Tag: Jeremy Renner

American Hustle (2013)

Glamour and confidence tricks in David O. Russell’s flashy American Hustle

Director: David O. Russell

Cast: Christian Bale (Irving Rosenfeld), Amy Adams (Sydney Prosser), Bradley Cooper (Richie DiMaso), Jennifer Lawrence (Rosalyn Rosenfeld), Jeremy Renner (Mayor Carmine Polito), Louis CK (Stoddard Thorsen), Jack Huston (Pete Musane), Michael Peña (Paco Hernandez/Sheik), Elisabeth Röhm (Dolly Polito), Shea Whigham (Carl Elway), Alessandro Nivola (Anthony Amada), Robert De Niro (Victor Tellegio)

In 2013, American Hustle was nominated for ten Oscars and won none of them. Somehow, being invited to the big party but not receiving any prizes was strangely fitting for a film about small time grifters forced into a big game way beyond their control. Russell’s film is like a celebration of his strengths and weaknesses as a director: it’s stuffed with some very good (if rather mannered) performances, offers lots of dynamic film making, but is still basically a rather cold and arch film that’s hard to really invest in – rather like a con game in itself.

In 1978, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) is a small-time grafter, running scams with his partner and lover Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), who uses the identity of a young English aristocrat “Lady Edith Greenslly”. Rosenfeld longs to leave his unstable, selfish wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) for Sydney, but fears he will lose all his access to his adopted son. Rosenfeld and Prosser’s career of clever investment frauds is brought to an end when Prosser is caught red-handed by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). DiMaso forces the pair into his entrapment operation, targeting New Jersey politicians with offers of bribes as part of a Fake Sheik investment. Initially it targets Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), but the operation quickly expands, as the ambitious and impulsive DiMaso constantly follows every connection and the operation expands to dangerous levels, taking in the mafia. Scared, Rosenfeld and Prosser desperately try to play both ends against the middle.

American Hustle is a decent film, which pulls together the sort of capers, turmoil and antics that you would expect from a film about a long con. It throws into the melting pot the vibes of several other films, from The Sting to Goodfellas, and asks us to admire the results. Russell encourages the actors to play it with an edgy verisimilitude that pretty much works as a metaphor for con men. Each performance is an effective display of high-wire character acting work laced with arch, studied tricks. But only rarely do you get a sense of something that’s real.

That’s part of a film that wants to have a cake and eat it as well. It’s striking in the entire story that the most sympathetic character is the initial target, Jeremy Renner’s well-meaning, passionate New Jersey politician, bamboozled into taking a bribe (money he mostly uses in the local community) because he is convinced it’s a crucial part of getting Arab investment. It’s even more striking that the most honest, subdued (and deadly) character is the Mafia kingpin Victor Tellegio, played with chilling menace by an unbilled Robert DeNiro. Nearly everyone else on the side of the entrapment operation is pretty much a selfish prick or verging on the unhinged.

But then that’s part of the point of the film, which throws two people who know what they are doing (Rosenfeld and Prosser) at the mercy of people playing with fire (Roselyn and in particular DiMaso, a permed, tightly-wound powderkeg). This is one hell of a performance from Bradley Cooper – and a sign again after Silver Linings Playbook that Russell and he have a natural understanding. Cooper is a force of nature, a bundle of terrible impulses combined with an utter lack of shame or self-control, who is quite happy to trample over everyone to get what he wants and has no regard whatsoever for the danger he puts himself and others into. Utterly unpredictable, he never sticks to a plan, veers between rage and hysterical laughter and, worst of all, is always convinced he’s right.

It’s DiMaso who spins the operation into dangerous waters with his vaulting ambition to land yet another big fish, recklessly peddling insubstantial, unprepared lies on top of each other – to the terror and horror of practised peddlar of bullshit Rosenfeld, whose whole successful schtick is based on saying “no” and having the mark do all the desperate work. DiMaso’s approach not only puts the operation at risk, it puts lives at risk – not that DiMaso cares, preoccupied as he is with his childish one-upmanship with his boss and a teenage sexual obsession with Prosser.

What chance do the (mostly) small-fish politicians and local figures have, whose lives are placed on the altar of DiMaso’s ambition? It’s no wonder that, late in the film, our conmen heroes start to feel guilt and remorse – none more so than Irving Rosenfeld. Played by Christian Bale with the sort of tricksy, Olivier-ish disguises that he so loves (in this case increased weight, a balding comb-over and a pair of tinged glasses he obsessively fiddles with), Rosenfeld is an operator happy with the level he is working at and incredibly wary of stepping up into the dangerous big leagues. Justifiably convinced of his own professionalism at fleecing money and winning trust, Rosenfeld has no problem with taking money from the selfish but every problem in the world with destroying the life of a fundamentally honest man. Bale’s performance, for all the tricks, manages to successfully build a picture of a selfish man who believes himself in his way to be honest in a way and is just trying to make his way.

That way also involves balancing between two very different women. Amy Adams does decent work as a blowsy fake-aristocrat, sporting a series of tops with neck lines that literally plunge down to her waist, although she is perhaps a little too “nice girl next door” to really convince as the love-em-to-manipulate-them Prosser. She’s not also helped by the script giving her an ill-defined arc of self-doubt linked to pretending to be someone else. Sweet as the genuine love can be her between her and Rosenfeld – and excellent as her chemistry is between Bale and Cooper – it’s the character who remains the least knowable in the film.

Also not helping is the fact that Jennifer Lawrence burns through the film as Rosalyn, the sort of electric, larger-than-life but still very real performance of arrogance, selfishness, dangerous stupidity and greed that marked her out as a major actress. Whether inadvertently putting Rosenfeld’s life at risk through blabbing details she’s half-overheard and half-understood, cleaning the kitchen while singing an aggressive rendition of Live and Let Die or nearly burning the house down because she won’t believe metal can’t go in “the science oven” (aka microwave), Lawrence is the film’s MVP.

