Hey there, movie-review-interested Post-reader! We haven't done one of those columns where I basically round up three or four movies very quickly for a bit, so why not now? For your edification today I present my thoughts on Jon Blakeson's The 5th Wave, Oliver Parker's Dad's Army, Jay Roach's Trumbo, and Tim Miller's Deadpool.
The Hunger Games films made a huge amount of money, deservedly if you ask me, which of course means many other people are gunning for a slice of the same pie. The 5th Wave has a variation on the same recipe, with a plucky, resourceful female lead, played by a rising young starlet (Chloe Grace Moretz on this occasion), two nice-looking young lads to compete for her favours, lashings of genre elements going on in the background, and a fairly serious subtext too. Basically, aliens equipped with the Bumper Book of Apocalyptic Cliches turn up and unleash various end-of-the-world scenarios. The kids must struggle to survive against the implacable alien threat, even though this risks their basically becoming child soldiers.
Well, this one is well-mounted and competently made from a purely technical point of view, and Chloe Grace Moretz has presence and ability, but in every other respect it's essentially thick-headed tosh that feels just a bit too brazenly mercenary to really work as a piece of entertainment. The child-soldier angle is simply grotesque and contrived, but it's just one aspect of a script which brings nothing new to the huge pile of tropes it shamelessly co-opts. Liev Schrieber is not bad as the villain. Luckily this film has already departed from most multiplexes; make a note to miss it when it comes on the telly, too.
Whether you need to be told what Dad's Army is is surely a pretty good test of your essential Britishness. Either you know it's a legendary TV sitcom (1968-1977) concerning the volunteer defence force made up of the very young and rather elderly during the Second World War or you don't. This is the second Dad's Army film (the first was made in 1971) and the first new Dad's Army in nearly 40 years. It upholds the great tradition of the British based-on-a-sitcom movie, which is to say it's almost entirely awful.
A remarkable cast (Toby Jones, Bill Nighy, Tom Courtenay, Michael Gambon, and so on) have been recruited to play the classic characters in a story concerning the presence in Walmington-on-Sea of a German spy. This would all be very well, but the movie discards the fundamentally gentle cosiness of the TV show for a bleak world of emotional angst and despair. This kind of psychological realism sits very badly with the broad slapstick the movie also indulges in, and the prominence of the female characters (Catherine Zeta Jones amongst them), while no doubt a requirement these days, also contributes to a sense that the film-makers simply don't understand the property. Or, to put it another way: this is a version of Dad's Army in which lovable old Corporal Jones shoots someone in the head.
Hollywood gets another chance to gaze into its own navel in Trumbo, a biopic of the blacklisted screenwriter Dalton of that ilk, starring Bryan Cranston. This is one of those movies which looks a bit like a TV miniseries edited together for a cinema release, and its politics have that slightly simplistic TV movie feel too. Dalton Trumbo, who is a virtuous man of principle despite being a pain in the neck to everyone he knows, gets sent to prison for a year after refusing to co-operate with a congressional enquiry into Communism (his politics are rather left-of-centre), and can't work under his own name once he gets out, but triumphantly rebuilds his career anyway.
Or, in short: Trumbo and his fellow socialists are all decent guys, and the right-wingers opposing them are Nazis or bullies or just stupid. My sympathies were with the lefties to begin with but even I can see this film is painting with too broad a brush. Still, there is fun to be had with Trumbo's adventures in the Z-movie trade and these behind-the-scenes-in-classic-Hollywood films always have a certain sort of entertainment value. It works better as a comedy than a serious political drama, and whatever substance it possesses comes from Cranston's impressive central performance: I wouldn't rule out his winning the Oscar.
Not likely to win any Oscars is Deadpool, a fairly bizarre, definitely not for the young 'uns spin-off from the X-Men series based around the eponymous semi-mutant mercenary and anti-hero, who sort-of appeared in a Wolverine movie years ago. Ryan Reynolds, who played him then, has another go this time, and it's much more faithful to the comics, if you care about that sort of thing. The rather simple story concerns a moderately nasty piece of work who discovers he has terminal cancer, volunteers for superpower experiments in an attempt to be cured, ends up horribly scarred and quite probably insane, and sets off in search of revenge on the evil scientists responsible.
Well, the movie has some fun messing with the conventions of superhero cinema – Reynolds spends a lot of his time talking to the camera and making jokes about Hugh Jackman – and there are some very funny moments, but if you really look hard at the film it's just the usual confection of well-mounted action scenes and soap opera-ish connective tissue comprising any standard superhero movie. In short, it's a lot less subversive than it likes to think it is, and it can't square the circle of being terribly arch and knowing while also working as an actual drama. Looking on the bright side, Gina Carano gets a fight with Colossus from the X-Men, and it certainly isn't the worst film of the year. But the future of the superhero movie this is not.