Jeremy Renner

Avengers: Endgame

30/04/19

It’s pointless to try and give this one a body swerve. It lumbers over the cinematic horizon like a behemoth, gobbling up viewers and crushing box office records beneath its massive feet. Resistance is futile.

As one of the few reviewers who was distinctly underwhelmed by Infinity Wars, I still need to see how the Russo Brothers are going to extricate themselves from the corner they’ve seemingly painted themselves into. Oh, right… like that. Well, I guess it was the only way possible…

By the way, those of you who like to cry ‘plot spoiler!’ every time a tiny detail is revealed may want to think twice about reading the following two paragraphs. Just saying.

Endgame opens briefly on events shortly after Thanos (Josh Brolin) has made the most calamitous finger-snap in history. It then moves on five years to show the remaining Avengers trying to come to terms with what has happened to the world. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is now a ruthless swordsmen, carving up Japanese gangsters with relish, whilst sporting a disastrous new haircut that makes him look like a disgruntled cockapoo. Captain America (Chris Evans) is attending therapy classes, but is still impossibly clean and healthy. Thor (Chris Hemsworth), on the other hand, has really let himself go and now sports hippie dreadlocks and a fearsome beer belly. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) has learned to manage his anger issues and is permanently trapped in his green, oversized alter ego, Hulk. And… well, so on.

Then, up pops Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) recently returned from imprisonment in the quantum realm. He brings along an idea that might just undo the Infinity Curse and return the world to where it was five years ago. So the Avengers assemble for one more mission.

OK, so my main beef with this is the same as it was with Infinity Wars, only even more so. There are just too many superheroes for comfort. The way things stand here, they seem to outnumber ordinary people, which can’t be right, surely? And you know, I, for one, am happier with those movies (like Shazam!, for instance) that know they are essentially kids’ film’s and feel no shame about it. Endgame, however, is for the most part so serious it hurts – it’s a great lumbering leviathan, creaking beneath the weight of its own self-importance. Happily, the po-faced stuff is leavened every so often by some much-needed humour, most of it coming from Hemsworth’s corner. (I love the fact that Thor never has to apologise for losing that gym-ready look and Hemsworth always has a cheeky glint in his eye that suggests he knows how ridiculous it all is but couldn’t care less.)

To give the Russo Brothers their due, this doesn’t really feel like a bum-numbing three-hour marathon. It’s action packed enough to allow the time to zip by and, if the script occasionally feels ridiculously over-complicated, well that’s just par for the course when you have an audience that picks so avidly over every little detail. And pick they will. Reports are that people are going back to watch the film over and over again.

Of course, as ever, we are presented with a great big climactic battle, made even more of an endurance test by the fact that the scriptwriters feel duty bound to include every single lead character from the preceding twenty-one movies in the Marvel EU. That’s an awful lot of spandex to take in. And then of course, once the punch up’s done and the dust has settled, there’s the little matter of tying up all those loose ends…

Look, the cinema going public has made its mind up on this, and who am I to say that they’re wrong? I can only speak for myself when I repeat the old mantra ‘less is more.’ Give me one superhero and one villain, and I’m a relatively happy bunny.

Endgame is undoubtedly a big movie, but maybe not in the way it thinks it is.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

 

 

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Wind River

18/09/17

In a moonlit pre-credit sequence, a young native American woman flees across a snowbound landscape, barefoot and gasping for breath. It’s an arresting introduction, one which certainly grabs the viewer’s attention. This bleak and rather melancholic slowburner is based around the resulting investigation into the woman’s death, carried out on the remote Wind River reservation in Wyoming. Inspired by true events, it’s written and directed by Taylor Sheridan (author of Sicario and Hell and High Water). The events unfold in inhospitable mountainous landscapes, which are beautifully captured by Ben Richardson’s sweeping cinematography.

The woman’s body is found by veteran tracker, Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), out hunting wolves. He instantly recognises the dead woman as Natalie, the former best friend of his late daughter who herself died in suspicious circumstances, something that Lambert has never fully come to terms with. FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is assigned to handle the investigation, arriving at the location dressed in high heels and severely ill-equipped to deal with the hostile weather conditions. She wisely enlists Lambert (and his snowmobile) to get her from place to place in order to talk to Natalie’s family and to help her interview the list of potential suspects.

Renner and Olsen submit moving performances and manage to generate some real chemistry between them, and there’s a heartfelt (and never patronising) view of the local Native American’s plight as they struggle to survive in a world that has robbed them of everything they ever valued. There are nice turns from Apesanahkwat as world-weary tribal police chief, Dan Crowheart, and from Graham Greene as the dead girl’s father, Ben, struggling to understand the iniquities of life on a reservation.

