SPOOKS: THE GREATER GOOD REVIEW

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One of the best British dramas takes to the silver screen? Was it needed? Did it succeed? Or should the BBC have let old dogs lie?

I won’t hide my bias. I am a huge Spooks fan. It came around the same time as 24, managed to stand its own, and became one of my favourite TV shows. But very much like 24, it was never afraid to wipe out main characters, deliver twists and turns every week, tense cliffhangers and nail biting cryptic dialogue between fellow spies and high ranking officials.

It may have lost the battle with 24 but certainly lasted the war. 24 stumbled at series 6 and never really recovered. It improved. While Spooks only really tested me at Series 8 of a 10 series run!

The last two series did feel like old hat. What was hard hitting soon became predictable and a retread of stronger story lines from earlier series. I guess there is only so much you can do with a spy drama. But the final series delivered a heartbreaking and satisfying finale.

Four years after the hit series came to a close, we have a movie. A close that was long overdue as the show seemed to be heading down the road of mediocrity. A fitting ending that wrapped things up but subtly suggested that a return wasn’t out of the question.

So here we are. Did I sigh? Denounce the movie gods? Nope. I felt excited. My love for Spooks not quite over and after watching this film . . . I can firmly say it’s still not.

The opening sequence set the tone. Tension bubbling on the back burner. Even if I found the dialogue a little flat and cliched. Spies ironically playing the game ‘I Spy’ while the “cocky” CIA operatives chat up the only British totty (Tuppence Middleton) in the surveillance squad.

However, my little niggles were soon pushed to the back of my head (momentarily) by the introduction of one of my TV icons, head of MI5 security services, Harry Pearce (Peter Firth).

As soon as Firth entered the scene, the fan boy excitement was back. Offering a pillow to a systems analyst who had time to rest his feet on his desk.

It wasn’t long before something was afoot and we were thrown straight into the action as a terrorist (Elyes Gabel) escapes custody during a routine handover.

Racy, tense and very much in the style of the Bourne films. But let’s not forget Spooks were there first! They even threw in the infamous TV title sequence.

I will emphasize that the pace really is put on the back burner. It seemed to chug along after a promising opening and Pearce facing termination after making a judgement call.

The bureaucratic sniping and dealing with the “red tape” spiel did feel like the Spooks of old. Unfortunately, that meant it was dreadfully predictable. However, that was all relieved by some cracking performances from some old faces (Oh yes) and a lot of new ones.

Tim McInnerny (Blackadder) was superb as Mace. Just as callous and manipulative as ever. The introduction of David Harewood (Homeland) and Jennifer Ehle (Zero Dark Thirty) was a mixed bag for me. Harewood played the uptight Warrender perfectly. A weaselly two faced mediator desperate to keep both agencies at bay.

The only cast member that annoyed me was Jennifer Ehle. Normally I don’t mind her but what the hell was her accent supposed to be? Her twang (even though she was meant to be English) really grated against me. It was like she was trying to do an impression of the Queen. Terrible.

Disgraced, Pearce must look to the only person who can help him. The agent who he removed from MI5. Cue . . . No, not Matthew Macfadyen! I know. Gutted, too.

It’s only Jon Snow, of course. Kit Harington literally hits the ground running making a memorable entrance into the mix. Smashing through a cafe window to escape some Russians. Never found out why he was running? A passing comment would have been nice after an entry like that.

Harington was very good. The sulky scorned spy role suited him and he worked well with Firth. Their relationship may have been a little cliched (and strikingly similar to Kingsmen) as Pearce knew his father who died in a botched operation.

BUT it was still interesting to see their already fractious bond tested to the max. And yes, Harrington’s character knows nottthhinggg. One for the Game of Thrones fans.

Harington was the much needed catalyst to jump start this spluttering slow burner. Once he begins Borune-ing the place up in a dangerous game of cat and mouse, I was hooked.

The airport rendezvous with Pearce was superb. Tense, suspenseful and every thing that won me over with Spooks the first time round. The numerous drop off points, the items of clothing with cryptic cards and the time frames. Brilliant.

At it’s best, it’s tense, dramatic with the odd shocker. But at it’s worst, it’s a little predictable and slow. The problem with Spooks is that you always know there is a bigger play. And the cogs are always turning. You can call things before they happen. That’s the problem after 10 series. It does kill the tension and some of the bigger reveals.

