sci-fi

REVIEW: The Meg (2018)

A team of scientists exploring the deep depths of the ocean discover more than they bargained for when they encounter a megalodon, a giant species of shark thought to be extinct.

The Meg does take a while to find its feet. There’s a lot of characters to introduce, almost too many to keep track of or care about, which takes time but once ex-deep-sea diver Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) arrives things step up a gear. The first half of The Meg is more of a claustrophobic thriller as researchers are trapped at the bottom of the ocean with something attacking their vessel, the second half is more of the fun, action-packed people vs giant shark film you were probably expecting.

Naturally the scenes filmed on boats are a combination of filming in a giant tank with green screen, and being on the actual ocean, and the computer wizardry meshes those two together really well, so you really believe these characters are either going to swim or be eaten. The special effects are also great on the shark, it feels like a real intimidating presence and when a character gets a bit close to its jaws you get worried.

The film really thrives whenever Jason Statham is on screen. The Meg was pitched as Jason Statham vs a giant shark and it certainly delivers that, eventually that is. The action sequences whenever anyone is in the water are tense and while there are a lot of people for the Meg to chomp on, not that many people get eaten. The Meg doesn’t really go in for the blood and gore, which in certain sequences is a shame and makes the deaths somewhat samey and almost dull, but it’s a film that knows exactly what it is and relishes in it.

The Meg does try for more serious and emotional moments and they don’t always hit the mark. That’s not down to the cast, who all look like they are having a great time and do a great job even with some of the cheesy dialogue, but is more down to the pacing and the film trying to overstretch itself beyond the monster movie it is.

I will give The Meg its due for having a more internationally diverse cast than you usually see in a Hollywood film of its ilk, and it has not one but three smart female characters who are all scientist of some description. In the case of Li Bingbing’s Suyin, she is almost a co-lead with Statham and does just as much as him when it comes to saving the day.

The Meg is a lot of fun. There are jokes sprinkled throughout, a lot of which land, and the film generally knows what it is and has fun with that. There are a few typical tropes, for instance the greedy billionaire, but it makes them work. 4/5.

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REVIEW: Tau (2018)

When Julia (Maika Monroe) wakes up in a house controlled by an Artificial Intelligence system called Tau (Gary Oldman), she must figure out what its creator (Ed Skrein) wants with her and find a way to escape.

Having 99% of the film set in one location, scientist Alex’s home, gives it a claustrophobic feel as Julia begins to converse with Tau and the two of them form an unlikely connection as they learn from one another. The lighting has an influence on each scene as when Alex is home, everything is in shades of blue but when he leaves, and Julia and Tau are alone, the lighting is in shades of red. It contrasts the differences between Alex and Julia, Alex is logical and strives for control, while Julia is quick-thinking and strives for freedom.

Both Monroe and Skrein are great in their roles and when the two of them are caught in almost a battle of wits, the tension is at its peak. Julia is a memorable “final girl” who combines grim determination with hopefulness and a caring side.

Tau is a creepy horror-sci-fi hybrid that offers another take on the man verses AI dilemma we’ve seen in countless films over the years. However, Tau doesn’t really offer anything new in terms of commentary on AI’s and how as they become smarter, people may abuse them. There’s parallels made between the trauma Julia faced at the hands of her parents and the restrictions Alex puts on Tau, but it lacks any real depth. Still, with its 90-minute runtime, Tau is an engaging small-scale sci-fi flick. 3/5.

REVIEW: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

When a volcano on Isla Nublar becomes active, it threatens the lives of the only dinosaurs on Earth. Former park manager Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and raptor behaviourist Owen (Chris Pratt) mount a campaign to rescue the dinosaurs but those funding the expedition have other plans for the creatures.

Fallen Kingdom is a film of two parts. The first is a disaster film and a race against time. The second part is a horror film. The switch between these two elements isn’t exactly smooth and the middle section does drag a bit but when these two elements take their turn being at the forefront, Fallen Kingdom is a tense and exciting film.

