decision given added impetus by the news that his older self from the other timeline (i.e. original Spock as played by the late Leonard Nimoy) has died.

Before either man can quit the Enterprise, a badly damaged spaceship exits a nearby nebula and makes it to Yorktown. The sole occupant is an alien woman who advises that her crew is stranded on a desolate planet inside the nebula. The nebula is largely unexplored and long range communications won’t work, but Kirk readily agrees to take the Enterprise in on a rescue mission.

When they arrive at the planet however they find it’s a trap and the ship is attacked by a swarm of attack ships led by an alien named Krall (Elba). As the Enterprise is torn apart Krall and his soldiers board it looking for an ancient artefact that Kirk acquired on a recent mission. Kirk ensures Krall doesn’t get it, but by this point the Enterprise is in pieces, and Kirk orders an evacuation.

Kirk and Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin) escape in a life pod, whist other members of the crew escape in a variety of novel ways. Once down on the planet Kirk and Chekov head for the remains of Enterprise’s saucer section. Meanwhile Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Sulu (John Cho) have been taken captive by Krall. Spock meanwhile is teamed up with Dr McCoy (Urban) and bickering ensures. Scotty (Simon Pegg) has run into an alien scavenger named Jaylah (Kingsman’s Sofia Boutella) who may be able to help.

With no ship, and with Krall in possession of a deadly alien weapon, can Kirk and his crew stop him before he enacts a terrible revenge on the Federation?

 

For a while it looked like 2016, Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, might pass without any new Trek, and whilst Bryan Fuller’s Star Trek: Discovery won’t air until the New Year between it and Star Trek Beyond it’s good to know that Trek’s far from dead.

As with many creators and franchises out there I’ve had a somewhat fractious relationship with JJ Abrams’ take on Trek. When the reboot was originally announced I was horrified, but then I saw Star Trek in 2009 and loved it. And having re-watched it just last week I can confirm that I still love it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still clunky in places, still annoys me at times, but when it hits the mark (as it so often does) its magnificent and is one of the best Trek films. Sadly the same can’t be said of its follow-up Into Darkness which not only shamelessly miscast Cumberbatch as Khan, but then went on to hide the fact he was Khan, resulting in a dramatic reveal midway through the film which meant nothing to Kirk and co and was only there for the fans (see also Blofeld in Spectre). Suffice to say that trying to remake The Wrath of Khan is never a good idea (See Star Trek Nemesis for further details).

When the first trailer for Beyond came out I was underwhelmed. Lots of explosions and not much else. The snippet of hope was a scene between Spock and McCoy that I hoped better represented the film as a whole, and thank goodness it did!

Because I liked this, I liked it a lot. In fact I loved it and I sat there grinning most of the way through in a way I haven’t done since maybe Deadpool and definitely The Force Awakens.

It would be wrong to suggest the plot isn’t flawed. It steers a little close to Star Trek Insurrection at times, there are a lot of similarities, though to be fair it tells a similar(ish) story better than Insurrection.

As with even Into Darkness the cast help make it a great film. It’s hard to imagine anyone other than these three playing the lead three roles (well aside from William Shatner, Leonard   Nimoy and DeForest Kelly obviously!) It was obvious long before Star Trek that Quinto was a shoe in to make a good Spock, but having never seen Pine before in anything he was very much an unknown quantity. Thankfully he has been great from the start, successfully marrying the better aspects of Shatner’s performance to create a Kirk who is at once something of a maverick, yet also the kind of commander people would walk into hell for. However great these two are it’s Urban, yet again, who steals the show, as a friend said to me, of the three you can tell he has really studied DeForest Kelly to given a nuanced performance that stays just the right side of parody.

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Damn it I’m a doctor not an action hero!

 

McCoy gets most of the best lines, and most of them are at Spock’s expense. The decision to split the group into different groups is, on the whole, a good one. Whilst we get less of the Kirk/Spock friendship it’s good to see the classic Spock/McCoy banter and bickering, and Urban and Quinto play it to perfection.

The loss of Yelchin is all the more tragic given his young age, but having been somewhat overlooked in the previous two films there’s some minor comfort in Chekov getting a lot more to do here, and he makes a good foil for Kirk.  

Pegg has often felt like the odd man out for me, at times his Scotty doesn’t convince, but credit where credit’s due he throws himself into the role with a brio that covers a multitude of sins (plus he gets bonus points for having helped write the film.) he also has a nice interplay with Boutella who, in a fairly short time, ingratiates herself with the crew—whether she will return is anyone’s guess but I’d be happy to see her return.

Saldana and Cho probably get the short end of the stick and the least to do, although even they get their moments, no mean feat with an ensemble like this.

That leaves Elba as Krall and to be honest much as I love Idris Elba, initially I thought he was a weak antagonist, a powerful actor submerged under too much latex, but as the film went on he got better (there is a reason for this but I won’t say any more) He’s not the best Trek villain ever, but he’s far from the worst.

Fast and Furious director Lin injects a lot of energy into the film. It careens along at pace, yet he isn’t afraid to slow things down to inject some humour or emotion. This isn’t just some mindless action film, it has the Original Series deeply ingrained in its DNA and probably feels more like a Star Trek film then the previous two films. That doesn’t necessarily mean I think it’s better than Star Trek 09, but it is more consistent. This is a crew comfortable in their roles in a story where the day is not saved by phasers but by different people from different cultures working together, showing humanity at its best, and its worst.

Also a word for composer Michael Giacchino who yet again does a great job, and the reboot Trek theme is still really cool

It’s funny, it’s exciting, it looks gorgeous and, best of all, it feels like Star Trek, and as I’ve heard said elsewhere, the real shame is that I’d kind of love to see this group in another story next week, sadly we’ll have to wait a few years.

I may be biased by virtue of being a huge Trekkie, but I loved this, so ignore the Spaced quote Pegg slipped into the script, don’t skip to the end, sit back and enjoy the ride!

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In your face Shatner, you never got a funky command jacket!

Ghostbusters

Posted: July 14, 2016 in Film reviews
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Directed by Paul Feig. Starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones and Chris Hemsworth.

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They ain’t afraid of no ghost…or internet troll!

 

When an old New York mansion is threatened by a supernatural presence, the owner seeks out noted physicist Dr Erin Gilbert (Wiig) for help. She has no idea why he’s come to her, until he reveals that he has a copy of a book she once wrote with her former friend Abby Yates (McCarthy) and which is now available online. Worried that the resurfacing of a book she’s embarrassed by will harm her career at Columbia University, Gilbert tries to get Barnes to pull the book but she only agrees if Gilbert will introduces her to the owner of the mansion. Gilbert reluctantly agrees and visits the mansion with Barnes and her colleague Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon). There the trio encounter a genuine ghost.

Unfortunately when they try to tell people the three are humiliated. Fired from their respective jobs the three women decide to go into business for themselves as paranormal investigators. Soon they’re joined by subway worker Patty Tolan (Jones) an amateur historian who’s had her own brush with the supernatural.

It soon becomes clear to the Ghostbusters that a human presence is causing an upsurge in supernatural activity in order to shatter the barriers between worlds, causing mass hysteria and complete chaos. Though the Mayor (Andy Garcia) believes them he’s petrified of panicking the city and so has them dismissed as kooks, but with the evil scheme of busboy/genius Rowan North (Neil Casey) about to reach fruition the Ghostbusters will have to keep fighting if they want to save the city, ably (well, not so much) helped by their incredibly handsome yet incredibly dumb receptionist Kevin (Hemsworth).

The world might be about to end, so who ya gonna call?