A pity, then, that the final third of the movie squanders all these good intentions by making an abrupt detour into much more cliched territory – there’s an extended gunfight, some harsh ‘eye-for-an-eye’ vengeance, a horribly graphic rape scene and men generally a-doin’ what men gotta do – at least in Sheridan’s macho world view. It’s almost as though two quite different movies have been clumsily stitched together. 

Wind River is worth seeing for that ravishing location photography and those appealing performances, but there’s the distinct conviction that it would have been a better film if it had stuck to its guns, rather than firing them off in all directions.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

Arrival

11/11/16

We’re all familiar with the scenario, right? Gigantic spaceships hover over the major cities of the world, and eventually disgorge battalions of vicious alien creatures, that are hell bent on world domination. Luckily, a group of plucky resistance fighters come together to kick alien butt and free the planet from tyranny…

Thankfully, Arrival really isn’t one of those films. Director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners)  chooses instead to depict an alien visitation as a positive, perhaps even fruitful occurrence. This is a sedate, almost hallucinatory film, that dares to try something different with a much mistreated genre.

Linguist, Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams) finds her everyday life rudely interrupted by the unannounced arrival of twelve huge black ellipses hovering inexplicably in the air above different locations around the world. The ellipses (surely inspired by the paintings of Magritte) are silent and make no apparent attempts tocommunicate with the human race. Louise soon finds herself enlisted by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) who is leading a team of North American scientists, whose job it is to try and make contact with the aliens and work out what (if anything) they are trying to tell us. Louise finds some common ground with scientist, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and the two of them set about the complex task of communicating with the inhabitants of one of the giant elipses. They are quickly dubbed heptopods and are giant octopus-like creatures, which (perhaps wisely) are only glimpsed through the haze that constantly surrounds them. As she starts to make progress, Louise is increasingly affected by images of her young daughter who comes to a tragic end…

I thought Arrival was a remarkable film, quietly persuasive in its approach and totally absorbing. The googly ball that it throws at its audience in its final stretch, hit me for six – I really didn’t see it coming – and it was only as the shock of the impact spread through me, that I began to appreciate just how skilfully the storyline’s tangled web has been put together. If the film’s ultimate message could be accused of being a little bit cheesy, it’s nonetheless a welcome relief from the usual crass Hollywood approach to alien visitations.

Worth further investigation.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

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02/09/15

We were far too late getting on to this – largely because an entire month of reviewing at the Edinburgh Fringe left us with too little time to actually make it to the cinema: a sorry state of affairs. Rogue Nation is the latest improbably titled instalment in Tom Cruise’s evergreen TV spy spinoff and as the series goes, it’s one of the better efforts – an adrenalin fuelled romp with an outrageously daft plot and a whole heap of inexplicable gadgetry to help the IMF team achieve their goals.

The film starts as it means to go on with the throttle wide open. Ethan Hunt attempts to board a plane… after it’s taken off. (Don’t try this at home. That’s my old stamping ground of RAF Wittering hundreds of feet below, by the way and yes, that is Cruise clinging on to the side of the plane. Nobody can say he doesn’t earn his millions.)

Hunt is on the trail of a mysterious organisation called The Syndicate, who have dedicated themselves to the eradication of the IMF and who are headed up by evil villain, Solomon Lane (a deeply creepy Sean Harris.) As Hunt hurtles around the world, evading assassins and leaping athletically from very high buildings, back at base, Brandt (Jeremy Renner) is engaged in a more pedestrian battle as grumpy CIA man, Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) attempts to get the Impossible Missions team shut down. It seems he finds them a bout too reckless for his liking. Soon Hunt is pretty much out there on his own, aided only by his hapless bessie mate, Benjie (Simon Pegg, who must be relieved to add a much-needed hit to his CV) and by the mysterious Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) who keeps popping up just in time to save Hunt’s life.

It’s fairly pointless to go into the plot. Most of it is unfathomable and all of it is unlikely, but it’s presented with enough tongue-in-cheek brio to suspend your disbelief. There’s an ingenious set piece at the Vienna opera house, while an underwater sequence where Hunt has to hold his breath for three minutes wracks up the tension to an almost unbearable degree. On the downside, there’s a  motorbike/car chase that seems a tad perfunctory this time around, but that’s a minor quibble. Overall, this is a superior slice of entertainment, which should keep you riveted till the final credits. And of course it still features Lalo Schifrin’s sinewy, unforgettable theme tune, which is a thriller all by itself.

What else can I say? Mission accomplished.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney