The Meg (2018)

Released: August 10, 2018. Directed by: Jon Turteltaub. Starring: Jason Statham, Bingbing Li, Rainn Wilson. Runtime: 1h 53 min.

The Meg is one of those movies that is just fun to review, almost like a stamina test for how long you can go without using a shark pun.

Jason Statham plays Jonas, a deep-sea rescue team member who goes back in the water to save a submersible stranded at the very bottom of the Marianas Trench.

The Mana One has made a discovery of an unknown ecosystem underneath the assumed bottom of the trench, which is a cold cloud that separates an ecosystem from the rest of the ocean. The characters stranded in the submersible are attacked by a 75-foot shark… *Jason Statham voice* The Megalodon!

There’s a lot of action right from that rescue in the visually cool underwater area, and it gets wilder after the Meg escapes. The degrees of the cloud shouldn’t let it escape, but the Meg, uh, finds a way.

I like that the filmmakers go back to the prehistoric age to find a foe that can challenge Jason Statham. It’s like they know no bad guy or modern shark can match him. “Meg versus man isn’t a fight, it’s a slaughter,” Statham says about the Megalodon.

Secretly, the Megalodon thinks the same thing about facing Statham. He’s just watched all The Transporter films and he’s ready. He even started to watch The Transporter Refueled but turned it off after 20 minutes when he realized it was a reboot. The Meg knows his tricks and won’t be charmed by his British accent.

Statham’s good in a movie that’s purely summer fun. I liked his character arc of everyone assuming he’s the one who leaves people behind, and he has a good chemistry with oceanographer Suyin (Bingbing Li). Her daughter Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cai) is adorable and gets a few chuckles.

The Meg review pic

Jason Statham in The Meg. (IMDb)

The giant shark looks good and its colour is based off a great white, just one that’s been bulking up at the gym. Visually, the film’s decent, and we can see most of the action underwater. It feels long at nearly two hours and most of the action is stuff you’ve seen before but with a giant shark.

It’s not paced amazingly, but it has a charm about it and the characters learn quickly that a bigger boat isn’t going to help them because they’ll need a cruise ship. Their better weapon is their knowledge of Shark Week.

The deep-sea rescue missions are tense, and the action scenes pack a memorable bite. (I got 437 words in before a shark pun!) This just knows it’s a shark movie on steroids and embraces it, and it works. Some of the writing’s clever, too, as characters monologue with their backs turned to the ocean and you just totally expect them to get mauled like that certain someone in Deep Blue Sea.

Besides the action, it has some good character moments and a good cast of characters. Rainn Wilson (The Office) joins the party as billionaire Jack Morris who funds the Mana One. It’s nice that Dwight Schrute’s beet farm and bed and breakfast really took off. I’m sure he made all his money and then realized “marine biology beats beets” and switched fields. Jokes aside, he’s good as the dick-ish Morris.

Everyone in the cast has something to do for the most part. Though, when they’re gone, there’s so many characters that it doesn’t really matter. They’re all pretty good, from Ruby Rose playing Jaxx (her characters are so edgy I’m surprised they haven’t all been named Jaxx), to Ólafur Darri Ólafsson as The Wall.

You know you can’t take a movie completely seriously when there’s a character called The Wall. Come to think of it, it’s a missed opportunity that this isn’t The Wall vs. The Meg, because that sounds like the main event.

Score: 70/100

Advertisements

Mission: Impossible III (2006)

Released: May 5, 2006. Directed by: J.J. Abrams. Starring: Tom Cruise, Michelle Monaghan, Ving Rhames. Runtime: 2h 5 min.

I don’t remember a lot of films I saw in theatres when I was a kid but I remember seeing Mission: Impossible III. It might be because this is the first film I remember seeing that started at the mid-way point in the story, when Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman) threatens to kill Ethan Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) fiancé Julia (Michelle Monaghan).

The stakes are immediately the highest they’ve felt in the series, as I never felt like they were consistently high in Mission: Impossible or Mission: Impossible II. This was also the first time I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman and the sadism of his character is memorable and threatening.

It’s also just a good film in general and not only because of my nostalgia for it. J.J. Abrams directs the action well and the stunts are great, especially when Ethan leaps off a skyscraper in Shanghai onto another one. Anyway, Davian is the most memorable villain of the series upp to this point. Davian’s a sadistic arms dealer after something called the Rabbit’s Foot.

We don’t really know what it is and that vagueness isn’t great. Though, Davian’s willing to pay $875 million for it, so it’s a pretty big deal. Davian’s just interested in power and tormenting Ethan. In the first film, IMF director Kittredge says to find something that’s personally important to Ethan “and squeeze.” A villain finally takes that advice, as evidenced by the film’s opening scene.