I’ll be honest. I was wary about this. Not, I hasten to add, because of the casting, in fact if anything the presence of McCarthy and Wiig, plus Director Feig, actually gave me hope that it wouldn’t be terrible (given I love Bridesmaids) it’s just that I didn’t think Ghostbusters was the kind of film you could remake. It’s just such a niche, unique, of its time movie. Frankly you could argue it shouldn’t have worked in 1984. Plus it’s one of my favourite films, a nostalgic love since my youth, and there was the gut instinct reaction against anyone remaking something I love. When the trailers came out they didn’t do much to engender confidence in this film.

Of course you should never judge a film by its trailers, and, as it turns out, Ghostbusters 2016 is a good film, an enjoyable way to spend two hours in the company of likeable characters retelling a classic story in an affectionate and amusing way.

Casting wise the fearless foursome make a great team. McCarthy is always a joy to watch, and whilst Wiig does seem to be riffing on her uptight neurotic from Bridesmaids, she does it well and she and McCarthy have great chemistry. McKinnon is great as the deranged Holtzmann and Jones rounds out the team nicely as the down to earth non-scientist of the bunch (though one can’t ignore the fact that the sole black member of the team is also the only one not a genius, even if she more than proves her worth). As Kevin Hemsworth does a great job of sending himself up as the ridiculously stupid Kevin, and he steals an awful lot of the scenes he’s in. Of course people will complain that he’s only there as a sex object, but you know the same could be said of a large number of make dominated films with the token bimbo. And yes Neil Casey’s villain is just a sad little man living in his basement …but if anyone has any complaints I refer them back to the original where the main female characters were a whiny secretary and an uptight musician who was, let’s be honest here, effectively stalked by a creepy guy she went to for help before eventually succumbing to his charms. Oh, and lest we forget, Dan Akroyd gets a blow job from an amorous ghost (a scene which serves no purpose!)

The plot is pretty thin but Feig keeps things chugging along nicely, the effects are well done and the film contains a lot of Easter eggs—some more obvious than others—for the fans of the original film, including a whole heap of cameos.

Yes it takes a little who to get up to speed, and yes some of the jokes fall a little flat (but name me a comedy where 100% of the humour hits?) and you can feel a certain prickliness that, whilst understandable given the crap this film was given before anyone even saw it, is nonetheless a little jarring (In one particular scene they check out comments on the internet).

It’ll never live up to the original, but I don’t think it ever could no matter who made it, and it has its flaws, but this is a far better Ghostbusters film than I ever thought we’d get and I for one would be more than happy to watch these ghostbusters return.

Ignore the misogynists and the nostalgia fascists and make your own mind up. Me, well I ain’t afraid of no female paranormal investigators!

 

Children of Time

Posted: July 12, 2016 in Book reviews
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By Adrian Tchaikovsky

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In the near future humanity has spread to the stars. Human ships stride between solar systems and mankind has even begun to terraform new worlds to colonise. A scientist, Avrana Kern, has chosen one of these terraformed worlds as the location for a bold experiment. She plans to seed the lush green planet with monkeys who will, upon landing, be infected with a nanovirus that will accelerate their development towards becoming a brand new sentient life form.

Unfortunately even as humanity has made near miraculous technological breakthroughs, the same old political and religious arguments exist, and one fanatic, horrified at what Kern has planned, sabotages the experiment. The orbital station is destroyed, and though she launches the monkeys and the nanovirus, the monkeys are wiped out. The nanovirus however makes it to the planet where it infects a creature it was never planned to work upon, beginning a chain reaction that will see a very different sentient life form evolve to what had been planned…

The same conflict that destroyed Kern’s orbital station practically wipes out humanity. After a thousand years mankind has rebuilt itself on Earth, but the home world is a toxic dump and the only hope is to evacuate. Ark ships are cobbled together from the remnants of technology from the former Earth Empire and they set out towards various targets. One such ship, the Gilgamesh, begins a long journey towards the site of Kern’s experiment, but the lush green world is home to a burgeoning, and distinctly non-human civilisation. The scene is set for a conflict between two species over who gets to inherit this green planet.

 

The first thing to say is that I’m going out of my way not to specify which particular kind of animal gets the nanovirus upgrade. Realistically it’s not a huge spoiler, and you find out relatively quickly, so it wouldn’t ruin the book for you but…I didn’t know in advance, and it properly caught me by surprise so if you can avoid finding out do so.

The second thing to get clear right at the beginning of the review is that this is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I absolutely loved it.

The epic story features a dual narrative that follows the evolution of the new race on the green planet, whilst also tracking the seemingly never ending quest of the Gilgamesh in finding a new home. Whilst I enjoyed both strands of the novel, its testament to Tchaikovsky’s prose and world building that I actually think I preferred the bits that took place planetside. The new race that evolves is utterly alien in concept, yet Tchaikovsky manages to make them empathetic whilst keeping any anthropomorphising of them to a minimum. Yes the repetitive use of humanoid names for various members of the species across the millennia might be a narrative cheat, but it is a very good one, and though we know of them as Portia, or Fabian or Bianca we never lose sight of the fact that they are not human and each iteration of Portia et al is different from the last. It stops the book getting confusing and gives us a thread through which to follow their development.

By contrast the majority of human characters aboard Gilgamesh remain the same due to the use of cryogenic freezing. Some are perhaps less well developed, though the main characters Tchaikovsky focuses upon- Classicist Holston Mason and engineer Isa Lain— are well realised and have a wonderfully temporally disjointed romance. Tchaikovsky never lets us forget that this is a group of humans desperate to survive, standing on the shoulders of a previous human civilisation to do it, and however much hope there is to be found in their continued survival, there is a certain melancholia as well, as if it might have been better for them to just lie down and give in to entropy, leaving the universe free for others to rule.

This is a book brimming with  ideas as Tchaikovsky deftly shows us the biological and societal creation of a civilisation from the ground up, focusing on pivotal moments in the new race’s development that often mirror humanity’s, yet always play out in very different ways; religion, gender equality, renaissance, even a nascent space program! Even when getting across complex ideas Tchaikovsky’s prose is accessible and engaging, and I lost count of how many times I mentally said “Wow!” as I read some intriguing twist or turn in the narrative.

It really is an amazing ride, with an ending that I loved and which made perfect narrative sense, and I heartily recommend it. This is the first book of Tchaikovsky’s that I’ve read, it won’t be the last.

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And so here we are, the final part of my review of Bond pre-title sequence. Parts one and two are still available.

Four men have been Bond; Connery, Lazenby, Moore and Dalton, but now it’s time for two more men to take up the mantle, but how will there pre-title sequences measure up?

We shall see…

And once again, at the risk of staring the bleeding obvious, these reviews will include spoilers!

 

Goldeneye (1995)

Duration approx. 9:29

Relevance to the film: Plenty, it introduces us to Colonel Ourumov and the duplicitous 006.

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You know, James, I think Winter might be coming.

A man dressed in black combat gear runs along the top of a very high dam. He reaches the midway point and clips one end of a coil of rope to the wall, the other he attaches to his ankle. He stands on the edge of the wall, pauses a moment, then takes a swan dive off the dam.

He bungee jumps down some distance. When he reaches the end of his tether he draws a grappling gun and, before he can be hauled back up again, he fires a piton into the roof of a building below and reels himself in. The caption indicates this is a chemical weapons facility inside the Soviet Union.

He uses a laser to cut a way in, so far all we see is his steely gaze. Inside the building we focus on a bathroom. One man leaves whilst another sits in a cubicle and begins to read the paper. The man in black is in the crawlspace above and silently lifts the ventilation shaft cover. Down below the man on the toilet suddenly senses something, he peers round his newspaper and finds a man hanging upside down in front of him. “Sorry,” says Bond. “I forgot to knock,” and then punches the hapless Russian out.