The sequence on the island shows off all the dinosaurs in all their glory. The special effects are overall stunning. In some of the wider shots with multiple creatures the effects aren’t quite as great but on the close ups on individual dinosaurs the level of detail is incredible.

When the story moves to the Lockwood Estate, where businessman Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) awaits the dinosaurs, the tension amps up with the introduction of a new creation from scientist Dr Henry Wu (BD Wong). This is when the film turns into a story about a creepy mansion filled with monsters.

The main problem with Fallen Kingdom is the humans. It’s hard to care about them and while I didn’t want any of the “heroes” to get eaten, it was more from the typical desire for the protagonists to succeed rather than any fond feeling I had for them as characters. Claire is a character who’s changed a lot since we saw her in Jurassic World (2015) but Owen is just the same brash guy. There’s new characters like computer tech Franklin (Justice Smith) and veterinarian Zia (Daniella Pineda) who while are pretty two-dimensional offer a new perspective of the dinosaurs. Unfortunately they both are absent for the majority of the third act leaving it to Claire and Owen to save the day again.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has some spectacular set pieces and some generally scary moments. However, the human characters and their often-stupid decisions, let the film down. 3/5.

REVIEW: Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

The story of a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) who joins a group of smugglers and thieves led by Beckett (Woody Harrelson) to take on an almost impossible heist for crime lord Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany).

Solo: A Star Wars Story is a prequel to the original Star Wars films, showing us how Han Solo became the Han Solo we know and love. Is this film needed? No. Is it a good film? I’s alright and its downfall is that it has the same problems that so many prequel films have no matter the genre. You know the characters who you’ve seen in films that are set later on survive this adventure and you know any characters you’re introduced to in this film who you haven’t seen before will either die, turn evil, ride off into the sunset or just generally not have a big role in this film. Sometimes it’s a combination of more than one of these potential outcomes. The new characters are mostly decent but aren’t particularly fleshed out or, in the case of Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), are suddenly given multiple different facets towards the end of the film that it feels a bit like whiplash.

Alden Ehrenreich does a great job as a younger version of Harrison Ford’s jaded Han Solo. This Han Solo is a guy who doesn’t really know where he fits in, he tries being good, he tries being bad and a lot of the time he’s just very lucky. Donald Glover is also very charismatic as a young Lando Calrissian and seeing how Han and Lando meet is great and the two of them bounce well of each other. Another great first meeting is Han and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) seeing the friendship grow between these two was wonderful and any of their interactions or the scenes that featured the two of them were the best. Chewbacca probably has the most well-developed and interesting character arc in this film to be honest.

The action and fight scenes are good with the heist on a train being a standout moment. However, the pacing of Solo: A Star Wars Story leaves much to be desired. The first thirty minutes or so is a bit of a slog, but it does pick up once Han meets Beckett and his crew. The first thirty minutes or so were also incredibly dark. I honestly found myself squinting at the screen a few times as it was difficult to make out characters reactions to events that were happening around them. While scenes that take place at night or on grimy planets will naturally be darker, it seemed like everything was so poorly lit that when something interesting did happen, it was hard to actually see it.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is a perfectly fine film. It’s mostly fun and the characters you’ve already met are great. There’s a few surprises in Solo: A Star Wars Story and a lot of references to the franchise as a whole (some of which are eyeroll-inducing and really aren’t needed). Overall, it’s a film that doesn’t add much to the Star Wars mythos but it’s a mostly fun adventure featuring some much-loved characters. 3/5.

REVIEW: Beyond Skyline (2017)

When LA detective Mark Corley (Frank Grillo) and his son Trent (Jonny Weston) get caught up in an alien invasion, they must fight to survive.

Beyond Skyline is a kind of sequel to 2010’s Skyline which featured different characters but the same alien invasion. You don’t need to have seen Skyline as Beyond Skyline it is its own thing (a thing that’s a lot better than the original), but it does tie to some of the events of the previous film surprisingly well.

