Review: Robin Hood, Unforeseen Consequences, Mortal Engines

Robin Hood

Trailer

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Nice coat.

Having spent several years in the army after being conscripted to fight in the Crusades, Robin of Locksley (Taron Egerton) returns home to Nottingham, to find himself presumed dead, his paramour Marian (Eve Hewson) moved on with Will Scarlett (Jamie Dornan) and the land ruled with an iron fist by the money hungry Sherriff (Ben Mendelson). With the instruction of one-handed bowmaster John (Jamie Foxx), Robin becomes a vigilante by night, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor.

Jeez, this movie. Unable to decide if it wants to own its inherently silly premise or play it all super-serious, Robin Hood flounders about, ultimately having to settle on the questionable plateau of “so bad, it’s good”.

And so bad it is, laughably so. The list of missteps is frighteningly long, but we can begin by stating simply that Egerton simply isn’t action hero material, at least not in this quasi-superhero vein. Foxx tries to prop things up here, but even he can’t muster up all that much enthusiasm, and the less said about Mendelson’s sleepwalking performance, little more than what he was called upon to do in Rogue One, the better. Also awful is Eve Hewson, showcasing a serious dearth of actual acting chops, and the films key relationship has all the chemistry of an expended firecracker.

The plot is both ridiculous and derivative, with Robin Hood aping various different superhero stories – most notably The Dark Knight, with entire sequences replicated late-on – in pursuit of this grand conspiracy angle, where the Catholic Church is in league with the sheriff for nefarious ends. This narrative is explained in some of the clumsiest exposition drops ever put to film, that really stretch the bounds of suspended disbelief. The script is an unsubtle and poorly-written thing, and the film’s editing could be, ahem, improved.

The stylisation of the film would indicate that the team behind Robin Hood really wanted to set their story in modern day times, but were denied the possibility. Everything is modernised, to an extent that is truly distracting, be it the body armour Robin wears in the Fallujah-esque Crusades sequences, or the increasingly revealing clothing Hewson is saddled with or the fact that longbows have the power of assault rifles in this world. I mean, some of it still looks good, but it’s hard to look back the extreme anachronism, perhaps most notably in a scene where the medieval denizens of Nottingham play craps and roulette at a casino night.

The action sequences are all fine, if you can get beyond their derivative nature, but they aren’t enough to save Robin Hood. It’s a film that places a ridiculous sense of style over substance every time, filled with principals that don’t appear to know what they are doing. The end credits would appear to confirm beyond any doubt that the production team was making a comic book version of the Robin Hood story, but the problem is that they forget to make it decent. Not recommended.

Unforeseen Consequences

Full Movie

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Rise and shine…

Over twenty years ago, the first-person shooter genre, and the video game industry as a whole, was rocked by the release of Half-Life, whose potent blend of ambitious gameplay and story driven experience automatically put it in the higher pantheon of the medium. Noclip’s Danny O’Dwyer gives the history of the Half-Life franchise and an examination into the modding communities that have sprung up as a result of it, before asking if we can expect anything in the future.

Noclip is something that I have been watching for a while, and Unforeseen Consequences is the second feature length documentary they have come up with, and the longest by far. The world of video games is one that is ripe for a dedicated documentarian effort, and Noclip provides an excellent avenue for that. But that doesn’t mean that all of them will necessarily be any good. I was hoping this one would be, since Half-Life, my favourite game series ever, is a subject close to me heart.

As indicated, Unforeseen Consequences has three avenues it wants to explore. As a history of the franchise, from Half-Life’s somewhat tortured development process through to Episode 2, it’s fairly basic, a by the numbers recitation of the creative process behind Gordan Freeman’s adventures, and the developer evolution through expansion packs and sequels. While this stuff is interesting, I would be lying if I found it all that engaging, as anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Half-Life will know a lot of these details already.

