war film

REVIEW: Midway (2019)

The story of the soldiers and aviators who helped turn the tide of the Second World War during the iconic Battle of Midway in June 1942.

The first 20 minutes or so of Midway are honestly thrilling as the film opens with the attack on Pearl Harbour. Unfortunately, that sense of urgency and pace doesn’t continue for the rest of this almost two and a half hour-long film.

There are a lot of military characters and names to keep track of. The main pilot is cocky Dick Best (Ed Skrein) whose cavalier attitude towards death puts his superiors including Rear Admiral Wade McClusky (Luke Evans) on edge, but naturally when things are at their breaking point he’s just the kind of guy they need.

It’s a pleasant surprise that the film spends time with the Japanese characters, the admirals and soldiers who planned and carried out the attacks on Pearl Harbour and Midway, and tries to elevate them from just being the Bad Guys. Rear Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi (Tadanobu Asano) is the main character we follow on that side of the battlefield as he tries to bring glory to Japan without taking undue risks. In fact, the Japanese are almost three-dimensional characters, especially compared to their American counterparts that are largely comprised of clichés and strong accents.

The most interesting character is reserved intelligence officer Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson) who had warned the Japanese were planning something big before the attack on Pearl Harbour, but his superiors failed listened to him. Now with Admiral Nimitz (Woody Harrelson) taking command, he is charged with predicting the Japanese’s next move. Their working relationship, as Nimitz slowly puts his faith into Layton and his team of codebreakers, some of whom are a little eccentric, is perhaps the most compelling element in this sprawling account of military underdogs.

The last third is full of aerial battles that are a sight to behold – seeing the pilots dive headfirst towards aircraft carriers in order to drop a bomb on target are nail-biting moments – but the spectacle becomes overwhelming and the various characters, the majority of which you know little about to care about them, are hard to follow in the carnage.

Midway does it’s best to offer a respectful account of events that took place and the men, both Japanese and America, who took part and risked their lives. The action is big and bold but that doesn’t allow any room for nuance. 2/5.

REVIEW: Battle Los Angeles (2011)

As a squad of U.S. Marines attempt to rescue a group of civilians during an extra-terrestrial invasion of Los Angeles, they become the last line of defence for the city.

There are a lot of characters in Battle Los Angeles and they spend most of their time in full tactical gear including a helmet, so it is often difficult to tell them apart. Plus, as there’s so many characters who have only the bare minimum of character traits to make them stand out, it’s hard to keep track of who has just been killed and who is still alive.

The squad is led by 2nd Lt. William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) but the real main character is Aaron Eckhart’s Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz. He’s the one that has more than a superficial backstory and has some dramatic moments too – he gets a rather good speech where everyone else looks at him with respect.

Michelle Rodriguez’s Tech Sergeant Elena Santos is one of the more memorable characters, that that could be because she’s one of two women in the main cast of characters. The actors all do as well as they can do with what they’re given. The characters are all pretty one-dimensional, the dialogue is full of military clichés and there’s expository dialogue every ten minutes or so.

While Battle Los Angeles is an alien invasion film it plays out more like a war film with the aliens attacking the squad from a distance, and each side taking cover, so you never really get a good look at them. When the aliens do become clearer, the creature design is not that imaginative or interesting.

There are some exciting shootouts in Battle Los Angeles but they’re unfortunately few and far between, and the slower, more serious moments seriously bog down the film. It’s also far too long and had at least three moments where you felt like it was coming to a conclusion but then things kept happening. 2/5.

REVIEW: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

It’s 1941 and the world is at war. After being rejected multiple times for the US Army due to his size, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is chosen for a top-secret experiment where he is turned into a Super Soldier. With the allied forces by his side Steve leads the fight against Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) and the Nazi-backed organisation, HYDRA.

Having Captain America: The First Avenger set in the 1940’s leads to an almost old-fashioned vibe which is a nice change of pace for the superhero genre. Captain America as a character is all about “truth, justice and the American Way”, something in today’s time could be seen as both jingoistic and corny, but the filmmakers do a great job of having Steve Rogers being an inherently good person, while not hiding from Captain America’s potential cheesiness. The montage of Steve attempting to be a showman selling bonds to the song Star Spangled Man With A Plan perfectly shows this.