The action scenes are good, and the film’s first big set piece of trying to rescue Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell), after she went to investigate Davian, sets the film’s events up perfectly. At the beginning of the film, Ethan’s settled down with Julia, played well by Michelle Monaghan, and he’s training IMF agents to be ready for the field instead of being in the field himself. But he trained Farris and that’s one of the reasons that Hunt goes back out in the field. This time, the characters are interesting enough that the very personal conflicts feel well-written.

Tom Cruise also runs a lot more in this one. He has such a great chemistry with Monaghan as Julia, as well as his IMF team including franchise mainstay Ving Rhames as Luther and Maggie Q as Zhen. Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays a team member named Declan, but he’s easily the most forgettable of all the IMF agents that have come and gone in the franchise.

Score: 80/100

Mission: Impossible II (2000)

Released: May 24, 2000. Directed by: John Woo. Starring: Tom Cruise, Dougray Scott, Thandie Newton. Runtime: 2h 3 min.

This review contains a few spoilers.

In Mission: Impossible II, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is rudely called away from his rock-climbing vacation for a new mission. His mission’s in Sydney, Australia where he must destroy a genetically modified disease called the “Chimera.”

For some of the film, skilled thief Nyah Hall (Thandie Newton) is put in the most danger. She’s an ex-girlfriend of main villain Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), a disavowed IMF agent, so she’s called upon to gain his trust. Things get complicated when Ethan also falls for Nyah.

This personal relationship makes it feel like there are more stakes than the first film. It introduces a love triangle dynamic that is interesting from Ethan’s side, but Ambrose is goofy during it. He has an inferiority complex because of the perfect agent Ethan, and he ugly cries when he learns Nyah isn’t loyal to him. I won’t shame guys who cry – I cry at everything – but it’s dumb for this movie.

The writing’s not great, but some dialogue is laughably bad enough to be memorable. Take a gem from Anthony Hopkins’ Mission Commander Swanbeck, for example: “This isn’t mission difficult, it’s mission impossible.” It’s not a bad title for a knockoff film.

Tom Cruise is good again as Ethan, and his long hair looks good as he’s kicking in slow motion. I liked some of the plot itself and the monologue, that’s repeated a few times, about Chimera being the villain and Bellerophon being the hero.

It’s an interesting Greek myth and it’s cool how it’s brought into the story. The story itself doesn’t have a ton of substance other than just trying to destroy a deadly virus, as you can summarize the first hour of the movie about a minute.

Director John Woo tries to distract from that with a lot of slow motion. The entire third act is a lot of Ethan just doing slow-motion kicks. There’s also a whole thing of Ethan shooting a stick bomb to blow in a door and then dramatically walking past the door through the flames, staring at Ambrose.

This silliness made me laugh and was fun, and I think this needed more slow-motion doves. The style of the film in the third act just makes this feel more like a John Woo movie than a Mission: Impossible film. That’s not usually a bad thing – but a lot of this explains why this is considered the weakest of the series.

Score: 50/100

Reviews of other films in the franchise:

Mission: Impossible (1996)

Mission: Impossible (1996)

Released: May 22, 1996. Directed by: Brian de Palma. Starring: Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Emmanuelle Béart. Runtime: 1h 50 min.

Based on the hit TV show from the 1960s, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) tries to clear his name when he’s suspected for disloyalty to the IMF (Impossible Missions Force) after a mission goes wrong and he’s left as the only survivor.

The script’s mediocre as Ethan must deliver the second half of a non-official cover (NOC) list, a list of covert agents in Eastern Europe, to an arms dealer named “Max” to discover the identity of the actual spy. I watched this three days ago and I barely remembered the NOC list. Out of the first three films, Brian de Palma’s direction and style are easily the least forgettable, as well.

The script does have some surprises and the cast helps keep it interesting, especially Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt. He’s charming and great here and “Mission: Impossible” serves as a solid introduction to Ethan.

For the rest of the cast, I’m sure it was surprising when the film came out in 1996 that Emilio Estevez gets killed off in the first 25 minutes. For me, watching this for the first time in 2018, I was just surprised seeing him in this. Jon Voight’s also good as Jim Phelps – the only character from the original TV series.

It’s interesting seeing who Ethan aligns with to try to clear his name, since he can’t exactly get help from the agency. Claire (Emmanuelle Béart) has a decent chemistry with Ethan, but she’s the most forgettable out of the female leads of the first three films. Luther (Ving Rhames) is great and so is Jean Reno as Krieger.

The film itself though only has a few great action scenes, especially the dangling wire scene – which is so tense and the whole sequence is so entertaining – and the train finale is also great.

Throughout the film, Ethan is trying to evade director of the IMF Eugene Kittredge (Henry Czerny). Kittredge wants Ethan to come to them, saying “You find something that’s personally important to him and you squeeze.” The thing is, he doesn’t execute on this line because it doesn’t feel like Ethan has anything to lose. The stakes for this film simply don’t feel high enough, making the non-action scenes dull.