Silenced pistol in hand Bond exits the bathroom and makes his way to a storage room. Inside he is suddenly accosted by a shadowy man with a gun speaking Russian. Bond assures the man he is alone, and the man steps out of the shadow. Suddenly it appears he’s as English as 007, and we quickly learn he is in fact 006.

The two double O agents work their way through the facility. Along the way 006 shoots a scientist. Finally they break into a large area full of huge chemical tanks and pile upon pile of smaller containers for the chemical weapons to be transferred into. Bond suggests it’s too easy, and when 006 tries to relock the door alarms sound proving 007 correct.

The two men split up to plant explosives against the tanks. A couple of guards break in and 006 coldly despatches them, now he and Bond each have a Kalashnikov. Further troops arrive, led by Colonel Ourumov. They force their way inside and a gun battle ensues. When a second door is blown open Bond calls out to 006, but gets no response. When he looks out he finds his comrade on his knees, surrounded by armed Russians, with Ourumov holding a gun to his head. The Colonel demands Bond comes out. 007 complies but not before resetting the timers for 3 minutes instead of six. As he goes to surrender himself Ourumov shoots 006.

Bond dashes back into cover. Grabbing a wheeled metal cage full of smaller tanks he uses it as cover to get across the loading bay. Ourumov orders his men not to shoot, lest they pierce the gas canisters. One man is nervous enough to loose a burst of gunfire at Bond however, and the Russian blithely shoots him.

When Bond can go no further Ourumov thinks he’s trapped, but Bond has a plan, he starts the conveyer belt running and dives onto it, shooting the bolts holding rack upon rack of empty barrels in place above. He’s on his way out while the Russians find themselves under a metallic avalanche!

The conveyer drops Bond outside. There’s a clifftop runway and a light aircraft is preparing to take-off. With more armed guards coming, and with armed motorcycles in pursuit, Bond races after the plane. He gets in and struggles with the pilot, causing both of them to fall out. The pilot is hit by one of the pursing motorbikes, and its rider is thrown off.

Grabbing up the bike Bond races after the pilotless plane.  Ourumov and his men are outside now. They watch in disbelief as the plane careens off the runway and starts dropping towards the bottom of the mountain range, but rather than stopping Bond drives off the cliff edge as well! He dives down and gets into the plane, gaining control before it crashes, and as he flies over the Soviet facility it explodes as his charges go off.

 

And so, after the longest gap between Bond films, 007 is back with yet another new face and, it would seem, a new attitude. There was a lot of talk, prior to Goldeneye, as to whether James Bond had had his day; could he compete against the modern brand of high octane action films such as True Lies. Goldeneye would prove that Bond was very much still in the game, in fact even the pre-title sequence proves that there’s nothing Arnie and co could do that 007 couldn’t match. This was also the first Bond film since the end of the Cold War, which again had led some to wonder whether Bond could go on.

Replete with action aplenty, pithy comments and amazing stunts, this is a truly great opening section that lays much of the groundwork for the film that follows, and also gives up perhaps one of the better insights we’ll get into how a new actor will play Bond.

It’s clear from the off that Brosnan will tread a line between the two men who preceded him, marrying the grit of Dalton with the flippancy of Moore. Whether you think he’s a better Bond than either of them (and I don’t, though I like him a lot) you can’t deny that he knows how to make an entrance.

The dam bungee jump is ostentatious to say the least (I like to imagine 006 just wandered in dressed as a milkman or something) but our first proper glimpse of the new Bond sees him upside down, and he gets to make a pithy comment before any action commences.

The 00 Agents infiltration of the base is wonderfully done, and Sean Beam compliments Brosnan effortlessly. As a slight aside you have to remember this was a pre-internet age, so I actually didn’t realise Trevelyan was the bad guy until he appears in the statue graveyard. Perhaps I was naïve, but I can’t imagine such a twist working as well today.

The scene inside the factory is tense, especially once 006 has been “shot” and Bond’s method of escape is, of course ludicrous, but believably so.

If there is a problem it’s with the plane sequence, but as I’ve said before I don’t watch Bond films for the accurate portrayal of physics. You do have to wonder at 006’s plan as well, was he always planning on betraying Bond, and if so why not just shoot him the first time he sees him? Or did 006 turn after Ourumov only pretended to shoot him? Who knows? Do questions like this mar my enjoyment? Not really. Few Bond pre-title sequences have married humour and action so well, and this is perhaps the best debut sequence a Bond ever got…but we shall have to see about that. Anyway 10/10 for me.

 

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Duration approx. 8:35

Relevance to the film: We catch our first sight of Henry Gupta and, perhaps more importantly, the missing GPS encoder.

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Just doing his job

There’s a terrorist arms bazaar on the Russian border, but have no fear because it’s being observed. A camera is sweeping the area and transmitting back to MI6 where M is watching, along with her chief of Staff Charles Robinson, British naval Admiral Roebuck and a Russian general.

Robinson catalogues some nasty sounding weapons, before identifying a Japanese terrorist and an American anarchist named Henry Gupta, who seems to have an American GPS encoder. The Russian general is reluctant to commit his troops so Admiral Roebuck orders a naval strike, even though M says her man isn’t finished yet. The HMS Chester launches a cruise missile and Roebuck orders M to get her man out of there. (You’ll never guess who her man is!)

Robinson orders White Knight out but he’s having none of it and all becomes clear when a jeep moves from in front of a plane revealing nuclear torpedoes. Roebuck tries to abort the cruise missile but it’s out of range (which is a trifle worrying given Chester only launched it 30 seconds ago) and so now the worry is that, even if it doesn’t detonate the nukes, it will spread radiation.

Meanwhile back at the arms bazaar a guard is trying to light a fag, someone helpfully gives him a light, then punches him out (mixed signals there). “Filthy habit,” quips Bond before knocking a second guard out and taking his gun.

Bond throws a grenade and by the time it explodes, taking out a pile of oil drums, he’s hanging onto the back of a truck. He leaves another grenade fixed to the truck and jumps off before it can explode. Meanwhile the whole arms bazaar is, well, up in arms. Everyone’s shooting though they’re not sure what at. Bond makes it to the plane and knocks out the co-pilot before taking the front seat. He uses the plane’s cannons and rockets to create more chaos then takes off, narrowly avoiding hitting a second fighter that takes off in pursuit.

Before he can worry about another plane, however, 007 had danger closer at hand, the co-pilot has regained consciousness and tries to throttle him with some wire. As he battles to keep from being choked, Bond has to fly the plane using only his knees, performing some unconventional manoeuvres to avoid enemy missiles.

The second plane has to take some evasive action as well to avoid hitting a mountain and for a moment the pilot has lost sight of Bond, probably because Bond is now underneath him. With no other option 007 manages to hit the ejector seat for the co-pilot and he’s fired into the air, right into the back seat of the plane above. Needless to say this isn’t healthy and the plane explodes.

“Back seat driver,” says Bond (as you would) before checking in with MI6 and asking M where the admiral would like the nukes dropping off.

And so after a big gap between Licence to Kill and Goldeneye the franchise reverts to the more familiar two year spacing and Brosnan returns with a pre-title sequence that ups the action quotient even more, and probably contains more explosions per minute than any other sequence before it!

It’s a fab little action film helped in no small part by a great score from David Arnold that places the 007 theme front and centre. At first Bond is merely an observer, his mission was just to get a camera into place, enabling those back home to make the decisions. In an era before the concept of drone strikes, and with even TV guided missiles not being that widely touted, there’s some intriguing foreshadowing going on here (especially given this could be Afghanistan for all we know).

There’s some lovely interplay between M and Roebuck (made all the sweeter for those who watched Dench and Geoffrey Palmer play lovers for many years in the sitcom As Time Goes By) and it’s clear that the Admiral has little time for spooks. This isn’t about Bond as a blunt instrument, or even as a precision scalpel, this is about the military use of shock and awe, irrespective of the outcome (again strangely prescient).