Where Beyond Skyline really succeeds compared to its predecessor is that it has a core group of characters you actually care about. Mark and his son have a fraught relationship, but Mark will do anything to keep Trent safe – Frank Grillo is as great and as charismatic as always. There’s subway conductor Audrey (Bojana Novakovic), and freedom fighter Sua (Iko Uwais) and his sister Kanya (Pamelyn Chee), all of whom getting the lightest of backstory but due to their chemistry with each other, and the actors talents, make them characters you want to survive.

The action-sequences are top notch, especially the ones featuring Uwais and Yayan Ruhian, both of whom star in martial art, action film The Raid. The fights are interesting, well-shot and thrilling. The fact that it’s often physical beings these characters are fighting rather than CG-creations, makes it a more authentic encounter, and one that feels like it has more consequences to it.

There’s a good mix of digital and practical affects in Beyond Skyline. The CGI is generally quite good, and the practical effects are very creative. Together they bring to life these alien creatures and their ships, making them a menacing adversary to the people on earth.

Beyond Skyline is fun, exciting and pure bonkers sci-fi. Yes, the actual plot might not hold up under close scrutiny, but it’s a fast-paced adventure that’s thrilling and has a surprising number of emotional beats. 5/5.

REVIEW: Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 (2017)

You can read my original review of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 from May 2017 here.

The Guardians are using their fame to make money, when Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) father Ego (Kurt Russell) arrives in their lives. The Guardians struggle to keep their newfound family together as they attempt to unravel the mystery of Peter’s father.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a bright, fast-paced adventure. The planets, characters and costumes are all vibrant and unique to where they are in the galaxy. This film really does show the scope of the universe these characters are travelling around in as you get a sense of distance between planets, and what it means to jump from one to another.

While there’s still a lot of jokes in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, though not all of them hit the mark, the actual story and insights into these characters is quite sad. This team of unlikely heroes are slowly becoming attached to one another, and so many of them are unsure of how to deal with that. Rocket (Bradley Cooper) pushes people away, constantly having to compete with Peter and antagonising everyone in order to get a reaction. While you knew that Drax’s (Dave Bautista) family had been killed from the first film, through Mantis (Pom Klementieff) you get to see past his stoic appearance and see the pain and sadness he’s constantly carrying around inside him.

There’s so many moments between various characters where as they’re shouting at one another, they reveal how they’re really feeling, and how they in fact care about or understand the other person. These moments give Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 layers as beneath all the colours, jokes and space battles, there’s these broken characters who are slowly becoming a family.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a lot of fun with great action sequences, but perhaps because the first film was such an unexpected delight the sequel doesn’t quite hit the same levels of greatness. 3/5.

REVIEW: Pandorum (2009)

When Bower (Ben Foster) and Payton (Dennis Quaid), two crewmembers onboard a vast spaceship, wake up with limited memories of their mission and their own identities, they must try to piece together what happened to the rest of the crew and fix their ship that’s slowly dying.

Pandorum is a horror movie in space while having a mystery to it as well as you come to realise that much like the characters on this ship, you as the viewer can’t necessarily trust what people are saying.

Bower definitely gets the short end of the stick as he’s the one, exploring the ship, facing unexpected dangers while Payton is safe in the control centre, guiding him through the enormous ship. Also, it’s slightly unbelievable how Bower survives considering the amount of times he falls from great heights and gets thrown into walls.

The spaceship is like its own character, it’s dark and dank and with the flickering lights and ominous sounds it is not a place you’d want to be exploring on your own. Bower soon discovers he’s not alone as there’s creatures aboard the ship, creatures who are super-fast and eat people. The fact that these creatures look to be made from practical effects elevates the creepy factor.

Pandorum is a bit too long and some of the exposition is a bit clunky, but it’s still a tense and thrilling film. The horror and sci-fi elements are blended together near-perfectly and Ben Foster’s Bower is an underdog you root for. 4/5.