Russell’s film showcases all these actors brilliantly, but his overall story remains a little cold and not as clever as it thinks. With a film about conmen you expect a final rugpull – and this film sort of manages one – but the story telling to take us there isn’t quite as articulate and clever as it needs to be in order to be really satisfying. Perhaps it’s the film’s ragged, hip, indie style of telling – or the air that the actors are making a lot of this stuff up as they go with edgy, semi-improvised performances – but the film never really engrosses or engages. For all that we see the inner worlds of Rosenfeld and Prosser, I can’t say I really, truly cared what happened to them. 

Instead Russell focuses on the marshalling of his resources, and cool, slick film-making. He uses expert camera work and editing, mixed with a superbly chosen soundtrack, overlaid with voiceover, sudden transitions, some narrative jumps and a vibrant sense of cool to make a story that finally feels a little too much like a style-over-substance trick – in fact a con game all of its very own, as enjoyable and entertaining as the rest of the film, but when it finishes you realise your pockets are empty.

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Time to got to work: Avengers: Endgame caps off a 22 film series

Director: Anthony and Joe Russo

Cast: Robert Downey Jnr (Tony Stark), Chris Evans (Steve Rodgers), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/Hulk), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff), Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton), Don Cheadle (Rhodey), Paul Rudd (Scott Lang), Karen Gillan (Nebula), Bradley Cooper (Rocket), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts), Josh Brolin (Thanos), Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Danai Gurira (Okoye), Brie Larson (Carol Danvers), Chadwick Boseman (T’Challa), Benedict Cumberbatch (Dr Stephen Strange), Tom Holland (Peter Parker), Evangeline Lilly (Hope van Dyne), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson), Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff), Chris Pratt (Peter Quill), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes), Rene Russo (Frigga), John Slattery (Howard Stark), Tilda Swinton (Ancient One), Robert Redford (Alexander Pierce), Linda Cardellini (Laura Barton), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Tom Vaughen-Lawlor (Ebony Maw)

So this really is it. For now. As Dr Strange says at one point “we are into the Endgame now”. Avengers: Endgame is Act Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s ten-years-in-the-making finale. It’s also a sequel that, for me, enriches and improves the “bangs before brains” Infinity War. Where that film played too hard to the fanboy wet dream of seeing X teaming up with Y and lots of bashing, Avengers: Endgame focuses more on the intelligent character work and decent acting and writing that has underpinned what has turned what used to be the preserve of geeks into a franchise now almost universally beloved across the world.

The film picks up almost immediately after über-Baddie and misguided-humanitarian Thanos (James Brolin) has successfully used the powers of the infinity stones (a series of mystical macguffins that have been omnipresent in the series so far) to wipe out half of the population of the universe to save it from overpopulation, including dozens of our heroes. Those that remain – predominantly the original roster from the first Avengers film – must work together to find a way to overturn this destruction that Thanos has wrought. But more sacrifices are inevitable along the way.

Avengers: Endgame is a film that the less you know about where it is going, the more you are likely to enjoy its twists and turns. Viewers who may have been anticipating a series of increasingly brutal smackdowns between the Avengers and their nemesis Thanos will however be disappointed. This is not a film of acative avenging: it’s a film where our heroes cope with the burden of unbearable failure, survivor guilt, PTSD and are desperate to try anything to try and make amends. Surprisingly, for the biggest budget entry in the whole cannon, this feels like a smaller-scale, character driven film which carries far bigger (and realistic) stakes than several films earlier in the franchise.

For the opening two hours of this three hour epic, there is actually precious little in the way of action. Instead we explore individual reactions and struggles of each of our heroes. Some have slumped into depression. Some are struggling to move on. Others have shut down and focus on their work. Some have managed to put their past failure and loss behind them to rebuild their lives. Others have embraced the darkness altogether to extract a revenge upon the world that they feel has taken everything from them. It’s a real change of pace from the high octane action and smart banter of the first film. This feels more earned, more invested and more designed to engage our brains and emotions rather than pound us into joyful submission with its bangs and crashes.

In fact it builds back into what has made this franchise so successful and so beloved. It turns these heroes into people, rather than just monoliths of action. Way back in the day, when making the first Iron Man film, Kevin Feige said if they got the film right the name “Tony Stark” would become as famous as “Iron Man”. It sums the aims of the franchise up – that these should be real people to us rather than just comic book cartoons. If we think of Chris Evans, we think of him as being “Steve” not Captain America. Jeremy Renner is as well-known as Clint Barton as “Hawkeye”. If Scarlett Johansson is addressed as Natasha we don’t blink an eye in the film, in the way we would if she was called “Black Widow”. The Hulk can be calmly addressed as Bruce or Ant Man as “Scott” and we never think it strange. In fact it would feel odd to have them calling each other by their cartoon names. It’s normalised the personalities behind the badges and masks.

And that works so well because the writing, when it works, focuses on making these characters feel real – and the actors they have brought on board to fill out the roles have excelled at adding depth and shading to the roles. Chris Evans will probably forever by the noble, dedicated humanitarian Steve Rodgers and rightly so as he has turned this potential stick-in-the-mud into a person we deeply respect and love. He’s terrific here, marshalling a plot arc that brings his time in this crazy franchise to an end with a neat bow that feels fitting and fair (even if it’s got some logic gaps).

Robert Downey Jnr also does some excellent work in his final sign off from the series. The role here plays to all the strengths Downey Jnr has brought to the role:  the smartness, the intelligence, the slight smugness, the charisma. But also the vulnerability and longing to be genuinely loved and to build a family around him. The desire to protect people. The nobility under the off-the-cuff exterior. Downey Jnr’s departure was well advertised and again it works a treat here.

But then the whole cast are marvellous. Hemsworth gets to stretch his comic muscles even more than his regular ones, and balances marvellously a plot about a hero who has lost his way. Scarlett Johansson gets some of her meatiest material as Natasha, unable to fully take on board what has happened but determined to make amends. Jeremy Renner has some of the film’s darker material – and confirms that he has always been the heart of the team – with a plot line that hinges on the loss of his family. Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner is presented in an intriguing new light that both delights and feels like a real rounding up of his character arc.

The eventual plan to underdo the work of Thanos revolves, it’s not a spoiler to say, around Time Travel. With a run, jump and leap the Russo Brothers acknowledge every cliché of time travel lore from dozens of films (Rhodes and Lang at one point hilariously name check virtually every time-travel-based film ever as back-up for their concerns about the mission) before basically throwing it all out of the window by making up its own rules (since, hey, time travel is impossible anyway so why not say all that “you could kill your own grandfather” stuff is bollocks?).