We don’t even see Bond for several minutes but, as with Goldeneye, Brosnan makes an entrance by punching something then joking about it. His one man army charge into the heart of the bazaar is nicely done, and, to an extent, believable given the chaos he creates. The fighter planes are a nice touch (though even now it annoys me that the filmmakers don’t get their weapons remotely right, and aren’t those nuclear torpedoes just fuel tanks?) and it isn’t the first time Bond’s flown a jet—heck the man flew a space shuttle once don’t forget.

The aerial scenes are nicely done, although the superimposed explosion of the missiles is a bit shoddy, and I suppose an ejector seat punching through the bottom of another plane might cause it to explode. It’s action packed and funny, and as with Goldeneye the slightly longer running time gives Bond a little more room to breathe, allowing Brosnan to be both ruthless and witty, and frankly Roebuck and M’s interchange is worth the price of admission alone. “What’s Bond doing?” “His job!”

I suppose It’s a bit of shame that in just one film M has become so fond of 007, but her (and Colin Salmon’s) involvement only adds to this sequence. Overall it’s very, very good…and yet…watching it this time I couldn’t help noticing just how many explosions there were, and it’s an odd quibble to have, but I do wonder sometimes if Bond shouldn’t quite ever be so action orientated? At the end of the day he’s a spy, an assassin, a finely honed killing machine, but maybe not a one man army. I’m being picky I know, but this does do enough for me to mark this down a smidgen. 9/10

 

The World is Not Enough (1999)

Duration approx. 13:16

Relevance to the film: The murder of Robert King and the attack on MI6 pretty much set up the film, and we also get Bond injuring his shoulder, an injury referenced throughout the film.

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What the hell was Q planning to fish for in this?

In Bilbao Bond visits a Swiss banker to retrieve money that was paid for a stolen report. 007 has to hand over his gun yet still seems bullish when he demands to know who had stolen the report. The banker says he couldn’t possibly reveal that information and advises that Bond should consider himself fortunate to walk out of there alive. Bond suggests he was about to say the same thing. The banker advises that Bond’s position isn’t strong, he is unarmed and there are several armed guards in the room.

Luckily Bond has some hidden assets, namely a stun grenade built into his gun which he triggers by pressing a button on his glasses. He knocks out several guards and shoots another, then holds the banker at gunpoint, demanding to know who stole the report. Before the banker can give the person up he is killed by a throwing knife, courtesy of his secretary. Bond goes after her but the police are already heading up the stairs. He locks the door and prepares to abseil out of the window, fastening one end of the ties from the blinds to an unconscious guard and the other to himself. Before he can make his escape one of the guards recovers and grabs a gun. He has 007 bang to rights but before he can kill Bond he is shot by a sniper. Bond throws himself out of the window. The guard he’s tied to tries to hold onto a table but the leg comes away in his hand and Bond touches down before walking away unharmed.

And cue…oh no, wait there’s more…

Back at MI6 Bond briefly flirts with Moneypenny before going in to see M, who has her old friend Robert King with her. It was King who’d bought the stolen report, and King’s money that Bond had retrieved. King heads off to reclaim his money, leaving Bond and M to enjoy a drink together. When Bond picks up some ice cubes however he notices a chemical reaction on his fingers and realises that the money is booby-trapped. He goes after King but is too late, King’s lapel pin detonates the money, killing him and blowing a hole in the side of the building.

Bond looks out of the hole and spots a speedboat on the Thames. The occupant has a gun and tries to kill Bond but he spots the laser sight and ducks out of the way just in time. Thwarted the assassin—who also happens to be the secretary from Bilbao—makes her escape.

She’s reckoned without an oh-so convenient Q boat that Bond uses to pursue her. As he chases her down the Thames she uses a heavy machine gun and then a grenade launcher to try and take Bond out, but the little Q boat is too agile and he stays on her tail, at one point smashing the machine gun from the back of the boat. When she makes it under a rapidly descending bridge Bond makes the little boat dive under water in order to make it under the bridge, and when he’s cut off from following her he takes a diversion by using the boat’s jet engines to leave the water and scrape his way along a road, before smashing though a restaurant and back onto the Thames close to the Millennium Dome and just in time to catch up with the assassin.

Bond launches torpedoes and the assassin beaches her boat and leaps from it just before they hit. Commandeering a hot air balloon she rises into the sky, but Bond isn’t about to give up, he leaps from the Q boat and grabs hold of one of the ropes dangling from the basket. The assassin tries to shoot him but when police helicopters show up she knows the game is up. Bond tries to convince her to give up, and says he can protect her. “Not from him,” she says and shoots the balloon’s fuel tanks. Bond falls clear as the balloon explodes. He hits the dome and rolls down it, only stopping himself by slamming painfully into some ropes.

Ok now cue music.

It’s interesting given that the pre-title sequences to Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies were the longest in the series before this point, yet in TWINE (Sorry I’m not going to keep typing that title out) we have a sequence that’s half as long again as either of them!

I’ll be honest, TWINE isn’t a particular favourite film of mine, I had issues with it from the first time I saw it and many of those issues started in the pre-title sequence. But I’ll come on to these later. What’s surprising is that this time I didn’t hate it as much as I thought I would. There’s some nice stuff going on here, it’s just a very atypical pre-title sequence because it almost feels like two stuck together with a small framing scene linking them, and so you don’t get that crescendo leading into the titles, or rather you do, but only after another rise and fall before it.

I do wonder if, originally, the sequence wasn’t supposed to end with Bond walking over the bridge in Bilbao? Maybe the producers felt that was a trifle tame. It’s a shame if this was the case as I actually think the Bilbao scenes are nicely handled. There’s some biting dialogue about Swiss bankers, Bond is amusing yet coldly ruthless and we even have him on the verge of dying until rescued by that mysterious sniper. Really I don’t see why it couldn’t end there.

But by adding in the London bits it becomes a very long pre-title sequence, and matters aren’t helped by the fact that we have to get the scenes with Bond, Moneypenny, M and Q which slow things down they’re fine scenes, and it’s always nice to see Brosnan and Samantha Bond bantering, but not in the bloody pre-title sequence!

We then get the chase down the Thames, which is where I have further problems. First off let’s talk about what’s good. The little Q boat is fab, following on from such iconic vehicles as the Acrostar and Little Nellie, and the location shooting is good. For a series about a British secret agent Bond has actually spent little time in the UK, so it’s nice to see him on home turf for a change. The chase does go on a bit though, and do we really need to see him adjusting his tie underwater? It’s just a call-back to a much cooler moment in Goldeneye on the tank really. I’m not sure about the logic of featuring the clamper guys from a fly on the wall documentary series that was on telly at the time—although I guess the fact they’re clampers means it’s fun seeing them drenched even if you don’t know they’re famous clampers—and in addition the bits where Bond leaves the water to drive along the road seems a trifle silly (I know, I know, it’s Bond) especially when he seems able to steer!

Really though my problems come from the logic of the situation. You’re Renard, and you’ve come up with an ingenious (and exceptionally convoluted) plan to kill Robert King, to effectively have King kill himself. Now I can see that if you’ve gone to that much trouble you might want a backup plan, but really; a beautiful woman sitting on an obviously heavily armed boat anchored right next to MI6 headquarters and NO ONE notices? Suspension of disbelief is a prerequisite for being a Bond fan but I’ve always found this ridiculous and exceptionally contrived, especially once you factor in how handy it is that Q has a little boat he was working on nearby.

