DIR: Seth MacFarlane • WRI: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild • PRO: Jason Clark, Seth MacFarlane, Joseph J. Micucci, Scott Stuberf • ED: Jeff Freeman • DOP. Michael Barrett • DES: Stephen J. Lineweaver • MUS: Joel McNeely • CAST: Charlize Theron, Neil Patrick Harris, Sarah Silverman, Seth MacFarlane
I was nervously excited when first I heard that Seth MacFarlane would turn his hand to live-action parody. I enjoy parody with affection; think The Cornetto Trilogy or even Family Guy’s Star Wars spin-offs, which George Lucas himself was so happy with he let them use the music. I was slightly more nervous when I learnt MacFarlane would be tackling the Western genre. Would saddles blaze?
Saddles do not even smoulder.
Arizona, 1882: Everyman Albert Stark (MacFarlane) loses his sweetheart Louise (Amanda Seyfried) to Neil Patrick Harris’ moustache enthusiast. Albert mopes about with his mate (Giovanni Ribisi) until Charlize Theron arrives in town and provides Albert with a man-makeover, let’s hope her husband Clinch (Liam Neeson) doesn’t arrive before the third act. That would be inappropriate.
This is awful. When serious films fail to this extent it is often funny but when your aim is to be funny the failure seems all too serious. The whole film feels like sitting through a dinner party with David Brent knowing you’ll have to ask him for a favour at some point. At one point Albert literally stops the action to explain a joke he has just made.
I could banter on extensively about the many (million) ways A Million Ways bothered me but that would likely get as boring as the film. I counted six laughs:, a cinema snack I’d like a go at (sugared butter shavings), a cameo too good for this film and a psychedelic sequence narrated by Patrick Stewart in the entertainment corner. At a stretch that will soak up six minutes of this dull-fest, which borders on two hours. It’s Alvy Singer in the Old West without the loveable neurosis. It’s low-brow humour with no wit or reason-for-being.
It’s a million ways to tell the same bad joke. In the West. Don’t listen.
DIR: Doug Liman • WRI: Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth • PRO: Jason Hoffs, Gregory Jacobs, Jeffrey Silver, Erwin Stoff • ED: James Herbert • DOP. Dion Beebe • DES: Oliver Scholl • MUS: Christophe Beck • CAST: Tom Cruise, Bill Paxton, Jeremy Piven, Lara Pulver
There’s an old Rich Hall routine that sums up every Tom Cruise movie as; Tom Cruise plays an X, a very good X, but has a crisis of confidence and then meets someone who will teach him to be a good X again. Little has changed.
Tom Cruise plays Cage, the face of the propaganda machine for the global war effort that’s badly losing a war with the Mimics; a race of tentacled aliens that almost seem to know what the humans are going to do before they do it. He’s a pretty good propagandist until he has his identity and rank removed by Brendan Gleeson and is tossed onto the frontlines with no combat experience. Soon though, he realises that he seems to be Groundhog Day-ing the big invasion day anytime he dies and only Emily Blunt as the stoic, impossibly-skilled, war-vet Rita, believes him. So Rita has to train him to be a good soldier so he can be pretty good at that too and save the day. Also, there are robot-suits in this film for little obvious reason outside of the fact that anything in proximity to the words Iron Man makes all of the money and any film that doesn’t look like a videogame simply won’t get green lit anymore.
Cast-wise; Emily Blunt is the standout, Cruise is impressively bearable, Bill Paxton is a huge amount of fun as the hard-ass sergeant that these films always have to have at least one of and Brendan Gleeson looks hilariously bored as General Plot Device. He has literally two proper scenes; the first is to justify demoting Cruise’s character and sending him into battle in order to cover his own ass (somehow) and thus set the story in motion, and the second is to give Blunt and Cruise the MacGuffin when they finally decide that they’ve been faffing about for long enough and should probably get act three started.
What’s truly impressive about the film is that it shows promising signs that the end might be in sight for the Holy War fought in the name of Christopher Nolan that has seen so many blockbusters’ sense of fun sacrificed at the alters of ‘realism’ and ‘grittiness’ (cough, Man of Steel, cough). The trailer gives the impression of a very dour and portentous war movie that happens to involve a time-travel gimmick, robot-suits and aliens. It’s pleasantly surprising then that this tonally ends up as more Run, Lola, Run than Source Code and embraces its sillier elements. The explanation of the time-travel is the key to this. Another film might contort itself into a tangled mess of exposition (see previous ‘cough’) in order to explain something like this ‘realistically’ but here it is explained in pretty simple terms, doesn’t bog the film down and things move on swiftly. Now, that’s not to say the explanation doesn’t immediately start raising endless questions in your head as soon as you begin to think about it too much but why bother? Just sit back and enjoy it; sometimes an alien with a biological affinity towards temporal transmogrification is just an alien with a biological affinity towards temporal transmogrification.
So in addition to the fun that is to be had at the sight of Tom Cruise being repeatedly beaten, crushed, run-over, shot, exploded and just generally killed over and over again, the screenplay manages to find (or rather, make use of) all the sardonic humour that just naturally comes with this situation. Both leads have a surprising amount of fun in the various montage sequences as the dull routine of repeated Tom-Cruise-icide takes hold. Blunt is tailor-made for the straight-faced delivery of pithy one-liners and exasperated sighs as she’s forced to shoot Cruise, yet again. Given the tone that the promotional materials present, these sections in particular were a great surprise.
Outside of this, the plot is on the whole interesting enough to keep your attention and the film is quite well-paced. Since you’re going to be seeing the same action scenes again and again, the film is smart enough to know when they’ve outstayed their welcome and to move onto the next stage. Said action scenes are decent, if a little grey and the CGI is quite good on the alien creatures even if you’ll never forget that what you’re looking at is very clearly CGI. It is a minor disappointment that they don’t make more of the WW2-parallels that are so apparent and in Cruise and Gleeson’s first scene together it seems like the film might almost be about to have an undercurrent of social commentary on war culture but this is sadly dropped quite quickly.
Aside from the god-awful ending, which is completely expected given the premise but still a massive cop-out nonetheless, the only other issue of note is the sound-design. Now this may only be a persistent issue with IMAX screenings but the sound is very piercing. The sound-design itself is fine but given how many times we’re going to see Tom Cruise shot in the head, close to the camera, said gunshot sound being as sharp and loud as it is begins to hurt after a while. See also: the aliens’ high-pitched screams, all the metallic objects that get crushed and the entire final sequence which takes place within an area filled with wrecked cars and all the eardrum-stabbing sounds of scraping metal and smashing glass that it entails.
Since peak blockbuster season is upon us and this is just one of the many films vying for attention at the moment, it’s definitely one of the better ones. A solid, fun action-film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, makes the most of its gimmick to give the film a great visual sense of flow and is only hampered by a few minor quibbles. It never reaches the same heights of delirious entertainment that, say, Godzilla’s final act does but it also doesn’t suffer from the long stretches of boredom that film was afflicted with. Perhaps it could be considered a little unambitious in that case but it’s consistently fun throughout.