The time travel allows us to fly back into the plots and events of several other Marvel films, principally the first Avengers film, Guardians of the Galaxy and (hilariously considering it might be the worst one) Thor: The Dark World. This flashback structure works extremely well, with our heroes woven neatly into the events of films past – as well as allowing for “unseen” moments from those films to be staged here for the first time.

For a film that, up until now, has dealt with the pain of loss it also makes for a playful series of missions (or at least until one of them turns out to carry huge personal cost) that contrasts really well with the first half. The missions focus on a “heist” structure also gives us the chance for our heroes to work through the demons, often with the help of several (deceased) characters from past films living again (Rene Russo in particular gets easily her best ever scenes in the series as Thor’s mother in the past urging her son to come to terms with his guilt).

All this intelligent and emotional character work, mixed with sequences that are focused less on action and more on adventure and capery means that when we get the inevitable battle scenes at the end of the film – and I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say most of the film’s final act returns us to the action beats that governed Infinity War – actually feel really earned. Having reminded ourselves why we loved many of these characters in the first place, seeing them fight for good and do incredibly cool things while doing it suddenly feels both really earned and also hugely entertaining. Investment in these action scenes grows from the detailed work earlier.

It’s also a testament to the Russo Brothers direction. I will say right away that while I found part of Infinity War lacking in personality and identity behind the camera, I think I massively overlooked how effortless the Russo brothers make balancing all these plot lines, characters and events seem. Never once does the film seem to dip or droop the ball, and I don’t think there are many directors who could even begin to manage what they achieve here: a fusion of popcorn action with character study, which juggles 20-40 characters at various points. My hat sirs.

Avengers: Endgame is a delightful film. I went into it sceptical after Infinity War left me a little cold, but I needn’t have been so concerned. This is a film that, on its own merits, is almost a sort of masterpiece. Have you ever seen a film that juggled so much – not least the crushing expectation of its fans – and delivered so superbly? Chalk that up as another success for the Russos just turning in a film that the huge fanbase loved. Avengers: Endgame isn’t Citizen Kane – but just as the Russos couldn’t make a film as great as that, you can’t imagine Orson Welles would ever have managed to direct a film like it.

The Hurt Locker (2009)

Danger awaits round every corner in the shocking The Hurt Locker

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Cast: Jeremy Renner (Sgt William James), Anthony Mackie (Sgt JT Sanborn), Brian Geraghty (Specialist Owen Eldridge), Guy Pearce (Staff Sgt Matthew Thompson), Christian Camargo (Lt Colonel John Cambridge), David Morse (Colonel Reed), Ralph Fiennes (British Mercenary), Evangeline Lilly (Connie James), Sam Spruell (Contractor Charlie)

There have been few wars in history as controversial as the Iraq war. Despite this, it’s hard to think of a film that really has nailed the complex social, political and military causes behind the war – or managed to engage with the deep unease much of the Western world feels for the campaign. While there have been great films about Vietnam, that other opinion-dividing conflict of the last 50 years, there hasn’t been one about Iraq yet – perhaps because the wound is still so fresh. The Hurt Locker gets closest by far – largely because it is a film that makes war its subject, not Iraq; it could just as easily be set in the fields of France as the streets of Baghdad.

After the death of their Staff Sergeant (Guy Pearce) while defusing an IED in Baghdad, Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit members Sgt Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) are joined by a new team leader Sgt William James (Jeremy Renner). However, they both – particularly the by-the-book Sanborn – grow increasingly concerned about James’ maverick methods and willingness to take personal risks to defuse bombs. Slowly, tensions rise in the team.

The Hurt Locker makes no comment whatsoever on the controversy behind the decision to intervene in Iraq. Instead, its focus is entirely on the psychology of those who go to war, and the sorts of personalities it can attract, from those with a keen desire to do their duty to others who get a certain “buzz” from risk and conflict that they cannot find elsewhere in their lives. As the film’s opening words say, “War is a Drug”. And there are few characters more afflicted by an addiction to that drug than Sgt William James.

Not that James is a villain. One of the film’s many strengths is that he is far from a lunatic. Played with a career-defining charisma and intensity by a then almost-unknown Jeremy Renner, James takes personal risks (defusing bombs without the huge rubber safety suits, turning off his comms to concentrate, returning to bombsites to collect trophies or lost items) but he also shows concern and empathy for his fellow soldiers and (largely) avoids putting them in danger. With the team pinned down by snipers in the desert, he calmly reassures Eldridge and talks Sanborn quietly through taking down the snipers. He develops bonds with people and later in the film shows great compassion and willingness to put himself in danger to save a man unwillingly attached to a suicide vest.

James’ struggles are to deal with the modern world and its shallow obsessions compared to the thrill of putting your life on the line (as the film brilliantly illustrates with a final vignette of James back home at the end of rotation, staring blankly at a wall of cereal boxes in a supermarket). On campaign, he talks dismissively of his child and claims to not know or understand his relationship with his wife. But this is a front – it’s clear his family life is far more settled than he suggests – and is actually more connected to his guilt at enjoying his time on military posting more than he does the neutered warmth of family life. Renner excels at all this complex psychology, crafting a man who is aware of his addiction, can’t combat it but feels a deep guilt for it.

The Hurt Locker is about how this rush of war can be more compelling and life-affirming than hearth and home. It’s also perhaps a commentary on how we ourselves get a rush from watching action and war films – that it’s only a few steps from enjoying watching the excitement of conflict, to enjoying being in the middle of that kind of action. Is James really that bad? Defusing bombs is a difficult and demanding job – and James knows (rightly) that he is one of the best at doing it. And shouldn’t a man enjoy his job? Renner’s glee at a job well done is balanced by guilty awareness that he shouldn’t be enjoying himself as much as this.

Kathryn Bigelow is in her element directing this burst of male testosterone, assembling a film that is gripping, tense and hugely exciting. It’s essentially constructed around a series of set-pieces, each of them more unsettling than the one before. Bigelow’s direction is impeccable, as each of these sequences is both unique in tone and utterly compelling. Bigelow became the first woman to win Best Director at the Oscars – and her acute understanding of men enamoured with the buzz of adrenalin is what gives the film much of its narrative force.