Firth was excellent as HP. Despite being integral to the plot, he does seem to be pushed into the background. A little disappointing. Harington’s Holloway is always at the forefront. Not a problem as he proves to be a worthy addition to the Spooks set.

However, Firth still gets his moment to shine and when he does, it’s great. After all the sorrow and tough decisions the man has to make, you really hope that there can be some solace for him.

I don’t think it’s a must for people who haven’t seen Spooks. There are a lot of new faces. When the old ones appear, you get the picture. I won’t say who, Spooks fans. Don’t worry. But there isn’t as many as I hoped.

And Guppy from Casualty has come a long way. Game of Thrones, A Most Violent Year and now this? He was brilliant as the maniacal Qasim. His American accent was impeccable. Take lessons, Ms Ehle. Tuppence Middleton showed potential. I just wish her character wasn’t so bland. But then again Spooks fans, who will ever top Ros?

The film may have been patchy but the last 20 minutes still had me trying to connect the dots. Even if some twists worked and others didn’t, the closing scenes still got me. And Firth stole the show, allowing HP to show a little vulnerability. Cracking his cold demeanour for a one moment before shaking it off and vanishing like a ghost. A spook. Proving once again why his character will always be one of my favourites.

The ending may have been ambiguous but it confirmed one thing for me. I’m still not quite ready to let Spooks go just yet. The film format certainly didn’t kill the franchise. If anything, it has given me hope. A few tweaks on the plot and pacing and I’m happy for it to continue. Cue freeze frame. Black and white.

3.5/5

Also did anyone else feel the title made you want to do this?

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HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 REVIEW

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DRAGONS! Hiccup and Toothless are back after the DreamWorks animated blockbuster hit the big screens! Bigger? Absolutely. Better? Visually it’s a feast for the eyes. While not surpassing the original, it certainly matches it for story, drama and entertainment. Get the little ‘uns or the big kids (like myself) over to the pics and invest!

So what’s it all about? It’s been five years since Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Toothless successfully united dragons and vikings on the island of Berk. While Astrid, Snotlout and the rest of the gang are challenging each other to dragon races (the island’s new favourite contact sport), the now inseparable pair journey through the skies, charting unmapped territories and exploring new worlds. When one of their adventures leads to the discovery of a secret ice cave that is home to hundreds of new wild dragons and the mysterious Dragon Rider, the two friends find themselves at the centre of a battle to protect the peace.

Firstly, 3D not a massive investment to be honest. So save your pennies, parents. The animation is incredible alone. The 3D makes it more prominent but not a must. The detail is stunning. Every little thing, the expressions, the waves as Hiccup and Toothless soar across the seas, brilliant. Anyway, we reunite with the dynamic duo and it is great that the characters have actually aged in the five years. Hiccup does look very different, and weirdly a little like Andy from Toy Story.

The gang are all back, along with the original and very talented voicing cast consisting of Jonah Hill, America Ferrera, Kristen Wiig, Craig Ferguson, Christopher “McLovin” Mintz-Plasse and T. J. Miller. Although, they don’t seem to be in this film as much. They still make a mark and bring the laughs but until the second half really. They seemed to be cast aside and understandably so as the story primarily revolves around Hiccup yet again. Torn between being a dragon rider and taking over the reins of being chief by his pushy but legendary father, Stoick (THIS IS . . . Gerard Butler), Hiccup must make a choice.

The spoiler-ific trailers reveal the identity of the mysterious Dragon Rider which was hardly a surprise twist. But for those who were lucky enough not to see that trailer then don’t worry, I won’t spoil it for you. Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond/Gladiator) brings his gravelly gravitas to the sinister Drago with aplomb. It was irritating me who was voicing Eret, the henchman. Firstly because I recognised the voice and secondly because his voice didn’t seem strong enough and didn’t match the character. And low and behold, I know nothing as it was Kit “Jon Snow” Harington (Game of Thrones – obviously). Shame. His conviction didn’t pull it off for me.

However, these are only minor quibbles as there are laughs to be had. Moments that surprise and pluck at the heart strings. It’s riveting, a feast for the eyes with an enthralling visual masterpiece of a finale with Toothless taking on his biggest foe to date. It may not surpass the original as the story may not necessarily break new ground but it is most certainly on par and if rumours are hinting at another, then another I want. I won’t divulge too much as this is one I would recommend that you see. There’s a little something for every one plus DRAGONS, hellooo.