As a final point there’s Cigar Girl’s suicide. I often find the logic of situations whereby a character kills themselves because they’re so afraid of the villain a trifle counterintuitive. Oh sure I get that a quick death might be preferable to prolonged torture but there’s no indication that Renard would have the ability to retrieve Cigar Girl, and it’s especially ridiculous when we subsequently get to see that Renard, whilst dangerous, is hardly some kind of Machiavellian mastermind so when Bond says he could keep her safe, I actually think there’s a fair chance he could.

So, some nice stuff but it’s too long, tonally too uneven, and far too illogical for me. 7/10

 

Die Another Day (2002)

Duration approx. 12:23

Relevance to the film: We meet Colonel Moon, the villain of the piece, although he’ll look very different the next time we see him. We meet Zao and witness the explosion that will give him his sparkling personality, and we get hints that there may be a mole within MI6. Finally we see Bond captured and witness the beginning of his torture/captivity.

zao_and_moon

Rare footage of the N Korean version of Zoolander

We open on the North Korean shoreline, and three darkened figures are using the surging tidal waters to surf onto the beach (presumably to avoid detection but it seems a ridiculous and convoluted way to infiltrate enemy territory).

After sneaking ashore the three men remove their masks to revel Bond and two Korean agents. Bond is dressed in civilian clothing but his comrades wear the uniform of North Korean soldiers. Moving inland one of the men cuts the power to a beacon, in its place Bond substitutes one of his own. High above a North Korean helicopter carrying a western civilian changes course towards the new beacon. When it lands the man on-board is surprised to find Bond, dressed exactly like him (which must have taken some planning) he takes the man’s briefcase away from him at gunpoint, then takes his sunglasses for good measure (fun fact, Van Buren’s sunnies are in fact Brosnan’s own!)  Once aboard the helicopter Bond opens the briefcase to reveal a cache of diamonds. He plants C4 explosives under the tray of diamonds.

Meanwhile at the headquarters of Colonel Moon, the aforementioned officer is exercising by kicking seven bells out of a punch bag. When he’s done he orders it opened to reveal an unfortunate North Korean, who apparently had been Moon’s anger therapist!

The helicopter lands and Bond is greeted by Moons associate Zao, who surreptitiously takes a photo of Bond. Moon arrives and asks to see the diamonds. Bond asks to see the weapons and a groups of hovercraft arrive, Moon explains that he’s hiding the weapons in the Demilitarised Zone, and that his hovercraft float over the mines there (point of fact apparently this wouldn’t work but, you know, Bond film!). Bond hands over the diamonds.

Zao calls Moon over and advises that Van Buren is actually Bond. Moon feigns friendliness and shows off his new tank-buster rifle to Bond, then uses it to destroy the helicopter and, presumably, kill Bond’s associates. At that moment his father, the General, calls on the radio and advises he’s arriving shortly. Moon orders the hovercraft to return to the DMZ, and orders Bond killed.

007 is shoved to one side but before he can be shot he detonates the C4, creating a diversion that he uses to commandeer one of the hovercraft. He heads after Moon who is on the main craft and a chase ensues that sees Bond take out two smaller hovercraft before finding himself mano a mano with Moon atop the biggest hovercraft. Moon tries to shoot Bond but 007 uses a bullet proof vest to avoid death, then dives out of the way when Moon uses a flamethrower. Finally Bond makes it to the controls and throttles the hovercraft to maximum, the giant fan engine sucks Moon to it and Bond then leaps to safety before the hovercraft, and Moon, go off the edge of a cliff.

Bond survives by hanging onto a bell, when he drops to the ground he can’t resist a “saved by the bell” joke, but the amusement ends soon after when the General and his men turn up, Bond is taken away and we see the beginning of his 14 months of torture…

 

This one posed a bit of a dilemma. I usually cut a pre-title sequence off when the sequence ends and the titles begin, but technically this one kinda carries on through the titles as we see Bond’s incarceration. There may be an argument for it being the longest pre-title sequence in history but really I think it ends when the music starts.

So, after the long winded and all over the place sequence from TWINE we’re back on familiar territory this time (albeit with the twist at the end). Bond’s on a mission infiltrating enemy territory when, as so often happens, things go tits up.

I said in my review of AVTAK that Bond and surfing don’t quite go together, and whilst the sequence here does at least appear to feature real surfing (unlike Brosnan’s CGI surfnotsotastic bit later) it still seems a trifle odd. I think there are certain things that Bond shouldn’t do; roller skate for example, or wear a tracksuit(if you’re my friend Kay) and surfing just doesn’t seem like something Bond would be good out, let’s face it he’s about as far away from the surfer dude as one could imagine.

England substitutes ok for North Korea (I imagine) and the switch with the helicopter is well handled, even if the fact Bond is dressed exactly like Van Buren is actually a little jarring. Moon has a nice introduction, and much as I love Toby Stephens as Graves it is a shame we don’t see more of Will Yun Lee who does a good job here in a short space of time. We see Moon be ruthless, yet also charming and, when he realises his dad’s on the way in, segue into naughty schoolboy mode! Rick Yune is also good as Zao.

Once he’s outed as a British agent there’s a nice scene, just before he’s about to be shot, where 007 scans the vicinity, clearly weighing up his options before he blows the briefcase. The resultant chaos and hovercraft chase are deftly handled and exciting. But…

It feels a little too much like Tomorrow Never Dies lite, and the same concerns I expressed there are magnified a little. Explosions are no substitute for drama, and this is probably more tense when Bond and Moon are just talking, and once it’s down to Bond’s hovercraft and Moon’s the chase gets a little stale as Moon just uses one gun after another (which seems far too similar to cigar girl in the TWINE boat chase).

The eventual fight atop the hovercraft is good though, there’s excellent use of the Bond theme when 007 gets the upper hand, and Brosnan does at least have the decency to look slightly embarrassed when making the saved by the bell joke, which just makes the moment even cooler, and you can’t ignore the originality of having a pre-title sequence where Bond gets captured.

There’s the usual plot holes (how the hell does Moon survive that fall? What was Bond’s extraction plan and who did he expect to get with the bomb given that the plan was clearly to detonate it after he’d departed) but there always are. It has its flaws, and it feels a little repetitious of previous Brosnan sequences, but there’s still enough good stuff here that it just sneaks an 8/10 from me.

 

Casino Royale (2006)

Duration approx. 3:04

Relevance to the film: None, aside from showing that Bond is a brand new 00 agent.

 

Casino-Royale-0009

Ere, Mavis, there’s something wrong with the colour on this DVD!

Night time in Prague and a man arrives at a deserted office building. He takes the lift and heads to his office. When he enters however he notices that his safe is open. A voice from the other side of the room advises that whilst M doesn’t mind him earning some money on the side she’d rather it wasn’t selling secrets.

The man, Dryden the Czech Section Chief, seems unperturbed. He turns and we see the owner of the voice, James Bond, who Dryden doesn’t seem remotely scared of. He sits down, opening his desk drawer to reveal a gun, and advises that if M was that concerned she’d have sent a 00. He’s seen Bond’s file, which shows no kills and it takes…

“Two,” says Bond. Flashback to a brutal fight between Bond and another man in a bathroom.

Back in the present Dryden pulls his gun. He says it’s a pity because he barely got to know Bond. He pulls the trigger and the gun clicks empty. Bond holds up the magazine. “At least I know where you keep your gun,” he advises. Dryden asks how his contact died. “Not well,” says Bond.

We flashback again to the fight in the bathroom which hasn’t got any less brutal as the two men smash through cubicle walls and destroy basins and mirrors with their guns and various body parts. Eventually Bond shoves the other man’s head under water in a basin until he stops struggling. He eventually lets go and stands back, contemplating what he’s just done.

“Made you feel it did he?” says Dryden. “You needn’t worry, the second is…”

Bond shoots him.

“Yes, considerably,” he says nonchalantly.