It also helps that the film she has assembled here is a technical marvel, brilliantly shot by Barry Ackroyd with a scintillating display of hand-held cameras, cleverly focused details and immersive story telling. The Hurt Locker is a film both drenched in sun and darkness, with burning yellows and oppressive greys. It’s a film that captures the incredibly alien, heat-stoked insanity of Iraq, and the journalistic style and camerawork make everything we watch feel even more immediate.

In the middle of this, the psychological drama between the maverick James and the cautious, procedure-led Sanborn (played by an equally impressive Anthony Mackie, whose every moment buzzes with frustration and anger at the dangers he sees James inflict on them) plays out wonderfully. Bigelow has an immediate understanding of how the adrenalin and testosterone of combat quickly bubble up into violence and aggression off the battlefield, with these two men often becoming like rutting stags, struggling to place their own supremacy on the team – with Brian Geraghty’s weaker Eldridge the pawn between the two.

The Hurt Locker does what it does so well that it’s easy to overlook its flaws. Its narrative is so pure that you regret it gives barely a second to addressing the issues in Iraq or how the behaviour and attitude of the soldiers there (mostly angry and abusive towards the local population) may be contributing to the problems. It also struggles to add much narrative originality to the story, beyond its set-pieces – in particular James’ friendship with a young Iraqi boy seems like the forced stuff of movie convention in a film that prides itself on reality. When dialogue takes over from action, many of the psychological points it raises have been seen in countless films past. You could argue that the film is largely at its weakest when it tackles any questions of plot at all, and that what Bigelow has really done here is make one of the finest boots-on-the-ground immersions you are going to see.

And if The Hurt Locker is just that then, you know what, that’s fine too. Because when it does this it’s one of the best in the game. Brilliantly assembled, shot and edited (those many Oscars were well deserved) it’s a gripping war film that relies a little too much on some of the conventions of war and combat films, while also focusing very intently on how war affects the psychology of the men at the sharp end. It gives a truly unique perspective of the dangers (in every sense) and is brought to life by a series of fine performances, with Renner and Mackie outstanding. Wonderfully directed, and smashingly tense, it’s a worthy contender in the upper echelons of any list made of great war films.

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Captain America and Iron Man stand-off in overblown Captain America: Civil War

Director: Anthony and Joe Russo

Cast: Chris Evans (Steve Rogers), Robert Downey Jnr (Tony Stark), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson), Don Cheadle (James Rhodes), Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton), Chadwick Boseman (T’Challa), Paul Bettany (Vision), Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff), Paul Rudd (Scott Lang), Emily VanCamp (Sharon Carter), Tom Holland (Peter Parker), Frank Grillo (Crossbones), William Hurt (Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross), Daniel Brühl (Helmet Zemo), Martin Freeman (Everett K Ross), Marisa Tomei (May Parker), John Kani (T’Chaka), John Slattery (Howard Stark), Hope Davis (Maria Stark), Alfre Woodward (Mariah Dillard)

Captain America: Civil War is another explosive entry in the MCU, and is even more stuffed than usual, with nearly all our Avengers thrown into the mix – with the added twist that they fight each other! Yup it’s time for another playground argument: “If X fought Y, which one would win?!” That’s the main thrust of Captain America: Civil War, but it’s actually a distraction from the real plot. The much hyped fight at the airport (and the build-up to it) is a rather dull hour in the middle that distracts from a richer, more interesting film.

There is dissent in the ranks of the Avengers. The UN wants them to sign the “Zukovian Accords” – an agreement that they will work only under the direction of the UN. For Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr) this legal framework for their actions is essential – but Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) argues that the Avengers need to have the freedom to go where they are needed, not only where they are told. In this tense situation, a bombing in Vienna is swiftly blamed on Roger’s old friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), who has become the brain-washed killer The Winter Soldier. In disagreement with Stark about the Accords and determined to protect Bucky, Steve quickly finds himself on a collision course with Tony.

The central idea here is actually fairly interesting: are superheroes people with a higher duty or just a group of vigilantes? Should they follow the direction of politicians – or be free to go where they are needed, when they are needed? How much accountability should they hold? If, in saving the world, dozens of civilians should die in the aftermath, is that acceptable or not? These are the ideas that lie under the arguments that the characters – principally Captain America and Iron Man – have. 

The first 40 minutes set this up nicely: an operation goes wrong, people are killed and the Avengers are confronted with footage of the collateral destruction they have caused while saving the world. But these ideas get left behind as the film gets caught up with pushing our characters into an artificial-feeling battle so destructive that an entire airport gets trashed by the “let’s cool our actions” team while trying to stop the “we should be independent” faction.

It would have been really nice to have these ideas explored in more depth, rather than a few moments here and there. Essentially, the film hires Alfre Woodard to deliver a top-notch performance as a mother whose son was Avengers collateral damage, to convince Tony things need to change, and leaves it at that. Steve’s counter-argument gets laid out swiftly – though he strangely makes no reference to the fact that the previous film saw a very similar “government organisation” revealed as the source of all evil in the Marvel world. It’s quick beats like this that set up this collision – but only Tony and Steve get any chance to express any form of developed views (in a few very well acted scenes). The motivations of the rest of the Avengers seem under-developed.

But that’s the problem with Captain America: Civil War: it’s seriously overstuffed. With some of these plots and characters removed, we could have actually had a very rich, thematic story.

The whole “Zukovia Accords” plot also has to constantly juggle for space with leftover “Winter Soldier” plotline from the previous two films. Truth be told, the latter is the more interesting, dealing with actual emotions, friendships and loyalties – chiefly the bond between Bucky and Steve (very well illustrated in a few brief, well played scenes). It’s this dilemma of whether Bucky can be held responsible for things he did under mind control that becomes the film’s key question. This plot line works far more effectively as it basically involves only three of the characters and feels like it has genuine things at stake, in a way I just can’t feel about the forced “civil war” angle. 