In the words of GB, THIS IS . . . Not a bad sequel. 4 out of 5! Better. See I do like some films, you know!

POMPEII REVIEW

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Pompeii – Perrrleaaaaseee.

Another big, dumb, needless blockbuster on a piece of history. However, that being said, the town has become a major site for tourism so . . . Moving on.

BUT despite it’s cliche-ridden by the numbers plot line and generic characters; the visual effects were outstanding, the 3D a worthy investment and I was kept entertained for the next 105 minutes.

Let’s be honest, Paul W S Anderson’s past efforts have hardly been groundbreaking (The Resident Evil franchise, Alien Versus Predator, The Three Musketeers). Pompeii is certainly one of his most ambitious efforts. Visual imagery, special effects and action have always been his forte but he would always spoil it with naff characters, ridiculous plot holes and boring predictable story lines.

Pompeii, like it’s aftermath, is a bit of a mess BUT a watchable one.

Arise, Jon Snow (no, not the Channel 4 news anchor) I mean – Kit Harington (Game of Thrones), an ever rising star. Harington proves yet again to be a strong, likeable lead. Granted, his character is pretty much Jon Snow in gladiator mode but it still works. He has enough charisma and sultry sulking to keep everybody happy. And if his body was really that toned, then I need to hit the gym.

Pompeii is pretty much about a volcano. You don’t say? A slave-turned-gladiator finds himself in a race against time to save his true love, who has been betrothed to a corrupt Roman Senator. BUT as Mount Vesuvius erupts, he must fight to save his beloved as Pompeii crumbles around him. O-err!

The opening zips along quite well even if it skimmed through the predictable cliched Gladiator/Spartacus/Conan plot lines. BUT it quickly set up who was who and got the ball rolling. Harington’s back story was lazy. Northern Britannia? Really? Londinium? (Oh wait. That was actually called that).

The 3D doesn’t jump out the screen at you but it certainly makes everything so much more prominent. The trees and houses really force their presence on the screen. We are soon thrown into the picturesque Pompeii where Milo (Harington) falls for the (already spoken for) Cassia (Emily Browning – Sucker Punch/The Host).

Browning and Harington convey enough chemistry to make the laughable corniness of their inevitable romance watchable. The whole horse thing in order for them to meet was unbelievably cheesy. Jon Snow. Gladiator and part time horse whisperer. Brilliant.

I must commend the supporting cast for managing to make such stocky characters memorable. I can’t believe that Jack Bauer – I mean Kiefer Sutherland was in this as Corvus. He has enough panto menace to make a vicious villain. BUT his mish-mesh accent had me in stitches. Fair play to Jack for giving it a crack though. This was worth seeing alone for the Bauer blade off with Jon Snow. A nerdgasm for any TV addict.

Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje was very good as Atticus; a retiring gladiator on the verge of winning his freedom. He works well with Harington and they make a decent duo. To be honest for all the cheesiness, you do end up rooting for the chaps.

Jared Harris (Mad Men) and Carrie Anne Moss (The Matrix franchise) were wasted in this. They do their best to portray the conflicted parents torn between honouring their civic duty and protecting their daughter from the lechy Corvus. For the Matrix fans, poor Trinity suffers a demise that may look a little too familiar. Yes, really. Had me in stitches too.

The lovely Jessica Lucas (That Awkward Moment/Melrose Place) tragically played a stocky sidekick. Shame. BUT cudos to Sasha Roiz (Grimm) who managed to provide a manic minion to Sutherland’s sinister senator.

The problem for me is that when you’ve had films like Gladiator and Spartacus (not to mention the excellent TV series), you can’t help but feel that there isn’t much else to offer in plot. It’s all been done before. If you love those sort of films regardless and demand another, then here we are.

It’s action packed and once the vociferous volcano finally erupts. It was incredible to watch but my God, everything gets thrown out of the window that it was verging on parodical! People running around and getting bopped on the heads with flying rocks should have terrifying. Instead, it was bloody hilarious!

And what infuriated me was after this mad dash of a fierce finale, it ends so abruptly and flat that I could feel my temper rising like the lavary ooze of Vesuvius.

So . . . in conclusion, it’s not as bad as you think but certainly not that great either. If you go in with an open mind, you may come out pleasantly surprised but if you’re expecting a Gladiator, then go watch . . . Gladiator.

2.5/5

Also as a side note for the LOST fans when Mr Eko saw that black smoke coming out of Vesuvius. 😉 Yeah, you know.