And we flash back to the bathroom for the final time. Bond picks up his gun, at which point the other man suddenly springs up with his own gun. Bond turns on his heels and shoots, we see him through a gun barrel and then blood drips down the picture. James Bond is now a 00 agent.

Where to start? With the arrival of a new Bond came a new, gritty ethos. No gadgets, no puns, no bad guys with hollowed out volcanos. It was, in hindsight, a risky strategy. For all that Die Another Day had been derided it had done well at the box-office. So it was essential that this film hit the ground running.

And boy does it ever.

Almost everything about this pre-title sequence is at odds with what we’ve seen before. There’s no gun barrel at the start, it’s in black and white, Bond isn’t even a 00 agent yet, and yet for all of this it’s a return to the kind of pre-title sequence we haven’t seen for a while; it’s short, it’s brutal and it’s quite intimate. There’s something altogether 1960s about it.

The choice to film in grainy black and white helps make it evocative, as does the shooting style, lots of skewed angles, it’s like nowt you’ve seen before and yet it is clearly a Bond pre-title sequence. The fight is probably one of the most brutal in the franchise, and showcases Daniel Craig’s animalistic physicality to the fore. The scenes with Dryden are even more personal and highlight how cold blooded Craig’s Bond can be. Killing a man in the heat of a fight is one thing, coolly popping him mid conversation is quite another, note the brief glimpse of a family photo as Dryden falls. This isn’t some moustache twiling villain, this is a man with a wife and children.

Bond’s “Considerably” is, let’s be honest, as amusing as any “Shocking” “Saved by the bell” or “What a helpful chap” but it’s gallows humour perfectly tailored to Craig (how I wish Dalton had been as well served).

And then there’s the piste de resistance, the guy in the bathroom not being dead, and Bond turning and shooting him through the gun barrel with the shift to colour as the blood drips down. Stylish, original, brutal, calculating and darkly amusing. 10/10

 

Quantum of Solace (2008)

Duration approx. 3:30

Relevance to the film: A fair bit. Following straight on from Casino Royale it sees Bond delivering Mr White to his MI6 colleagues.

22-quantum-of-solace-aston-martin

Good job there’s no Q in this film. He would not be happy!

On a mountainous road in Italy an Aston Martin is being pursued by two Alfa Romeos full of men with automatic weapons. The Aston is, of course, being driven by Bond. Driving through a tunnel he has his driver’s side door ripped off by an out of control lorry. Coming out of the tunnel he maneuverers between two other lorries. One of the perusing cars deftly follows but the other crashes headfirst into one of the lorries.

With the road ahead blocked by traffic Bond takes a detour. The bad guys follow, as does the Italian police. The road Bond’s taken leads to a quarry. AS the bad guys continue to shoot at the Aston, they are in turn fired upon by the police. Unfortunately the Carabinieri are outgunned, their Land Rover is riddled with bullets and crashes.

The men in the Alfa continue to track 007. Drawing level they shoot up the car some more. Bond struggles to reach his own automatic rifle on the passenger seat, but when they come across a mechanical digger in the middle of the road up ahead, both vehicles swerve round it. By the time they clear the digger Bond’s got his gun, he shoots the driver of the other car and it goes off the cliff.

Bond drives to Siena where garage doors open to reveal a long tunnel. Bond parks up at the end and opens the boot of the Aston, revealing a very groggy looking Mr White. “It’s time to get out,” says Bond.

In Moonraker Drax talked about unloved seasons, and there are some Bond pictures that are unloved films, and QoS will be in a lot of people’s lists. Me, I actually kinda like it, in a raw, unfinished kind of way. The initial script of the film was only just finished before the Hollywood writers’ strike, and as a result only Daniel Craig and director Marc Forster were allowed to make any changes to the script which in part accounts for the film’s rough and ready feel, and this feel is evident from the off.

First a little bit of history in the making. QoS isn’t the first film to not begin with the gun barrel sequence, but it is the first film not to feature it at all before the main credits (as Casino Royale just had it at the end of the pre-title sequence). In QoS it won’t be seen until the end of the film, and we will have to wait until 2015 and Spectre before it returns to its rightful place.

It would be wrong of me to say this is a rubbish sequence, it has its moments but over all its poor. For starters the camera work adheres to the Jason Bourne school of keep it shaky, meaning it’s hard at times to see what’s going on. The sequence has grown on me a little with time, but in the cinema I hated it.

The idea of following on immediately from Casino Royale is a novel one (you can argue Diamonds are Forever did this first, but given we had different Bonds and an indeterminate amount of time between the end of OHMSS and Diamonds it’s not clear just how closely it follows on behind.) but we’re never quite sure why Bond is being chased. Were these armed men down the road from Mr White’s villa? Did he manage to get some kind of alert off before Bond snagged him?

The stunt work is good, and the quarry scenes wonderfully grimy, but Bond triumph is less down to skill than sheer luck and there’s always something a little disappointing when the bad guys fire off hundreds of bullets and can’t kill the good guy, yet all he needs are a few to take them down.

The tracking show of Siena is lovely, and the drive down the tunnel quite evocative, but the whole thing ends with a damp squib. Daniel Craig, like Dalton, can be funny, a different kind of humour to Moore or Brosnan to be sure, but give him good material and he can shine, so it’s disappointing that they could come up with nothing better than “It’s time to get out.”

It’s a limp end to a fairly generic sequence. Maybe I’m being too generous but I give this 6/10

Skyfall (2012)

Duration approx. 12:19

Relevance to the film: Introduces Moneypenny, Patrice and the missing disk drive full of NATO agent details and shows Bond shot and presumed killed.

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Bond was a little annoyed that someone had nabbed his reserved seat

In Istanbul Bond enters an apartment to find the aftermath of a gun battle. At least one man is dead and another MI6 agent is badly wounded. Bond is in contact with MI6 HQ and M asks if the disk is missing. There’s a broken laptop on the table and Bond confirms that its disc drive is missing. He begins rendering medical aid to the downed agent but M insists that he gets after whoever took the disc. Leaving the agent bleeding to death Bond complies.

Out in the street he’s picked up in a Land Rover by another agent, and given it’s hardly a secret anymore I’m going to call her Moneypenny. She advises that whoever took the disc is in an Audi up ahead.

The bad guy, who we’ll eventually learn is Patrice, spots them following and a car chase ensues through the streets of Istanbul. The Land Rover loses both its wing mirrors, and when it pulls up alongside the Audi Bond grabs the wheel and slams the Land Rover into the side of the car, forcing it to crash. Bu this point police motorcyclists are in pursuit.

Patrice emerges from the car firing, and takes down several police officers with his machine pistil before taking a police motorcycle and heading off. Bond jumps on a convenient bike and gives chase. Moneypenny follows in the Land Rover.

When Patrice’s exit is blocked off he takes his bike up a flight of stairs and Bond follows. Eventually they both end up on the roof of the Grand Bazaar—much to Tanner’s amazement back in London. Eventually they get back to ground level. By this point Moneypenny has got ahead of Patrice. As Patrice arrives on a railway bridge he has Moneypenny ahead of him and Bond behind so he dumps he bike and jumps off the bridge onto the roof of a passing train. Whilst Moneypenny tries to shoot him Bond rides his bike into the side of the bridge, catapulting himself onto the train.

Patrice is still armed, and continues to hold Bond off. When 007 runs out of ammo all seems lost, until he notes a mechanical digger being carried on the flatbed. He gets into the cab and turns it round so he can use the scoop as a shield. In the process he knocks off several VW Beetles also being couriered by the train, almost crashing them into Moneypenny who’s driving beside the train.

Bond is hit but presses home his advantage. Patrice has shot through the couplings, and Bond’s part of the train is going to fall away. He uses the scoop to smash through the roof of the passenger carriage up ahead, then clambers across the arm of the digger, using it as a makeshift bridge. He drops into the carriage just as flatbed pulls back, causing the digger to pull away from the train.

