Annihilation is a rare film, and Alex Garland is a rare writer/director (not forgetting the source material’s author in Annihilation’s case; Jeff VanderMeer). He is the only person I can think of that has captured the sci-fi trends that Hollywood has missed in the last 20 years.
It’s happened. Hollywood have finally got their hands all over the manga holy grail; Mamoru Oshii’s classic, Ghost In The Shell. It’s actually not that bad…
Ghost In The Shell has always been a loyally protected and somewhat feared property. The original 1995 manga film still resonates with technological themes 22 years later, and it’s almost perfect in the sense that no one knows what else they can creatively add to it. Without this we wouldn’t have had films like The Matrix. However, there’s always a balsy producer in Hollywood whose blind determination cuts through the fandom and spins the wheel of chance.
Rupert Sanders’ direction is flawless on the visual elements of the movie. It really has superb cinematography with inspirations from the original movie, Blade Runner (of course) and interestingly (mentioned by Mark Kermode in his review), The Fifth Element. Ghost In The Shell has a great balance between CGI and practical special effects, and it’s so much more engrossing for the audience when approached in this manner. The pacing and score of the fantastic opening jump scene sets a technologically sinister tone and raises some existential questions of the “cosmetic” cybernetic enhancements freely available in this world. “What effect does it have on the soul?” Unfortunately, we never really examine these themes in any real depth, and this is where I think the 12A (PG13) rating has hindered the real success of the movie. Not the “whitewashing” controversy of casting Scarlett Johansson in the lead role (there wasn’t any other choice in my humble opinion – great choice), as Paramount executives have said on the record. If the movie took a little more inspiration from the morality and satire of Paul Verhoven’s Robocop, then it would have added that much needed layer that the majority of viewers were expecting (i.e. people who know the original).
As mentioned, I think Scarlett Johansson (no stranger to action roles) was perfectly cast as Major. As was Pilou Asbaek as Batou. “Beat” Takeshi Kitano dominated every scene he was in, but I felt he was underused in some way. I’m a big fan of Michael Pitt too after first seeing him in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, but I feel like the gravitas of his character could have been pushed further if it had the 15 (R) rating.
Overall, Ghost In The Shell was an enjoyable movie that scratched the right surfaces, but was too focused on the visual elements to develop the necessary themes further. I think it’s something that will grow on people when viewed in a few years time, but won’t dethrone the manga original for Western audiences.
2015 and 2016 were years of blockbusters not delivering on the promises showcased in their trailers, or they desperately revealed their trump card just to get people on cinema seats (we’re looking at you, Terminator Genisys). The first half of 2017 looks promising. Let’s hope that the studio executives don’t have final cut on the trailers this year!
T2: Trainspotting (January)
Live By Night (January)
Hacksaw Ridge (January)
John Wick: Chapter 2 (February)
Ghost In The Shell (March)
Alien: Covenant (May)
Wonder Woman (June)
Spider-Man: Homecoming (July)
The Dark Tower (July)
Baby Driver (August)
American Made (August)
Kingsman: The Golden Circle (September)
Blade Runner 2049 (October)
Logan Lucky (tbc)
Amongst Rogue One’s gritty and war-torn tone and visuals, it kept an ecstatic grin across my face for the entire 134 minute run time. There were moments of shock, humour and suspense throughout. Even knowing the story’s outcome before buying my tickets, the was enough going on around this to keep the audience entertained and begging for more. Rogue One may have just become my favourite Star Wars film….
Rogue One plays out like a war film. There’s an evil Empire, a Rebel alliance, battle plans that need to be stolen and a group of soldiers with questionable allegiances thrown together. Gareth Edwards’ and Greig Fraser give the film a gritty look with a worn-out feel to its world; you instantly get a real sense of the decay under the Empire’s rule (needless to say, I thought the LED lighting used in the cinematography was superb!). The world is a far cry from the clean and democratic days of the Republic in Episodes I-III. Everything in Rogue One is consistent with the world of Episode IV: A New Hope, right down to the moustaches and blue milk. The practical effects seem much more convincing in Edwards’ film that J.J. Abrams’ 2015 instalment (Episode VII: The Force Awakens), and that’s probably because Rogue One didn’t need to look bright and sparkly; the masking from the grit and rough edges work in Edwards’ favour.
For me, Rogue One was never predictable (even though the outcome is predetermined, as a prequel film). This was evident right from the start when we were visually tricked in to expecting a Star Destroyer to fly by, only to be a shadow of something else. Last year’s The Force Awakens hit the same notes as A New Hope too much for me. It’s great to attract a new generation of Star Wars fans, but it was disappointing given the excitement around Michael Arndt jumping aboard to write the script. It had heart, of course, but it could’ve broken the mould and taken a lot more risks like Rogue One has. If The Force Awakens was A New Hope; Rogue One is definitely The Empire Strikes Back, timeline aside.
The cast is great and the fresh characters really get you invested in their success. The force is still very much present but it takes a back seat and only really reference by Donnie Yen’s awesome blind IP-Jedi. I don’t think I’ve cared so much for a robot character like K-2SO either. Felicty Jones and Mads Mikkelsen’s storyline is powerful and engrossing too. I was even questioning the allegiance of Mikkelsen’s character throughout the film. Maybe that was one of the great elements in the script; you just don’t quiet know who to trust. It was such a great cast, but one of standout member’s is Ben Mendelsohn’s Director Krennic; literally oozing evil vibes in amonst his endless greed for power. He adds to the sheer menacing power and scale of the Death Star, again something that The Forec Awakens didn’t achieve (the Starkiller Base is borderline forgettable).
There’s a lot of talk surrounding the missing clips from the trailers and re-shoots that took place. [SPOILERS!] There was definitely an alternative ending originally planned, as Jyn Erso didn’t end up running across the beach with the Death Star plans or confront a Tie Fighter on the antenna. I’ve read that originally it might have been more of a heist movie and the final confrontation happening on the beach with Director Krennic. I’ve also read that Disney’s insistence on the re-shoots actually allowed Gareth Edwards to darken the tone even more by killing the characters off at the end, so that it’s consistent with the timeline. Regardless, I was amazed with this cut of the film and loved the small Easter Eggs for long-term fans that weren’t distracting. Vader’s flotation tank, his castle on Mustafar, bumping in to the cantina guys and even the blue milk (I think seeing that at the beginning was the hook that got me). The list is long. Resurrecting Peter Cushing via CGI has polarised people, but it really amazed me. After the film I had to Google a picture from 1977 to show people. There were times when I really couldn’t tell the difference. [END OF SPOILERS]
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a fantastic entry in to the saga, and the quality of filmmaking is up there with The Empire Strikes Back. It allows Disney to break the mould from the main series and really provide something different and adventurous.
Relieved, to say the least! Without giving away too much, yes, the Vangelis soundtrack and neon-noir lights are back.