Film Thoughts

Thoughts on and spoilers for The Raid 2, Halo: Forward unto Dawn, Oblivion, The Revenant, and London has Fallen

The Raid 2

Yayan Ruhian (Prakoso) is so awesome. Certain actors, generally martial artists, have an implied physical menace. Think Collin Chou in The Matrix Reloaded. It’s not size or muscle, they just physically manifest confidence in their ability to tear someone into small pieces. Ruhian always seems relaxed but ready to flip at a millisecond’s notice, a coiled, deadly spring.

Prakoso/Koso sounds like a cool-enough name to be befitting on Ruhian. As does Mad Dog in the first Raid film. But Ruhian’s his name in Merantau? Eric. Unacceptable

We first see Prakoso as he stalks a man down an alley. The chap runs into a dead end, where ‘Koso kills him. But, even before he realised he was being hunted, the man and his crew seemed to be heading down that alley anyway. What were they doing?

The long tracking shot through and across the prison’s muddy ground might be the best long shot I’ve ever seen (shout out to True Detective season one)

I’ve still to watch the behind-the-scenes, but I don’t understand how some of these shots happened without causing someone severe physical pain. A guy hanging out the window of a moving car scuffs his head on the road. Cecep Arif Rahman (the Assassin) definitely gets his nose mashed into the ground in his fight with Rama

The Raid series is now so iconic to me now that I geeked out more seeing Rama and Mad Dog in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, than I did in seeing Han and Chewie

Halo: Forward Unto Dawn

Choosing your story’s point of view in a war film must be a tough decision. Try to encapsulate the entire battle by going wide and you can lose the personal tale viewers engage with. Go too narrow and you lose scale. Dawn is essentially a side-story for the Halo 4 game, and boldly chooses the POV of children in military training who get caught up in war. Master Chief, star of the Halo series, rescues the kids, and they then subsequently idolise him. Dawn’s narrow scope provides characters to relate to, but, with them mostly as observers while Chief puts down the alien enemy, the film feels like watching a B-story unfold (think of the Buffy episode The Zeppo)

In the Halo universe (as far as I’m aware), Master Chief is never seen without his helmet. At Dawn’s end, two Spartans remove their helmets to reveal that they’re little more than child soldiers themselves. Everyone then turns to Chief to see if he’ll do the same. As expected, he doesn’t. This is a nice nod to established lore, but also implies that the most baddass soldier in the universe might also be a child. Is that what you want for your hero?

I’m not much of a Halo fan but, if I was, I would geek out seeing aspects of that universe as faithfully rendered as they are here. The cars, armour, aliens–at least to my untrained idea–looked accurate to the games. If a legitimate Half-Life film came out that treated that world as well as Dawn does Halo, well, I’d get sweaty and excited

Oblivion is pretty but unoriginal. There was clearly a gamer on the crew — the costumes, sets and general aesthetic seem heavily inspired by the Mass Effect series, the drones from Portal. And the scavengers outfits? The Sand People of Star Wars + Predator masks.

The plot features a number of points we’ve seen before (the radoactive zone being non-radioactive was screamingly obvious, for one example). But at least these recycled elements were used well. And did I mention how pretty this film is?

The Revenant

In recent memory, only Drive comes to mind as a film the critics loved that I thought was a stinker. Then I saw The Revenant, and wondered what I was missing. The film is reasonably good but hugely overated. As Honest Trailers says , fans of The Revenant seem to think pretty, natural lighting + DiCaprio suffering = a good film. I found it dull.

I’ll admit that one of my major problems with The Revenant was one of expectation, which is my problem and not the film’s. What I knew going in was:

1) Injury would befall DiCaprio’s character
2) His injury would worsen to the point where he’d be left for dead
3) He’d return, seeking revenge against those who abandoned him

Therefore, for much of the first act of the film, I impatiently waited for the Bad Thing to happen. When it did, I then counted down the minutes until the Bad Thing became the Badder Thing and Hardy etc abandoned DiCaprio. I wanted these two events to happen quickly so the parts of the story I knew nothing of could occur. It’s not the film’s fault I knew of these plot points and wanted them to pass (though you could blame the film for being dull enough that I never forgot about them)

As I watched DiCaprio close on Hardy for his revenge, I realised that, no matter how it played out, I wouldn’t care. For the first time in years I wanted to walk out early at the cinema. There could have been a reveal that the whole film was simulation, or it could’ve turned into a musical, and it wouldn’t have mattered

Here are some positives: Tom Hardy gave a great, intense, menacing performance. The bear scene was jaw-dropping. CGI has quietly improved over the past few years. The 90s had the watershed effects moments of The Abyss, Jurassic Park, Terminator 2. But now CGI is so prevalent that I can’t remember the last time I was so blown away by them. When I think of recent Whoa moments in effects, they’re generally practical ones from Christopher Nolan films. It’s also worth remembering that, without analogue talent that scene doesn’t work half as well. But that scene made me optimistic that there’s vast room for improvement in digital work.

London has Fallen

I haven’t yet seen Olympus has Fallen, the first film. Yet there was nothing to suggest this was a sequel. In the prequel, Butler and Eckhart survive a terrorist attack on the White House. In London, some years later, they get caught up in another. But there was nothing obvious between the two to suggest they’d been in a similar situation. LHF feels like a standalone film. That could be by design. I doubt it.

I enjoyed the film but I can’t imagine wanting to watch it again. With one exception – I’d like to watch that long tracking shot again to see where it started, and if it genuinely was one long shot (there may have been a cut while our view was obscured by smoke). While the shot was impressive, it did seem heavily inspired by a similar shot in True Detective season one (which I linked to earlier)

I would’ve liked for the bad guy not to be a cliched Middle Eastern criminal. A man seeking revenge for the deaths caused by a drone strike is no longer new or interesting. When Homeland did it, maybe. A setting like London offered a good opportunity to have the enemies be more original. Like, say, some of those from the London riots of 2011 who’ve blossomed into full-blown terrorists over the past few years.

In a film where everyone (everyone) had a name and title worthy of being displayed on screen, it seemed odd to not give a name — or at least an alias — to the SAS guy. And he could’ve done with a lot more fleshing out. And maybe at least let us see some of his team, not just have them as bullet-fodder in the background

There was so much obvious exposition in the first ten minutes of this film. It was clear Zukawi was a villain by the fact he refused to turn around to speak to his subordinates. We didn’t need the clunky line about ‘Remember to kill their families too*. Revenge must be absolute’. Five minutes later we see Butler writing an email (that looked like a Word document) with ‘Re: resignation’ in a huge font. This director does not trust his audience. Given the type of film this is, I don’t know if I blame him

*When one of the first lines is about killing the families of your enemies, then we soon see Banning’s wife carrying his unborn child, would you not expect a Taken-style attack on the family? This could be either a) a hint at what the third film could be about (Baby has Fallen), or b) A throwaway line, only present to force home how much of a scumbag Zukawi is. I’ll take ‘B’ for $1000


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