Score: 65/100

Skyscraper (2018)

Released: July 13, 2018. Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber. Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han. Runtime: 1h 42 min.

Comedy director Rawson Marshall Thurber teams up for a second time with Dwayne Johnson after 2016’s “Central Intelligence. This time, it’s for his first action film “Skyscraper.”

Will Sawyer (Johnson) is now a security expert on assignment in Hong Kong assessing the safety of the world’s tallest building, the Pearl, at 225 stories tall, built by ambitious architect Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han). Sawyer’s brought in to make sure that the residential floors are as safe as can be.

He’s given a tablet that can control the building remotely, and when the building is set ablaze by a gang of mercenaries (led by Roland Møller), Will’s framed for it. He wants to clear his name – but first needs to get into the building because his wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and children Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and Henry (Noah Cottrell) are still in the building right near the fire.

Dwayne Johnson plays Will Sawyer well. He’s a strong family man and Johnson brings his usual charisma. The film opens with his character as an FBI Hostage Rescue Team leader on his last mission as an explosion leads him to losing his leg. This is about 10 years before Hong Kong and he sports a prosthetic leg for the rest of the film.

He discusses it with one of his old FBI buddies, Ben (Pablo Schreiber), in the film, but talks about the mistake of not knowing the man had a bomb, but the bad luck led him to meeting his wife. Neve Campbell plays the wife well, but their chemistry’s nothing special. Will’s family is his drive.

Skyscraper revieww

Neve Campbell and Dwayne Johnson in “Skyscraper.” (IMDb)

All that aside, a main criticism for the film is that it’s a lot like Die Hard.” It’s fair and inevitable, especially because of the villains and general concept, but I saw more similarities to “The Towering Inferno.” It has similar scenes where characters must get across things to escape the blaze, and it’s like an extreme version of that film for modern audiences. I won’t spoil anything about the villains, but I’ve really liked Roland Møller in everything I’ve seen him in.

The film’s predictable but I liked the ride. I also liked the setting of the film, The Pearl, which makes Nakatomi Plaza look like a normal house in comparison. Attractions like a three-story rainforest and spinning turbine things on the outside of the building are featured on the Pearl. The wonder of the turbine attraction made me think of “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.” The Pearl’s architect Long Ji is Wonka and his skyscraper is his chocolate factory.

There’s a pearl on top of the skyscraper that looks down on Hong Kong like you’re just in the sky, or like you’re looking down from Heaven, as Long Ji puts it. Most of the Pearl’s unique attractions feature into the film’s biggest set pieces. A few of these made my palms sweat which I thought made the “Skyscraper” have enough edge-of-your-seat thrills for one watch, despite it being predictable.

Score: 63/100

The First Purge (2018)

Released: July 4, 2018. Directed by: Gerard McMurray. Starring: Y’lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Joivan Wade. Runtime: 1h 38 min.

I remember when I first heard about The Purge. I was excited because of its concept – but it ended up being disappointing. I thought its sequels (2014’s The Purge: Anarchy, 2016’s The Purge: Election Year) were stronger and added to the universe.

Now, we get a boring prequel with The First Purge, that shows the events of the very first Purge. The 12 hours of everything being legal implemented by the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) and it’s the 12 hours of all crime being legalized is pitched as a psychological device to let Americans unleash their anger. It’s supposed to save the country, thought up by Marisa Tomei’s Dr. Updale (Tomei’s the film’s only household name and she’s fine, but isn’t heavily involved in the action).

The first experiment takes place on Staten Island and the government offers $5,000 to simply stay on the island on Purge Night. It’s a payday many just can’t pass up. Other incentive offered is a bigger payday for all the crimes you commit. Want to kill a lot of people? Then, wear special contact lenses that videotape your night and you’ll have a nice payday if you survive.

A lot of this film doesn’t work because we know the Purge’s purpose – combatting overpopulation and thinning out the herd, especially those on welfare so the government doesn’t have to take care of them. It’s uninteresting when they repeat the politics, and since they have to establish the new characters, it takes 25-30 minutes to get to any action.

The main characters are Nya (Lex Scott Davis) and her brother Isaiah (Joivan Wade), who live in a low-income apartment building on Staten Island. They have a good chemistry but they’re not memorable.

Her ex-boyfriend Dimitri (Y’Lan Noel, TV’s Insecure) is a drug kingpin who’s trying to protect his business from competing drugl ords who would use the Purge as an opportunity to take him out. He’s also protecting the citizens since the government wants to take out Staten Island’s black population. Dimitri’s a highlight who can be threatening but also sweet when it comes to Nya.