But it’s that civil war angle that the film is being sold on – and it’s what the middle section of the film is given over to. The big, airport-wrecking battle between the two sides is well shot, has good special effects and throws in plenty of neat one-liners. But what it completely lacks is any sort of dramatic tension or any stakes. As our heroes indestructibly bounce around while swapping light banter you never feel that this battle really amounts to anything. The sides don’t seem that far apart, or really that different – in fact the whole thing feels like playground horseplay.

The big battle is even undermined by the fact that we’ve already seen our heroes fight each other at least twice already in small combinations – and in all these cases, bodies are thrown about mercilessly but no one suffers more than a few scratches. Even after a character falls hundreds of feet to the ground, he’s later shown as basically being absolutely fine. The big battle is supposed to be the exciting showpiece, but it’s basically just big filler. A load of noise, where nothing really happens and no-one really feels at any risk, with no real consequences (all the emotional consequences emerge from the smaller scale final confrontation which would be unchanged if this airport fight was removed).

The film only really recovers again once that fight is benched, and we wind up with three of our heroes squaring off over very personal issues. This also brings to the fore the Daniel Brühl’s fascinating character, a very different type of villain: someone whom the film plays a neat game of misdirection with. The film reveals one of its themes as revenge, and how much it can dominate or twist our lives. This is given voice through a wonderfully written and played scene between Brühl and Boseman (very dynamic as the future Black Panther, dealing with grief over the murder of his father).

That scene gives an insight into the film’s real strengths: the small moments. The bits where the overblown fighting can be put to one side and we can see these characters (and the very good actors who inhabit them) talk. Moments like this carry more humanity, interest and tension than a thousand sequences of a giant Ant-man. In these moments, Downey Jnr and Evans are both terrific. Evans was born to play this part, making Rogers adamantine in his decency and nobility without being wearing, and also demonstrating an increasing streak of an old-soul who is tired of listening to other people and wants to make his own choices. Downey Jnr increasingly makes Stark a man hiding resentments, fears and doubts under a veneer of cool. Several other excellent performances also burst around the margins of the film (I’d single out Mackie who is excellent as the loyal Sam).

It’s just a shame Captain America: Civil War wastes some strong material in the prolonged set-up – and then enactment – of its superhero feud. Enjoyable as it can be to see this sort of stuff from time to time, after a while it’s tedious to watch invulnerable people taking pot shots at each other with no discernible impact. A single conversation with stakes – with a doubt about whether a friendship will hold or not – has more tension and excitement than a hundred sequences of heroes hitting each other. There is a more interesting story here – but between the action and the obligatory set-ups for future Black Panther and Spiderman movies (excellent as Boseman and Holland are in these roles) it doesn’t quite reach its potential.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

Tom Cruise is the Living Manifestation of Destiny in Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Cast: Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt), Jeremy Renner (William Brandt), Simon Pegg (Benji Dunn), Rebecca Ferguson (Ilsa Faust), Ving Rhames (Luther Stickell), Sean Harris (Solomon Lane), Alec Baldwin (Alan Hunley), Simon McBurney (Atlee), Tom Hollander (Prime Minister)

Tom Cruise may be getting on a bit now, but he still does his own stunts with reckless disregard for his own safety: part of the franchise’s appeal is seeing the latest insane thing the Crusier will do. In M:I RN he gets this out of the way early (pre-credits) with a madcap stunt involving holding onto a plane while it takes off. A clever little tease, if for no other reason that no-one can complain about it being a spoiler when said stunt was placed on the poster and all the trailers, when it’s literally the first thing he does in the film.

Anyway, the mission accepted this time is Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) going toe-to-toe with a shadowy organisation known as The Syndicate (a sort of evil IMF), run by the serenely sinister Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). Things are made more difficult by IMF being disbanded (again!) by CIA director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin). However, help is at hand from old friends Benji (Simon Pegg), Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Luther (Ving Rhames) – and possibly from mysterious double (or is it triple?) agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) who may or may not be playing for the angels.

This continues the rich vein of form for this series. It’s light, fast-paced and huge amounts of fun that bombs along with plenty of cool stuff happening all the time. Once again, the stunts are pretty stunning and the set-pieces feel like they offer fresh alternatives. In fact Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation might be one of the most fun entries in what’s already a hugely enjoyable franchise.

It’s still very much the Cruise franchise though. There’s a fascinating documentary on the DVD. It’s called “Cruise Control”, which is a revealing pun while you watch Tom constantly stand over the shoulder of Chris McQuarrie during shooting. He sets the camera, he storyboards the scenes, he talks to the actors, he edits the film. To all intents and purposes, he’s at lease the co-director. Perhaps this is why Cruise is so overwhelmingly the focus of the film. He spends a good 15 minutes displaying his chiselled body topless. Alec Baldwin even has a ludicrous speech where he calls Hunt “the living manifestation of destiny”. Fun as the film is, make no mistake it’s a showpiece for Cruise.

Here’s Tom hanging off a plane. Say what you like the guy is committed. Or should be committed.

Not that there is much wrong with that if the end result is such good fun. Simon Pegg does a good job of puncturing the pretentions. Every 15 minutes we also get some sort of gripping action set-piece: Tom fighting in the Vienna Opera House, Tom holding his breath in an underwater computer bank for an unfeasibly long period of time, Tom driving a car then a motorbike (no helmet!) through a series of crazily risky chases… Even when escaping from captivity early from the film, he springs his escape with a nifty upside-down acrobatic jump-climb from a pole. Sure it’s all Tom, but he does it all so well that you can’t not be entertained.

But away from Tom, there is actually a nice sense of family that keeps the story bubbling over. Benji and Hunt increasingly feel like heterosexual life partners (in a really nice touch, it’s Benji who fills the damsel in distress role at the end of the film). The other returning characters, Brandt and Luther, don’t have masses to do but immediately settle into the bickering dynamic that keeps the family ticking over. Ilsa Faust is thrown into this boys-only club partly as a femme fatale, partly as some sort of a potential surrogate stepmum, who the kids are working out whether to trust.