Patrice thinks he’s escaped but after the train emerges from a tunnel Bond launches himself at him and the two men struggle atop the moving train.

By this point Moneypenny has run out of road. She has a rifle but no clear shot because Bond and Patrice are too close together. With the train about to enter another tunnel she has time for only one shot, which M insists she takes.

She fires.

Bond is hit and falls from the train and into the surging river below. The train enters the tunnel with Patrice still very much alive atop it. In London M is in shock, she stares out of the window and it starts to rain.

Back in Turkey we watch as Bond’s body is washed downriver…

And Bond “dies” again in a pre-title sequence! To be fair I am minded to let them off this, because it’s a trick they haven’t pulled since the sixties, because this is supposed to be a film celebrating the franchise, and because Bond’s “death” and rebirth is such a central element to the film.

And after two fairly low key and in both cases short sequences we’re back in the territory of a long action packed opener (though still not quite as long as TWINE or DAD). We also come to our second film without the gun barrel featuring anywhere before or during the pre-title sequence. I’m not sure why this decision was made, especially given this was the 50th Anniversary Bond, but the sequence starts well and…well it starts well and just gets better and better.

I watched this one with a little trepidation because, whilst I’ve always liked it, I wondered if it would be too long, too full on and action packed for me watching it for the first time with my critical head on. But if anything that made me enjoy it more.

The idea of Bond being in communication with HQ is something we haven’t seen since Tomorrow Never Dies and this adds a delicious new element to the relationship between Craig’s Bond and Dench’s M. within the space of 12 minutes she orders Bond to leave a fellow agent to die, and then orders Moneypenny to take a shot she knows has as much chance as hitting Bond as hitting Patrice. That both of these orders make logical sense, given what is at stake, does not dent the impact of either and again this is a thread that will run through the film (especially given she also sacrificed Silva for the greater good back in ’97) and I wonder how many other pre-title sequences have resonated so much through the film that followed? OHMSS for sure, but maybe no other.

Daniel Craig is superb, I love his trademark disdain when he chucks his empty PPK away (oi, 007 that’s Government property!) and the fact that he just looks ever so slightly miffed when he takes a hit from a fragment of one of Patrice’s bullets.

Even though they’re not together very long there’s genuine chemistry between him and Naomie Harris as they banter over wing mirrors, and Harris is very good here (so good in fact that I do wonder if she’s wasted as Moneypenny and whether she oughtn’t have been just the Bond girl in this film and that was all, she’d have more impact and she is somewhat wasted in Spectre…but I digress) driving like a demon, blazing away and as dogged in her pursuit as Bond is.

Patrice is a so so villain, he has no lines so we never get any kind of feel for him beyond that he’s a hired killer, I always think it must be a shame for an actor to get that kind of role, but then again you also get to be in a Bond film and if they asked me to be the mute villain in the next pre-title sequence I wouldn’t refuse I can tell you!

Dench is wonderful, Rory Kinnear is wonderful, the stunt work is—as always— excellent, and the effects for the most part nicely done. Some of the superimposition of Craig atop the bike looks slightly dubious but I am being very picky here. Plot wise you have to wonder what’s going on and why Bond and Moneypenny weren’t on hand to defend the oh so secret disk drive, but again I’m being really picky and any flaws don’t stop me giving this 10/10

 

Spectre (2015)

Duration approx. 12.10

Relevance to the film: By killing Sciarra Bond becomes embroiled in Spectre’s scheme. The events in Mexico City will lead 007 to Rome and beyond.

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You would never guess Live and Let Die was Mendes’ fave Bond film…

In Mexico City it is the Day of the Dead and a huge carnival is taking place through the streets. As we watch a man dressed in white, wearing a skeletal mask, walks towards the camera. Suddenly we notice a man and a women off to one side, she in a dress wearing a half face mask, he wearing a suit marked with bones, his face covered by a skeletal mask (but we know who it is). We follow them as they enter a nearby hotel and take the elevator up to the third floor where they enter a room.

They remove their masks (and it’s Bond!) and kiss. The woman drapes herself on the bed, obviously expecting romance, but 007 has other things on his mind. He’s stripped away his costume and now has a gun slung over his shoulder. He tells her he won’t be long and then steps out onto the ledge.

We follow his progress as he moves from ledge to ledge, rooftop to rooftop, building to building, until he finds himself atop one building facing a certain room. His gun has a directional microphone attached and so he can hear the conversation going on across the street. Two men are discussing a terrorist attack on a stadium scheduled to occur later. One of the men is the man in white, Sciarra, who Bond was so interested in earlier.

Bond is about to shoot him when the other man notices 007. Bond shoots him first, then another armed thug in an adjoining room. By this point Sciarra has ducked out of sight so Bond shoots the briefcase detonating the explosives inside. As part of the opposing building collapses Bond just gets out of the way before it falls onto his rooftop. As the roof gives way he falls to a lower floor but then has to jump again as more rubble falls. Eventually he drops into a convenient sofa and heads outside.

Sciarra has survived and is now on the street. He and Bond spot each other and Sciarra runs, with Bond in pursuit. The Spectre assassin gets on his phone and requests an evac chopper, telling it to meet him in the square.

As the chopper lands amongst the throng celebrating Day of the Dead, Bond takes out another Spectre henchman before charging onto the helicopter where he begins to fight with both Sciarra and the pilot.

As the helicopter rises up Bond and Sciarra almost fall out, and continue to fight whilst hanging onto the side of the chopper. Below the crowds are screaming in panic as the helicopter performs some very unusual and dangerous manoeuvres up above. Eventually Bond rips the ring from Sciarra’s finger and kicks him out to his death. He manages to dispatch the pilot with equal aplomb and then gets control of the helicopter just in time to stop it plunging into the crowd.

As he flies over the city he examines the ring and notes the octopus logo….

And so we come to the final—for now—Bond pre-title sequence, and it is something of a doozy. I’m not sure if anyone has ever calculated how much each pre-title sequence cost to make, but if they ever do I imagine Spectre’s might rank quite highly, although who knows how much the Mexican Government might have provided in grants given this is a hell of a tourist advertisement!

However much it cost and whoever paid for it is immaterial. What matters is that it looks gorgeous. And then there’s that tracking shot, I’m not sure whether it is a single take but even if it’s not it looks fantastic as we spot Bond at the edge of the screen, then follow him and his lady up to their room, then follow him out onto the ledge.

If anything the small screen makes it look even better, because in the cinema it seemed more obvious that Daniel Craig wasn’t really hopping across rooftops above Mexico City, the sequence always looked good, but it might look even better on the TV.

However gorgeous it all looks however, you have to ask yourself if a film should ever shoot its bolt quite so early, because you could argue nothing in the rest of the film looks this good. You also have to take into account Bond’s flagrant disregard for civilians. I don’t know if he’s ever risked so many lives before now. First there’s him blowing up a building (and who knows how many innocents were inside—one only hopes they were outside at the carnival) and don’t tell me he doesn’t know the briefcase is full of explosives because why else shoot it? But then, even after this, he pursues Sciarra onto the helicopter and then proceeds to have a fight in the chopper as it hovers above a crowd—a huge crowd!—of people. Yes you can argue he saved the lives of everyone who would have been in the stadium later, but you can still see why M will be pissed off. Conceivably Bond could have killed hundreds of innocent people here, and I’m not sure you could point to any other sequence where he’s this reckless.

As a final point I should note that for the first, and perhaps only, time in Daniel Craig’s tenure, we get the gun barrel sequence back in its rightful place at the start of the pre title sequence. Thank goodness!

