Sunday 18 June 2017

Films: Arrival, X-Men Apocalypse, Robocop and Fantastic Beasts

Arrival (2016)

This is one I'd been looking forward to seeing, in view of the impressive reviews.  

Twelve lenticular ovoid alien spaceships appear suddenly in various places on Earth, hovering silently a few metres above the ground. Every eighteen hours, a door in the base opens, leading via a tunnel to a large space divided by a transparent wall. On the other side of this wall, wreathed in mist or smoke, aliens appear, emitting strange, untranslatable noises.

Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a noted linguist, is recruited to try to communicate with the aliens. After various attempts, she is able to build up a vocabulary of the circle-based symbols used by the aliens, which enables a rudimentary form of communication to be established. One of the messages appears to be a threat, bringing the various nations onto a war footing, ready to attack the ships. Only Louise has the power to stop the slide into war – but can she achieve it in time?

The plot is actually a lot more complex than this brief summary suggests, with Louise's personal history an integral part of it, but I can't say more about it without spoilers. I'll just say that this is a very good film, Adams doing an excellent job of conveying the initial terror at the situation and the difficulties she faces. The aliens are, well, suitably alien (definitely not humans squeezed into funny costumes!) and the soundtrack helps to generate a powerful atmosphere. Well worth watching.


X-Men Apocalypse (2016)

Effectively a sequel to X-Men First Class (X-Men: Days of Future Past which emerged in between being somewhat out on its own), this one picks up a couple of decades after the original reboot finished. We are now in the 1980s, and the story this time focuses on the revival of the first mutant who had dominated ancient Egypt, En Sabah Nur. He had lived many lifetimes through having his mind magically transferred to another body when he aged. He always selected mutant hosts for these transfers, and acquired a wide range of powers in consequence. Even so, he was betrayed and trapped within the ruins of a collapsed tomb, only to be woken millennia later by members of a cult which worshipped him.

En Sabah Nur sets about re-establishing his rule, dividing the mutants between those who follow him and those who fight against him. Cue some spectacular battles interspersed with focusing on the developing characters of the mutants. An entertaining film, good but lacking the originality and inventive verve of First Class.


Robocop (2014)

I have only a vague recollection of the 1987 film of the same name, so approached this remake with an open mind. I was quite impressed: this is not the usual kind of all-action blockbuster – in fact the action didn't really get going until well into the  film. Instead, there is much initial focus on Alex Murphy, the crippled cop given the chance of survival as a human/cyborg hybrid, and the impact this has on himself and his family. In parallel with that there is a lot concerning the politics around the use of drones in combat and policing (a very topical addition), interleaved with satirical scenes featuring a highly biased news presenter for a decidedly right-wing channel (I wonder what they were thinking of?). Solid entertainment, worth a couple of hours to see.


Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

A Harry Potter spin-off, set in the same world (although apart from a mention of Hogwarts there is no explicit connection in the film), FBAWTFT takes place in an an early-twentieth-century New York City. The existence of magic and wizards is not publicly acknowledged so the Magical Congress of the USA operates in secret. Into this world comes a British wizard and expert on magical beasts, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) with a magic suitcase containing its own little world, filled with the beasts he has collected. These escape into the city, causing mayhem until they can be recovered with the aid of some friends Newt has made: Tina and her sister Queenie, both young wizards, and (for comic effect) Jacob, a non-magical baker. The heroes are faced with opposition to them in the Magical Congress as well as a campaigning group preaching against the rumoured existence of magic.

The CGI is great, as we have come to expect from big-budget fantasy movies, but overall the film is disappointing. It consists of little more than a series of set-piece action sequences featuring various of the beasts, attached to a flimsy plot which doesn't really go anywhere.