The First Purge in the review

Lex Scott Davis and Joivan Wade in The First Purge. (IMDb)

He’s heroic and has a likable charisma for a drug kingpin, and has a good presence in the action scenes. Noel has the most presence of the main cast in general. He is a reason the film feels more like an action movie than a horror film this go around, as some it’s more akin to The Raid: Redemption than a Purge movie.

It still maintains its jump scares, but these are stupid. The franchise has evolved a lot from its original conception of home invasion horror and commentary on human nature to this boring affair. It’s also bogged down by its commentary on American extremism – featuring characters dressed as KKK members and Nazis.

The franchise has never been subtle but its subtext feels really in your face this time, especially one of its main references to Donald Trump – a Purger that hangs out in the sewers that traps Nya and grabs her by the pussy. If the action isn’t a clear enough reference, she then runs away calling him a “pussy grabbing motherf–.”

Also problematic are the film’s villains. The masks are toned down this time, but because of the Purgers’ lack of creativity. The Staten Island purgers are boring – but perhaps this is because in The Purge the participants had eight years to perfect their killing style.

The more creative Purgers are silly, from a pair of old women, accompanied by the Dazz Band’s “Let It Whip” whenever they’re on screen, who rig stuffed animals with explosives, to the film’s main antagonist Skeletor (Rotimi Paul). He’s a junkie and a psychopath who seems to be the only one who really wants to purge.

He’s over the top in every sense of the word, spitting all over the place as he talks. He’s totally crazy and Paul goes completely into the role. The character’s dumb– just because of his over-the-top nature – but he’s also the most memorable villain since Rhys Wakefield’s Polite Leader of the original film. Skeletor just might be the only thing I remember about this bad prequel.

Score: 40/100

Tag (2018)

Released: June 15, 2018. Directed by: Jeff Tomsic. Starring: Ed Helms, Jeremy Renner, Jake Johnson. Runtime: 1h 40 min.

The concept of Tag could sound like the silliest thing ever. It’s literally grown men playing tag because they’ve been playing the game for 30 years and they get together every May to play. The concept only works because it’s true. The film’s based on a Wall Street Journal article called “It Takes Planning, Caution to Avoid Being It” by Russell Adams.

The article’s about a group of 10 friends who started playing the game in Spokane, Washington, in high school, but resumed the game again in 1990 at their high school reunion. A main difference of the stars of the article are their ages – average Joe’s in their late 40s – and these characters are thirty-somethings who started the game on the playground.

It seems that the film has only taken the concept of the game as our main characters are a core group of five instead of the real-life 10, but this is effective for purposes of simplicity. We first meet Hogan ‘Hoagie’ Malloy (Ed Helms) dressing as a janitor in an attempt to tag his friend Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm).

He wants to round up the gang, which also includes Randy ‘Chilli’ Cilliano (Jake Johnson) and Sable (Hannibal Burress), to go to the wedding of their best friend Jerry (Jeremy Renner) to tag the untagged before he retires from the game.

We get the exposition that they have been playing the game for 30 years when Wall Street Journal journalist Rebecca Crosby (Annabelle Wallis), the gender-swapped stand-in for the actual article’s author Russell Adams, interviews Bob for an article but follows this story instead.

The characters have a nice bond because the game was conceived as a way for them to stay in touch and build their friendships around, and the film surprisingly has a ton of heart. It also shows good examples of fun competition and unhealthy competition, like Hoagie’s wife Anna (Isla Fisher) who is willing to do a lot to find out where Jerry is in town. She’s not actually able to play, but she has a lot of funny, overtly aggressive lines.

Tag featured

Jeremy Renner and Jon Hamm in Tag. (IMDb)

For me it’s more than grown men just playing a game of tag because it’s about embracing your inner child and not forgetting to have fun. This film’s fun, and the comedy is outrageous for a reason. Characters dress up as old ladies in efforts to tag others, and it’s that much funnier because it happened in real life.

The elaborate scenes of characters trying to tag each other are just generally hilarious and it must have been a lot of fun for writers Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen to figure out these set pieces of them trying to tag each other. They’re super creative.

In one scene we get inner monologues of what the characters are thinking as they’re trying to tag Jerry – and Jerry’s monologue is mostly assessing the situation like a military operative. My favourite line of inner dialogue in this scene is from the journalist as she sees a doughnut flying in slow motion: “This is why print journalism is dying.” I was probably the only one who really laughed at this at the theatre, but I thought it was a funny comment on the type of story she’s covering.

She does have a point – but it’s articles like the one Russell Adams wrote that make amusing films like this happen. At Tag’s core, it’s a story about human connection and staying in touch. It even got me a little emotional near the end. As for the comedy, the outrageousness of the characters trying to avoid being tagged is what makes this so much fun, and its over-the-top comedy really worked for me.

Score: 75/100