So in conclusion this sequence looks fantastic. The Day of the Dead setting is gorgeous, Bond’s skeletal mask is damn near iconic, and the cinematography is grand. On the downside is Bond’s recklessness and the fact that, in the end, this boils down to a few blokes having a fight in a helicopter and it does feel a little too similar to Skyfall. Add in how grand in scale it all is, which throws the rest of the film slightly out of whack, and I’m going to be, perhaps, unduly harsh and mark this down, but only by a bit. 9/10

 

And so that’s it. All that’s left to do is add in the last set of films to produce my final rankings! (Note I have rejigged this slightly as I think I messed up the original list!) As I said at the beginning, this is just my view, yours might, and probably will, differ, but it’s certainly been fun to watch them all in sequence, and I promise to update my master list once Bond #25 airs🙂

 

  1. The Spy Who Loved Me
  2. Casino Royale
  3. Goldeneye
  4. Skyfall
  5. Goldfinger
  6. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
  7. Tomorrow Never Dies
  8. The Living Daylights
  9. Spectre
  10. The Man with the Golden Gun
  11. Die Another Day
  12. Licence to Kill
  13. Moonraker
  14. The World is Not Enough
  15. You Only Live Twice
  16. Octopussy
  17. For Your Eyes Only
  18. Quantum of Solace
  19. Thunderball
  20. Diamonds are Forever
  21. Dr No
  22. From Russia with Love
  23. A View to a Kill
  24. Live and Let Die

 

 

Directed by Roland Emmerich. Starring Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman.

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Jeff and Liam were regretting the big curry they had last night…

Twenty years have passed since the war of 1996, and humanity is now united, and benefiting from technology retrofitted from the crashed alien ships. So we have helicopters without rotor blades, futuristic space fighters, a chain of defence satellites and even a base on the moon where Jake Morrison (Hemsworth) has been relegated to being a tug pilot after an accident during training that almost killed his friend, Dylan Hiller (Jessie Usher) the son of Will Smith’s character from the first film. When Hiller arrives on the Moon leading the Legacy Squadron (a multinational fleet of fighter pilots) their reunion gets off to a shaky start when Hiller punches Morrison out.

Meanwhile down on Earth former President Whitmore (Pullman) keeps having recurring dreams about a curious symbol. These dreams are not unique to him,  Dr Catherine Marceaux (Charlotte Gainsbourg who I can’t believe is in this kind of film) has been investigating this phenomena. She has travelled to Africa where she meets up with David Levinson (Goldblum). Both have finally been granted access to an intact alien saucer by African warlord Umbutu. Levinson doesn’t hold with her studies into these recurring dreams, but when a wormhole appears near the Moon and a spherical spaceship comes out of it he sees a similarity with the visions. Despite Levinson arguing that the ship doesn’t resemble those that attacked twenty years ago, and may be benevolent, the American President orders it destroyed.

Disobeying orders Morrison takes a tug and collects Levinson and others before ferrying them to the crash site of the new alien ship on the Moon. Whist they are retrieving some alien technology a huge alien mothership three thousand miles wide arrives in lunar orbit. It makes short work of the moon base and Earth’s orbital defences and then lands in the Atlantic.

As the mothership starts drilling to Earth’s core the human race must once again rise to the challenge of defeating a superior foe, and must once again celebrate their independence!

There are some films that don’t really need a sequel, and then there are some films crying out for a follow up. 1996’s Independence Day falls somewhere between these two stools. On the one hand it works perfectly well as standalone film, but on the other there always was something intriguing about how humanity might rebuild itself and make use of alien technology.

Watching Independence Day Resurgence you might be left thinking that they shouldn’t have bothered. Which isn’t to say it’s terrible. It’s quite bad in places, but actually quite fun in others, but overall it’s the very definition of meh!

It starts well enough. It’s interesting to see the melding of human and alien technology, and to catch up with those characters still around from the first film, although many of them seem to have died off camera (Will Smith, Levinson’s original love interest etc.) which always feels like a cheap way to explain why they’re not in the film—although given some of the contrivances to ensure some original cast members play their part this might not be such a terrible thing. The prime example being Judd Hirsch as Levinson’s cantankerous dad. He was fun in the first film, but he really is pointless this time around. Also Vivica A. Fox returns, no longer a stripper now she’s a medical professional, but she’s given very little to do aside from giving Dylan someone to care about.

Still, at least to begin with the films is interesting. Incongruously where it all starts to go wrong is when the aliens show up. For starters the pacing goes awry. The film seems to be in a huge rush to get the aliens down on the ground. Where the original film took its time to set things up, Resurgence just seems in a big hurry, which leaves characters underdeveloped and also serves to make the threat less, well threatening. This is odd given that the aliens’ drilling down to the Earth’s core is going to destroy the Earth, but the situation never comes as close to feeling as dire as it did in the first film.

In some respects it’s good that they didn’t go for the succession of city destroying scenes we had first time around, but it just comes off feeling smaller scale, like a lower budget TV movie sequel to an original blockbuster (which is odd given its budget appears to dwarf that of the original).

For all I know Goldblum and Pullman might be dialling in their performances, but both are such good actors that I doubt you’d realise it, in particularly Goldblum is very good—but he does have more to do. Interestingly I thought the best thing—character wise—about the film was Next Gen’s Data himself, Brent Spiner who incongruously returns as Doctor Okun (who pretty much seemed to die in the first film as I recall!) and who is quite obviously having a ball playing the exceptionally mad scientist. Frankly I wouldn’t have enjoyed the film half as much without him.

Of the newcomers Hemsworth probably makes the biggest impression, although his character is pretty thin as he’s just playing your standard hotshot fighter pilot. It Follows’ Maika Monroe takes over the role of Whitmore’s daughter Patti (and becomes Morrison’s love interest) and does a good job, even if she seems a trifle young—I don’t want to get into why the original actress wasn’t used, but I hope it wasn’t a ‘babe’ issue—and whilst I can fault the film on several levels it does at least give us two female fighter pilots, and whilst neither Patti or Rain, the Chinese ace, are Rey by any stretch of the imagination, they’re at least not helpless damsels in distress. Usher has the most thankless task because he has to play the straight shooter, and he comes off poorly compared to Hemsworth.

Really it’s in the smaller roles that the film succeeds. Alongside Spiner I liked Deobia Oparei’s eloquent warlord, Nicolas Wright’s comedy accountant/Rambo and Travis Tope who basically seems to be playing Dak from Empire Strikes Back…

It doesn’t succeed as a whole, even though the final third is quite exciting, for a variety of reasons. Independence Day worked in part because as much as it was an alien invasion film, it was a disaster movie, and it gave us characters we cared about in peril. Resurgence jettisons this aspect, aside from a few poorly executed scenes involving Judd Hirsch leading the worst group of child actors ever assembled and Fox trying to escape a collapsing hospital, and the film is poorer for it. I would normally argue that films are too long but really this could have done with being longer—though only if that added length added character rather than more explosions.

The effects are great but even here the film isn’t as good as the first, the dogfights are ok but lack the visceral thrill of those in the first film. The dialogue is, at times, cringe worthy (“Don’t let us die for nothing!”) and whilst you could say the same about the first film that was, again, offset by the greater characterisation. Resurgence is a film that mainly reminds you of other films (Aliens, Empire Strikes Back-even Jurassic Park) and tries—and fails—to riff on its own predecessor with its own “Welcome to Earth” and “Hello boys, I’m back!” style moments that just remind you how cool the first film was. It’s also shamelessly and chunkily skewed towards the Chinese market.

It’s a perfectly serviceable, yet perfectly forgettable film that does not improve on Independence Day in any way (except in having more Dr Okun) and offers nothing you haven’t seen before in better films. Characters are constantly saying things like “That’s definitely bigger than the last time” but overall this film’s much smaller than the last one.

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Don’t shut up, Data!