Much like how Robert Downey Jr. is born to play Tony Stark, it’s clear that Chris Evans is perfect as Steve Rogers. He is charming and sincere, and is every bit a leader while still feeling like the everyman who doesn’t like bullies.

Not only is Captain America: The First Avenger a good war film, the action is slick, and it blends the tragedy of war with heroics incredibly well, it’s also got a romance you fully invest in. Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) is a caring yet capable woman who fights side by side with the Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) and the US army. The chemistry between Atwell and Evans is tangible every time they’re on screen together. Another important relationship in Steve Rogers life is that he has with best friend James Buchanan ‘Bucky’ Barnes (Sebastian Stan), it’s a friendship that wil transcend the times and is a significant part of Steve’s character and motivation.

A key part of Captain America: The First Avenger is the characters. They all feel like real people, who talk and argue and care about one another. Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), father of Tony Stark, makes and appearance and it’s clear where Tony gets a lot of his brains and showmanship from. Howard’s a fun character though it’s interesting to see a younger version of the man we’ve heard about in Iron Man 2, a man that was incredibly distant and didn’t care for his son.

One group of characters who do feel a bit short-changed are the Howling Commandos. ‘Dum Dum’ Dugan (Neal McDonough), Jim Morita (Kenneth Choi), Gabe Jones (Derek Luke), Falsworth (JJ Feild) and Dernier (Bruno Ricci) all deserve more than their given. The Howling Commandos along with Bucky Barnes and Captain America are a tight group of friends but you only get the barest hints of that in the film, with their missions being reduced to a montage.

Captain America: The First Avenger is full of charm, great characters and performances. It’s a solid, old-fashioned blockbuster that successfully combines action with heart. 4/5.

REVIEW: Journey’s End (2017)

Set in the trenches in Aisne in March 1918, the story focusses on C Company and it’s officers, led by the young Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin), as they wait for the German offensive they’ve been warned is imminent.

Journey’s End is a claustrophobic and tense film. The way it’s shot makes you feel like you’re in the trenches beside these young men. This is achieved by a lot of close ups and the fact you as the viewer only see as much as the characters do. Like them, you get no warning when there’s sniper fire or a barrage of bombs, you have the same information as the characters do and this increasingly racks up the tension.

The majority of the film is set in the trenches and in the officer’s dug out. The dynamics between the five officers, Stanhope, Osborne (Paul Bettany), Trotter (Stephen Graham), Hibbert (Tom Sturridge) and Raleigh (Asa Butterfield), switch between camaraderie to violence and anger as the pressures of their situations rest heavily on their shoulders. All actors give brilliant performances but Claflin was the standout. I’ve never thought he was a bad actor, but he never made much of an impact on me before, in Journey’s End he’s magnificent. The fear, anger and frustration was clear to see as he struggled to look out for his men when it seems like there’s no hope at all. He turns to drink to get him through but that in no way stops him being a good Captain, even as it’s clear to see his mental state is deteriorating.

While Journey’s End is a bleak film, there’s still moments of humour, most of them coming from the officer’s interactions with the cook Mason (Toby Jones). It’s often gallows humour but they are trying to make the most of their terrible situation. These moments of humour help flesh out all the characters as you get to see their personalities when they’re not just focused on what’s a few hundred metres across no man’s land.

Journey’s End is a powerful and gripping film. Everything comes together, the costume and set design, the simple yet haunting music, and the great performances, to make this a great war film. 4/5.

REVIEW: Dunkirk (2017)

When 400,000 Allied soldiers are trapped on the beach of Dunkirk by the German army, civilian boats are commandeered to evacuate them.

Dunkirk is an incredibly tense and stressful film. From the first gunshot, the film pulls you in and doesn’t let you go. The sounds are so loud it feels like you’re right there on the beach and the RAF and Luftwaffe planes really sound like they are flying over and around your head. Dunkirk is an incredibly loud film, and it can be disorientating but that helps put you in the shoes of the stranded soldiers.

There’s three groups of characters you follow; RAF pilots Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden), civilian Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance), his son (Tom Glynn-Carney) and their friend George (Barry Keoghan) who are making their way to Dunkirk to help rescue the troops, and a trio of soldiers who are desperate to get off the beach. It’s a bit confusing at times as these events aren’t always running simultaneously but it’s not too hard to follow and each groups story is compelling.

