In this edition, we’re taking a look at Bright, Murder on the Orient Express, Atomic Blonde, and The Hitman’s Bodyguard.
Without Will Smith, Bright seems like a movie that would have never made it out of the conceptual phase. It takes place in a world where fairytale creatures and magic exist — but it isn’t really a fantasy movie. It’s a somewhat dark action film co-starring an orc that’s the first non-human cop. It sounds kind of dumb, to be honest. But while the film never really elevates itself beyond being average and somewhat forgettable, it’s still better than it has any right to be.
Will Smith and Joel Edgerton work quite well in their roles. I’d say Will Smith’s pushing for humor certainly happens more often than I’d like, but I enjoyed the relationship and development of these two characters. Edgerton is really the star, bringing an element of conflict and character depth that you wouldn’t expect from such a silly premise. There’s already a sequel in the works, and I’m more than happy to watch more adventures with these two. The rest of the cast is completely forgettable, with a villain that never develops into anything more than a sinister badass and a damsel in distress type that only exists for plot reasons.
Bright was directed by David Ayer, who brought us the absolutely atrocious Suicide Squad, so take that for what you will. Again, I think the writing is better than it could have been, but on the whole, the direction and cinematography are lacking. The fight scenes, in particular, are hard to follow, which shouldn’t surprise anyone that saw Suicide Squad. The movie kind of jumps from action sequence to action sequence without much context on why things matter, and the climax also lasts longer than it needs to. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but in an action movie set in a world where ninja elves are fighting orcs with guns, the main characters are the most interesting bit.
I went into Bright assuming that I was about to waste two hours, so in that respect, I was pleasantly surprised. I still can’t fully recommend the movie, but if the concept of the world sounds interesting, there’s enough there that it’s worth checking out.
Murder on the Orient Express
I hate it when I’m really enjoying a movie, only for the end to undermine that enjoyment and leave me dumbfounded, confused, and disappointed. Spoiler alert, but that’s the case with Murder on the Orient Express. I know this is a remake of a movie that was based on an Agatha Christie novel, but I never read it or saw the original so I came into this one fresh.
If you saw the trailers, you’ll anticipate me saying that Kenneth Branagh’s performance as Detective Poirot is over the top. It is, but it’s also fantastic. The character that he crafts is fascinating and often hilarious, though I wish we would have learned a little bit more about his past and why he is the way he is. Instead, a large amount of time is devoted to developing the expanded cast, which makes sense considering it’s a murder mystery. You need to know and understand the witnesses/suspects.
In general, the acting and writing for the characters are very strong. Some of them border on caricature, but I think that’s by design. The exception here is Michelle Pfeiffer, who is the bad sort of over the top. I cringed more than once watching her deliver lines. This is especially ironic when considering the true nature of her character, which I won’t reveal here.
The plot of the film — and how its delivered — are also compelling. Branagh’s strong direction is obvious here, as he skillfully moves from scene to scene, highlighting things that aren’t as important as they seem and hiding some things that are. This all makes the resolution even more disappointing — I just find it to be so completely absurd and unbelievable that I’m still struggling to grasp the how and why. The movie tries to wrap things up and justify the events of the film, but it doesn’t work. That isn’t Branagh’s — or the actors’ — fault. Watching the movie, I decided that I could accept just about any “who” in the “who dunnit,” but I hadn’t even considered the option that became the eventual reveal. That should tell you how ridiculous it was.
I was pretty hyped for Atomic Blonde — through films like Mad Max: Fury Road and Monster, Charlize Theron has proven to be more than capable of pulling off the badass archetype. I do have to say that I’m pretty damn impressed at how she did some of her own stunts for Atomic Blonde, but I also have to say how disappointed I was with her character.
Her “British” spy just isn’t interesting. She does the whole under-stated, emotionless thing, and that doesn’t usually make for a compelling movie hero. Her accent is also one of the worst British accents I’ve ever heard. I remember watching her in Arrested Development and being confused by whether her character really did have mental issues that were causing her bizarre accent. But now I finally have a resolution to this — Charlize Theron just can’t play a convincing British person.
Her acting isn’t the only problem with Atomic Blonde, though. The plot is nigh incomprehensible. I’m a pretty damn smart person, and I’ve seen enough films that I’m rarely confused while watching, but I had absolutely no idea what was happening throughout most of this movie. Part of that is due to straight up poor storytelling, but lack of interest is also to blame. With the exception of James McAvoy — who does his best to inject some personality into the cast — the other actors just seem kind of bored. And therefore, so am I.
The 80s aesthetic is rad, at least. The movie certainly has style, with plenty of grunge and spray paint throughout. There are also some phenomenally shot action sequences, led by a middle of the film oner taking place in a stairwell. It’s one of the coolest action sequences I’ve seen all year. This should come as no surprise considering director David Leitch is a former stuntman and John Wick producer, but his directorial inexperience shows in most other areas. Style and action can get you pretty far in this genre, but in this case, neither are good enough to make up for Atomic Blonde’s myriad other flaws.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard
Considering the cast, I had pretty high expectations for The Hitman’s Bodyguard. With two other actors, I doubt I’d have cared to see this at all. But with Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds, it was one of my most anticipated movies of the year. I maybe should have expected less knowing it was coming from a relatively inexperienced director and writer, but hey, I’m not immune to some over-hyping.
I can’t say that The Hitman’s Bodyguard lives up to my admittedly high expectations, but it is a fun buddy action/comedy that’s worth a watch if you’re a fan of the genre — or the lead actors.
Ryan Reynolds plays his typical character — a model on the outside/doofus on the inside that you aren’t sure if you find endearing or annoying. He’s a professional high-end bodyguard that’s lost his luster after losing a client to an assassin. Sam Jackson plays a hitman with a heart of gold that doesn’t take no shit from nobody, currently on limited release from prison to testify against Gary Oldman’s Hitler-level psycho villain. Reynolds is enlisted to protect Jackson on the way to the courthouse, which Jackson doesn’t appreciate. Hilarity ensues.
There’s a fair amount of heart to the film, as well — both between Reynolds and his ex, who he blames for his downfall, and between Jackson and his sociopathic wife, played hilariously by Salma Hayek. The relationship between our gun-toting odd couple also develops over time, rising and falling with each new insane scenario and near betrayal. Reynolds is willing to do whatever it takes to protect his client, Jackson is willing to do whatever it takes to get away from his protector.
From a narrative perspective, the whole thing is fairly predictable. But it’s also fun, which is the goal. The writing here is probably the weak link, though Reynolds and Jackson make the most of the material. It sounds harsh to say that this would have been a great movie with some better jokes, but it’s the truth. I often found myself laughing in appreciation of our leads doing their best, rather than finding the bits particularly hilarious on their own.
But this movie doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Despite everything, I had a good time watching The Hitman’s Bodyguard, and the vast majority of that enjoyment comes down to Reynolds and Jackson. They’re why I checked this one out in the first place, so I can’t say I’m disappointed in that respect.
Be sure to check out my other Quickie Reviews!