Ilsa Faust could be the best thing about the film, a sort of super-efficient female version of Ethan, bests him a couple of times, and can do all the running, punching, shooting and driving that Tom does almost as well. Sure the camera can’t quite resist a few tracking shots up her body in a nice dress or motorcycle gear, but all-in-all she’s pretty well presented. There is a curious semi-flirtatious, semi-siblingy relationship between Faust and Hunt, with the film eventually settling as a kinda sweet dance of “what might have been”. Ferguson is terrific in the role, not only matching Tom’s athleticism, but also giving Faust a sort of arch mysteriousness. Goodness only knows what Hunt really makes of the first female interest he’s had in the series who can match him.

McQuarrie may, I suspect, be as much Cruise’s collaborator as the director, but he does craft an exciting and confident piece of film making. The Syndicate plot line is suitably twisty and turny – and helped by Sean Harris’ softly spoken, arrogant menace as Lane. You’ll be kept guessing as to the true agenda of nearly everyone involved. Simon McBurney offers good smarm as a shady MI6 head (called, bizarrely, Chief Attlee at every turn hardly the title you’d expect). A spycraft action sequence at the Vienna Opera House is a brilliantly entertaining routine of misdirection, which feels close in tone to the original Mission: Impossible film in its old-school smarts behind new-school flash.

Rogue Nation is, quite simply, a damn entertaining thrill ride – and it doesn’t really have pretensions to be more than that. McQuarrie and Cruise keep the action churning along nicely, each of the thrilling set pieces is exactly that, and the core characters on this rollercoaster are engaging and interesting. McQuarrie is a skilled enough writer to rope together some memorable scenes among the mayhem. It’s charming and hugely entertaining – any doubt that this franchise isn’t here for the long term can be firmly dispelled.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

The Avengers Assemble to take on robotic villain Ultron

Director: Joss Whedon

Cast: Robert Downey Jnr (Tony Stark), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner), Chris Evans (Captain Steve Rogers), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff), Jeremy Renner (Clint “Hawkeye” Barton), James Spader (Ultron), Samuel L Jackson (Nick Fury), Don Cheadle (James Rhodes), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Pietro Maximoff), Elisabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff), Paul Bettany (JARVIS/Vision), Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson), Hayey Atwell (Peggy Carter), Idris Elba (Heimdell), Stellan Skarsgard (Erik Selvig), Thomas Kretschmann (Baron von Strucker), Linda Cardellini (Laura Barton)

The Marvel Cinematic Universe: with the wrong director, it can be top a heavy mess, but Whedon showed with the first Avengers film that the right writer/director can weave the competing plotlines into a story that win overs an audience and leave them thrilled and entertained. His problem here was repeating that trick with the sequel.

After (it seems) finally defeating HYDRA, the Avengers relax at last – little knowing that Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr) is using multi-film-macguffin Loki’s staff to explore the possibility of creating an intelligent army of robots to defend the Earth. Instead, he creates Ultron (James Spader), a deeply flawed robotic version of his own personality, who grows to believe the best way to save the world is to wipe out mankind. Time for the Avengers to saddle up once more!

The greatest nemesis the Avengers faced here was that the first of these superhero smackdown films (2011’s Avengers Assemble) was far better than anyone had a right to expect. It was witty and had a plausible script, a very good villain in Tom Hiddleston (much missed here), and a winning structure that saw our heroes initially far apart and later drawn together into a family. On top of that, it gave all the jaw-dropping action and geeky thrills of watching iconic characters fighting together (in every sense of the word) that the fans expected. It worked so well that, consciously or not, Whedon ended up imitating it its structure here.

Both films open with a piece of shady alien tech: it’s stolen, and our heroes’ noble intentions for its use which   backfire. The villain is an outcast with a personal (familial) connection to one of our heroes (Ultron is, to all intents and purposes, Stark’s son). A first attempt to take on the villains ends in chaos as no-one works together, leaving the gang disheartened. Hulk is unleashed, causes chaos and needs to be restrained. A pep talk from Fury perks the gang back up. They head back into a battle over a city, against overwhelming odds, where they finally work together and turn a weapon of mass destruction into their salvation. With some small thematic twists and some adjustments to the plot they are fundamentally the same movie.

This might be connected to the greater studio interference Whedon dealt with. This conflict of visions results in a wonky balance between pay-off from past films and build up to future ones, and several plot lines being poorly developed. Most obviously most of Thor’s sub-plot ended-up on the cutting room floor. What was meant to be a series of revelations about infinity stones turns into essentially Chris Hemsworth sitting in a puddle. Whedon confirmed that the studio instructed he delete either this sequence or the sequence set at Barton’s log cabin (the emotional heart of the movie) so it’s not surprising that this paid the price. Needless to say, not a frame of the terrifically dull and overextended Iron Man vs. Hulk battle was allowed to hit the cutting room floor.

This confused cutting down of ideas is present throughout the movie. Villain Strucker, introduced with fanfare at the end of the last movie, is unceremoniously bumped off off-screen. Andy Serkis pops up to serve as an introduction to a future movie. The creation of Paul Bettany’s Vision is only vaguely explained. Ultron is never really given time (despite a pitch perfect performance of cold smarm from James Spader) for his plans to fall into shape, or for the audience to really understand him as a character. A backstory for Natasha is fitfully sketched out – but with hardly any time to explore it, the final product was so clumsily done that the film drew heavy (unfairly personal) criticism from the Twitterati, claiming Whedon was denouncing any woman choosing not to have children (“I’m a monster” says Natasha remembering her brutal education, which included GBH, murder and her voluntary sterilisation). He clearly isn’t, but as the plotline is rushed, it becomes easier to read an unintended message in it.

The area Whedon does handle well is juggling the huge number of characters he needs to keep tabs on at any one time – with careful plotting and some decent, fleet-footed scripting, he manages to allow each of the heroes a moment in the sun and a chance for the actors to breathe and perform. Those moments where the film takes five and doesn’t worry about the explosions and comic lore are the ones that work best – and also, perhaps, the ones most warmly embraced by the fans (never the best judges of what they think they will like – in advance they would probably have named the bland Iron Man-Hulk battle as the movie’s big sequence).