A lot of the characters aren’t named, or are maybe are called by their name just once so it’s easy to miss, so while they aren’t really fully-fleshed characters that didn’t really matter. The situation they’re in is so dire that you are willing and hoping they survive, and it doesn’t matter what or who they’re trying to get home to, they just need to be off that beach. This is especially true to the trio of soldiers played by Fionn Whitehead, Aneurin Barnard and Harry Styles. You know next to nothing about them but the actor’s performances of desperate and scared young men is all you need to root for them to survive.

Another thing that’s quite interesting and clever is that you never see a German soldier. There’s the Luftwaffe that have dogfights with the RAF over the sea, and the Allied forces do get shot at but you never actually see a German solider. This helps to not vilify the Germans and also adds to the suspense as you are never sure where the enemy is hiding or how close they really are.

The score by Hans Zimmer is definitely worth mentioning. I don’t always talk about the score or music in films in my reviews, often because I don’t really notice it, but in Dunkirk the score helps crank the tension up a notch. The ticking clock sounds reinforce the fact that time is running out for all these men and adds to the stress you feel.

Dunkirk is a brilliant film. It’s well-shot, all the actors give great performances and it is an incredibly tense film about people desperate to survive. It is one of those films that’s worth seeing at the cinema, if not for the action (which is spectacular) but for the sound that immerses you into the film. 5/5.

REVIEW: War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

After the human military comes to kill Caesar (Andy Serkis), he must wrestle with the fact that the ever-looming war between apes and humans is finally here.

If you are expecting an out-and-out war film here, you’ll be disappointed. Yes, there are soldiers and there’s conflict between the apes and humans but the film is more than that. It’s an intelligent, thoughtful look at humanity and at a group of creatures who just want to be left alone. The conversations between Caesar and The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) are really interesting because they are two smart, capable leaders who have their own kind to protect.

It kind of goes without saying but the motion capture and computer work in War for the Planet of the Apes is phenomenal. The actors performing as the apes do incredible work as do the digital artists – you really feel and understand the emotions that play out on these creatures faces. It’s easy to forget that they aren’t really “there”.

War for the Planet of the Apes is an incredible film. It builds on the previous two films and adds more depth to the characters we already know and interesting dynamics with new ones. Caesar feels so much older and battle-worn compared to when we last saw him but then there’s a new character like Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) who’s weird quirks brings some much needed humour to the film. Because War for the Planet of the Apes is often a bleak and tough film. The characters, and the audience, go through so much that those moments of humour are needed to break the tension.

The relationship between Caesar, fellow chimp Rocket (Terry Notary) and orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval) is delved into even more in this film. It’s fascinating to see not just Caesar’s growth across the trilogy but theirs, along with the community they’ve built in the woods.

War for the Planet of the Apes is a solid, poignant story of hope, conflict and loss. There’s a sense of tension and foreboding throughout the film and it puts your emotions through the wringer. It is an amazing end to a trilogy that just got better and better with each instalment. This trilogy is up there with the best of them. 5/5.

REVIEW: Kelly’s Heroes (1970)

kellys-heroes-ElenaSquareEyesWhen Kelly (Clint Eastwood) discovers a secret stash of Nazi gold bars, he leads a group of U.S. soldiers secretly across enemy lines to get their hands on the treasure.

Kelly’s Heroes is so much fun! All the characters are the archetypes you see in war films but that makes it no less enjoyable. Kelly is the rogue who discovers the treasure, puts the plan together and slowly recruits all the men he’d need to pull it off. Big Joe (Telly Savalas) is the Master Sergeant and the platoon’s leader who really didn’t particularly want to be dragged into Kelly’s caper. Crapgame (Don Rickles) is the greedy supply sergeant who is always looking to make money somewhere. Oddball (Donald Sutherland) is, like his name suggests, rather odd and the leader of three Sherman tanks. He’s one of those characters where you don’t quite know if he’s mad or is just playing at it (much like Murdock in The A-Team). Naturally the higher-ups are often bumbling idiots and it’s the guys who are on the front line who are the brave heroes.  (more…)