The second avenue is a bit more fruitful, with O’Dwyer seeking out numerous influential figures from the modding community that followed in the wake of Half-Life, most notable for multi-player spin-off Counter-Strike. The point is made quite well that it soon became a case of modders exerting more and more control over the product that was being sold to them, and we get to see how what was mostly a hobby for some turned into a career in gaming creation, and in professional competition. Counter-Strike continues to be one of the biggest online games going, decades after its first introduction.

Finally, and most intriguing, there is the future, or lack of it, of the franchise. The “Half-Life 3 confirmed” memes may never fully die out, but O’Dwyer is more interested in the tangible: in those seeking to emulate the Black Mesa mod by crafting their own continuation of the story left hanging after Episode 2, or in the Marc Laidlaw’s penned “Epistle 3” that created such a stir last year, albeit briefly. But lacking is a more thorough examination into why Valve and company decided to stop with the development of Half-Life, but I suppose I should be a bit forgiving: the radio silence on that score remains one of the most baffling mysteries in the video game industry.

For those like myself, who replay the Half-Life games regularly and still dream of continuing crowbar wielding adventuress, Unforeseen Consequences is a pleasant trip down memory lane, though it lacks punch in terms of any deeper analysis of the games and the way that their central narrative has been left. For others, they are probably going to be a bit lost with a documentary that automatically assumes a bit of pre-obtained knowledge of the subject. Still, it reminded me why I’ll still be waiting for you Gordon. In the test chamber. Recommended.

Mortal Engines

Trailer

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Spoiler: the real mortal engine was man.

Over a thousand years in the future, a ruined Earth is home to the predator cities: urban centres on wheels, that gobble up anyone smaller than them. When London goes on the warpath under the leadership of Machiavellian scientist Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), historian Tom (Robert Sheehan) gets caught up in the revenge plot of Hester (Hera Hilmar), who seeks to kill Valentine for ruining her life years earlier. Together, the two of them must find a way to stop London, and its new superweapon, from ruling the new world.

I had high hopes for Mortal Engines, being a fan of both the source material and the production team (even if a huge amount of emphasis has been placed on the producer, Peter Jackson, over the person actually directing). However, I am sad to say that the film is very much the product of someone behind the camera, Christian Rivers, being primarily an effects-orientated person: it sure does look great, but falls apart on nearly every other level.

If there was one flaw to call out above all others, it is the simple fact that the central relationship between Tom and Hester falls dramatically short. Every bit of emotional power that the film is trying to display stems from this duo, yet the end result is less Katniss/Peta than opposing sides of a magnet. Underlooked Tom, emotionally damaged Hester, it shouldn’t be too hard to craft some kind of love plot for the two of them that will move things along, but the script and direction of Mortal Engines falls well short of this.

A damp squib on that front leads to further problems. Any time that Mortal Engines wants to actually hit the audience hard falls short, such as in numerous overly-elongated death scenes, for characters that I can’t really say I came to care about all that much. In that, the sub-plots that infest the main narrative, most notably one that involves a zombie robot named Shrike, also detract from the main story being told, in what is as much a failure of editing as anything else. And, in the end, this is a film that takes so many cues from Star Wars, right down to the Han Solo archetype and final desperate attack on the superweapon, that you’re listening out for “I have a bad feeling about this”.

The film at least looks good – these are the people behind Middle-Earth on-screen after all – and one can appreciate how, like the source material, the film leans into what is an otherwise goofy premise. Scenes of a giant London on treads fighting other cities, or the aforementioned zombie robot busting up a gang of air pirates on a giant dirigible metropolis: these are all the kind of science fiction dreamscapes one can get behind. But it’s just a shame then that they amount to little more than a visual highlight reel, in a film that otherwise has the sort of audience engagement levels that you would expect from a Transformers movie. Not recommended.

(All images are copyright of Lionsgate, Youtube and Universal Pictures).

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1 Response to Review: Robin Hood, Unforeseen Consequences, Mortal Engines

  1. Pingback: Review: Homecoming, Grass Is Greener, Raising Kratos, The Wandering Earth, Rim Of The World | Never Felt Better

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