There’s a reason why most people would probably remember sequences like the party scene, where our heroes playfully take it in turns to lift Thor’s hammer: they feel real and they deal with emotions and friendships that we can understand and relate to, in a way we can’t with a giant robot man hitting a big green guy for no real eason (can you tell I didn’t like that bit?). It’s why the sequence Whedon fought so hard to keep in the film – Barton’s log cabin – feels genuinely rather sweet and moving. These are sequences where our characters behave like human beings, and they are the sequences that make us connect with the film.

Anyway take a look at these two scenes – which is more interesting and engaging? Make up your own mind!

The best Marvel films have always had an eye for the incongruous insertion of our heroes into a real world. And by placing Barton (an empathetic Jeremy Renner) front and centre as the moral cornerstone of the film, contrasting his (albeit well-trained) normality against the Gods he fights with, Whedon allows elements of relatability to anchor the film. Renner makes an awful lot of Barton’s wistful longing for something away from Avenging, while his relationship with his wife (who “fully supports your Avenging”) is one of the first relationships in these films that feels like it could be from a regular movie.

It’s strengths like this that Whedon brings to these films. It’s not directorial vision – at heart Whedon is quite a televisual director, using simple camera set-ups without much visual flair. The action the film provides is entertaining enough, but in truth we’ve seen all this super action before, and few of the set pieces are really memorable. Even a few days away I’m struggling to remember them all. Which is not to say they are badly staged at all – they’re just nothing new or special, and in many ways just higher budget developments of things from the first film. Whedon’s real visual strength is in his instinct for a comic beat or sight gag – and the film delivers several of these.

Whedon also crucially forced through (against studio objections) the death of Quicksilver. Marvel strongly urged a cop-out final shot of Quicksilver either in a hospital bed or in recuperation, but Whedon wisely stuck to his guns. It was an important struggle, as it forces a sense of peril into this world and gives the viewer the sense that sometimes things might not always turn out well. This is particularly important, since Stark’s entire plot about his fears would make no sense in a world without stakes or consequences. It also allows Whedon to do some very neat audience misdirection with Barton – how many of us, watching Barton solemnly promise his wife that this will be ‘one last mission’, were expecting him to bite the big one later in the film?

Avengers: Age of Ultron is a compromised film, but still a decent one. It’s not in the top five Marvel films, let alone the top five superhero films, but it’s entertaining, has some decent action – and, above all, Whedon manages to put a bit of heart in heart, enough for us to care about the characters. It’s this factor so many of these films miss out on – and it’s a reason that, while Age of Ultron is flawed, it’s not fatally so, and will continue to entertain for a good many years yet.

Arrival (2016)

Amy Adams tries to build an understanding with Earth’s visitors in this thinking man’s sci-fi film

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Cast: Amy Adams (Louise Banks), Jeremy Renner (Ian Donnelly), Forest Whitaker (Colonel Weber), Michael Stuhlberg (David Halpern), Tzi Ma (General Shang), Mark O’Brien (Captain Marks)

Aliens in Hollywood movies don’t often seem to mean well. For every ET you’ve got a dozen Independence Day city destroyers. But few films have really dealt directly with the complexities that might be involved in engaging with a species for the first time. How would we talk to them? How could we find out what they want?

Those are the questions that Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams), the world’s leading linguist, has to juggle with after she is called in by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to establish communication with the inhabitants of an alien ship, one of 12 that have appeared across the globe. Working with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Banks strives to build trust and a basis for common language with the aliens. Throughout, she must deal with her military superiors’ lack of understanding of the painstaking nature of her work, the paranoia and fear of the nations of the world, and her own increasingly intrusive dreams and memories.

This is grown-up sci-fi, directed intelligently by Denis Villeneuve, whose confidence and artistry behind the camera oozes out of every shot. It’s a film that wants us to think, and urges us to consider the nature of humanity. Communication between humans and the “heptapods” is the film’s obvious focus, but it is equally interested in demonstrating how distrust and paranoia undermine how we talk to each other. Not only is this in the clashes between nations, but on a smaller scale by the communication between military and science, the uniforms in charge largely failing to grasp the slow and painstaking nature of Banks’ work. On a personal and emotional level, we see the slow growth of understanding between Banks and Donnelly, their increasing ease with each other as they break down the barriers between them, and between humanity and the aliens. 

Far from the bangs and leaps of inspiration that science normally sees itself represented by onscreen, this film attempts to follow the methodical process of building an understanding of a concept from nothing, and the careful hours of work that underpin sudden revelations. The film is very strong on the complexities of linguistics and the difficulty of conveying exact translations, including intent, context and meaning, from one language to another. In fact it’s a wonderful primer on the work of linguistics experts, offering a fascinating breakdown of how language is understood, translated and defined between two groups without a common tongue. 

This is also helped by making the aliens truly alien: I can’t remember a set of Hollywood aliens as otherworldly as these are. Not only is their language completely different (based on symbols and strange echoes like whale song), but physically they bear no resemblance to humans at all (I confess that I was momentarily distracted here, as their tentacles and residence in a gas-filled box rather reminded me of The 465 in Torchwood: Children of Earth). They lack clear arms, legs or even faces. Their technology is advanced and immediately unsettling. Jóhann Jóhannsson’s wonderfully eerie and imposing score brilliantly helps to capture this otherworldly sense, as does the crisp photography and unique production design of the alien ship. The film walks a brilliantly fine line between wonder at the aliens and a sense of unsettling dread that means we (like the characters) are never comfortable in making assumptions about their motives.

Much of the film’s success as a viewing experience also depends on knowing very little about it. For me this film delivered one of the most effective late-plot re-evaluations I’ve seen: I had no inkling of this gear shift, or how a late piece of information demands that we adjust our understanding of everything we have seen so far in the film. This is actually one of the best done examples I’ve seen of a twist (calling it a twist seems somehow a little demeaning, as if this was a Shyamalan thriller, but a twist it is) – I in no way saw it coming, but it suddenly makes the film about something completely different than you originally believed it would be. I won’t go into huge details, but the film raises a number of fascinating questions around pre-determination and fate that challenge our perceptions of how we might change our lives if we knew more about them. To say more would be to reveal too much, but this twist not only alters your perceptions of the films but deeply enriches its hinterland.

I would say the film needs this enrichment as, brilliant and intellectual as it is, it’s also a strangely cold film that never quite balances the “thinking sci-fi” with the “emotional human drama” in the way it’s aiming for. Part of this is the aesthetic of the film, which has a distancing, medical correctness to it – from sound design to crisp cinematography – and which, brilliant as it is, does serve to distance the viewer emotionally from the film. Despite the excellence of much of the work involved, I never quite found myself as moved by the plights of the characters, or as completely wrapped up empathetically with Adams’ character, as the film wanted me to be. While the ideas in the film are handled superbly, it doesn’t have quite as much heart as the plot perhaps needs to strike a perfect balance.

What emotional force the film does have comes from Amy Adams. It’s a performance that you grow to appreciate more, the longer you think about it. It’s a subtle understated performance, soulful and mourning, that speaks of a character with a deep, almost undefinable sense of loss and sadness at her core. You feel a life dedicated to communication and language has only led to her being distanced from the world. Adams is the driving force of the film – though very good support is offered from Renner as a charming scientist who also convinces as a passionate expert – and the film’s story is delivered largely through her eyes, just as the aliens’ perception of humanity becomes linked to her own growing bond with them. I will also say that Adams also has to shoulder much of the twist of the film – and it is a huge tribute to her that she not only makes this twist coherent but also never hints at the reveal until the film chooses to. 

Arrival is a film that in many ways is possibly easier to respect than it is to love: but I find that I respect it the more I think about it. It does put you in mind of other films – the aliens have more than a touch of 2001’s monolith to them and Villeneuve’s work is clearly inspired by a mixture of that film and Close Encounters. But this is a challenging, thought-provoking piece of work in its own right and one that I think demands repeat viewings in order to engage the more with its complexity and the emotional story it is attempting to tell. It may well be that on second viewing, removed from puzzling about the mystery in the centre, I will find myself more drawn towards it on an emotional rather than just intellectual level. That is something I am more than willing to try and find out from a film that I think could become a landmark piece of intelligent sci-fi.

The Bourne Legacy (2012)

Even with two guns and Jeremy Renner’s face, Aaron Cross isn’t that interesting

Director: Tony Gilroy

Cast: Jeremy Renner (Aaron Cross), Rachel Weisz (Dr Marta Shearing), Edward Norton (Col. Eric Byer), Stacy Keach (Adm. Mark Turso), Dennis Boutsikaris (Terrence Ward), Oscar Isaac (Outcome #3), Joan Allen (Pamela Landy), Albert Finney (Dr Albert Hirsch), David Strathairn (Noah Vosen), Scott Glenn (Ezra Kramer), Donna Murphy (Dita Mandy), Michael Chernus (Arthur Ingram), Corey Stoll (Zev Vendel), Željko Ivanek (Dr Donald Foite), Elizabeth Marvel (Dr Connie Dowd)

What do you do when the people want more sequels to your film series but you can’t persuade the star and director (no matter how much money you offer) to make another film? Well you can either re-cast or you can put another character front and centre in a sequel. The Bourne Legacy goes for the latter approach and invents a new series of characters and shady CIA programmes so that we can put the old chase-and-fight formula back to work.

Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) has been mentally and physically enhanced as part of a series of CIA black ops, overseen by shady CIA bigwig Ed Norton. After the events of Bourne Ultimatum (which overlap with the first quarter of this film), the CIA cuts its losses and orders the deaths of all the agents (including Cross) and the scientists (including Rachel Weisz’s Dr Shearing). Of course both Cross and Shearing survive and go on the run. Despite the writing tying itself into knots to connect its story to the previous films, that’s the sum of the plot. Hardly gripping.

This strange historical curiosity spends the first half of its running time attempting to justify its existence. Extensive narrative hoops are jumped through and new footage carefully interwoven with clips from the previous two movies to try and suggest “a plot behind the plot”. It’s a mistake. No one needs to know why the film exists: we just want to get on with a cracking story. Instead we spend an inordinate amount of time unravelling this “sidequel” attempt at franchise expansion, meandering around unengaging and complex plotting that totally fails to engage the interest.

So long winded are these plotting gymnastics, it’s a good two-thirds of the way into the film before our villain becomes aware of our hero’s survival. Our hero never becomes aware of the villain (an unclear flashback is put into place so they share the screen) and only guesses at who is chasing him. This means the chase elements of the film never really click into place and lack anything for the viewer to invest in. The “hero” is an assassin whose objective is to keep hold of his enhanced intellect, obtained from drugs on the “programme”. Well good for him, but its hardly a sympathetic reason for us to root for him. He’s still an unrepentant killer.

This isn’t helped by the giggle-worthy flashback scenes of Jeremy Renner in his pre-enhanced state, where Renner seems to be aping Ben Stiller’s performance of Simple Jack in Tropic Thunder. In his enhanced state, Cross is fully aware he is an assassin and a willing volunteer – embracing the very dark secret Bourne was so ashamed of. Neither Cross nor Shearing ever have their actions questioned, or display any sense that they have done anything wrong – it seems clear that they would have continued their dirty deeds quite happily without the plot’s intervention. It’s fine to have morally compromised heroes in a film – but this film doesn’t seem to realise or comment on this at any point.

Whatever your views on the characters, the fact remains that this is a chase movie where the chase is not interesting, takes far too long to get started and never really gets the viewer feeling the tension. As an editor of action, Gilroy is no Paul Greengrass and the fight sequences have the same cold distance to them that the rest of the film has, a by-the-numbers series of clashes where it’s hard to really care what happens.

A brilliant cast of actors is totally wasted. Poor Jeremy Renner does his very best here – he has charm, he’s a charismatic performer, but this is a dull character who we are given no real reason to invest in. Rachel Weisz plays the sort of damsel distress (matched up with the “film scientist” trope) an Oscar winner surely can do without. Edward Norton as with so many other films makes his contempt and boredom with the film totally apparent. Allen, Finney and Straitharn have little more than single scene cameos. A host of great character actors (Isaac, Marvel, Stoll, Ivanek, Keach, Murphy) are totally wasted.

This is a dull, formulaic, unloved sequel that spends more time trying to place itself into the timeline of the previous movies than developing a storyline and characters we actually care about. It moves slowly from location to location, sprinkling in some inadequately filmed fights and chases, never once persuading us that we should care about anything that happens.