Out in the following week
The Rock leads a Jumanji remake. The Bellas return for an encore. Will Smith gets in a scuffle with some orcs.
These are the films coming out in the next week, either in cinemas or, in the case of Bright, on Netflix. Click on for our reviews of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Pitch Perfect 3, The Greatest Showman, Bright, and Ferdinand.
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Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
“This is Alan’s home – I’m just living in it,” someone says in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, in reference to the character Robin Williams played in the 1995 original. It’s a poignant tip of the hat to the late actor, whose tragic absence is an elephant in the room every bit as apparent as the computer-generated pachyderm that shows up on screen. What it also does, alas, is highlight one of this sequel-slash-reboot’s key deficiencies: the lack of any significant connective tissue with its forerunner.
Gone is director Joe Johnston, whose seat behind the camera is now filled by Bad Teacher’s Jake Kasdan. Absent too are the first film’s writers, supporting actors and creative personnel (most notably composer James Horner, who died in 2015). Even Jumanji’s different this time around: the arcane board game of Johnston’s movie has now morphed into an Atari-style videogame.
The result is more like Kong: Skull Island than Jumanji, with Kasdan jettisoning one of the latter’s most subversive pleasures: the anarchic juxtaposition of a small American town with rampant feral beasties, mischievously cast onto the unsuspecting streets by a game with a mind of its own.
The game still thinks for itself in WTTJ, but within much more restrictive parameters. Here the set-up is that each player has his or her own personal avatar, a body-switch gimmick that enables a geek to resemble The Rock, a wallflower to look like Karen Gillan and a cellphone-obsessed girl to become Jack Black. (Kevin Hart completes the quartet as a whiny weakling.)
The disconnect between player and proxy is relentlessly milked, as in the scene where Black performs mouth-to-mouth on a young man he/she has a crush on. Yet it’s a joke that only goes so far, dependent as it is on its stars’ established screen personas and a depressingly retrograde view of gender roles. (At one point Black gives Gillan tips on how to ape a sexpot seductress.)
With only 12 lives between them, the mission at hand is to return a glowing green jewel to its rightful place without being eaten by hippos, stung by mosquitoes or gunned down by Bobby Cannavale’s villain and his motorcycling goons.
Along the way, they hook up with an earlier captive of the game (Nick Jonas in a role intended for Tom Holland) whose pilot skills come in handy during the film’s best set-piece: a hair-raising chopper chase through a canyon with a horde of stampeding rhinos in hot pursuit.
Complete every level and they have a chance of getting back to the real world, and their real bodies. If they don’t, they are destined to stay in Jumanji forever – which, considering it’s really Oahu, doesn’t seem much of a hardship.
Those craving CGI critters, Gillan in a crop top and more of the Dwayne Johnson-Kevin Hart bromance they saw in Central Intelligence won’t be disappointed. Yet even they’d agree this is little more than a sporadically diverting but ultimately soulless exercise in brand exploitation. At one point in the story, each of its protagonists discovers they have a pop-up screen inside them revealing their various strengths and weaknesses. Were this caper to have one of its own, it wouldn’t make for happy reading.
THE VERDICT: The action’s passable and Gillan makes a decent fist of an underwritten character. Otherwise, this Jumanji makeover’s a losing game.
Director: Jake Kasdan; Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, Jack Black; Theatrical release: 20 December, 2017
Pitch Perfect 3
Fame is fleeting. After beating a cappella automatons Das Sound Machine to the World Championship in 2015’s Pitch Perfect 2, our beloved Barden Bellas have now graduated college and are working jobs that are nothing to sing about. The exception is leader Beca (Anna Kendrick), whose producing career looks set to take off… until she gets fired.
Lucky for us, though: with sod-all else to do, the Bellas reform at a Barden reunion and embark on a USO tour to Spain, Italy and France, which means travelogue montages, soft-eyed, hard-bodied men, and thorny rivalries with the other groups on tour – most notably grrrl rockers Ever Moist (“My grandma’s in a band right now… Never Moist,” snipes Rebel Wilson’s Fat Amy).
Also along for the ride, fronting a documentary designed to chronicle every high and low (mostly low), are commentators Gail Abernathy-McKadden (Elizabeth Banks) and John Smith (John Michael Higgins). The pair again lob acid bombs (“Here’s Beca Mitchell stepping onto the stage as small as the day she was born...”), but always seem like a pale imitation of Best in Show’s devilish duo Buck and Trevor (Fred Willard, Jim Piddiock).
The third and supposedly final instalment of the franchise – Last Call, Pitches throws down the tagline – Pitch Perfect 3 is essentially more of the same, with the law of diminishing returns in evidence. So while the Bellas vocalising every hook, beat and electronic pulse of Britney’s Toxic is stirring, it doesn’t pack quite the thrill of the tonsil-tunes in the 2012 original. There’s a reason why viewing figures dwindle on shows like The X Factor, The Voice and Glee, and no amount of fast cutting and powerhouse production can recapture the original freshness.
Likewise, the conflicts with other groups, the slapstick carnage, and the shifting relationship dynamics within the Bellas themselves feel like a cover version, especially as Beca once more juggles the pull of sisterhood with the push of a solo career.
But the movie, to its credit, knows it – directed by Step Up All In’s Trish Sie and written by franchise stalwart Kay Cannon, it offers several smart, self-aware asides (“That doesn’t seem like a disaster waiting to happen”; “That’s a lot of exposition”). Meanwhile, the half-hearted remix of story beats is offset by an intriguing subplot involving Fat Amy’s long-lost father (John Lithgow).
On the evidence of PP3, a ‘comeback’ fourth outing is unnecessary (though no doubt inevitable if this proves a sell-out tour). But fans will find just enough heart-swelling moments involving friendships and family to enjoy one last group hug.
THE VERDICT: Pitch imperfect: this last (?) encore feels a little tired, but fans will still feel the urge to raise their lighters/glowing phones.
Director: Trish Sie; Starring: Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Ruby Rose, Rebel Wilson; Theatrical release: 20 December, 2017
The Greatest Showman
Original movie musicals are a risky proposition. Without the backing of a Broadway run, fresh-out-of-the-box song-and-dance films have often flopped. Think Francis Coppola’s One from the Heart (1982) or James L. Brooks’ mangled I’ll Do Anything (1994). So credit former commercials director Michael Gracey and star Hugh Jackman for pursuing The Greatest Showman, a glitzy feelgood musical based on the life of 19th-century circus impresario P.T. Barnum.
Of course, it helps that La La Land proved you can have an original musical without in-built audience recognition and still have a (mega) hit. Wisely, Showman snagged the talents of songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who won an Oscar for their La La Land songs (and also a Tony for their high-school-set show Dear Evan Hansen). Coupled with the charismatic Jackman as Barnum, and a script co-written by Dreamgirls director Bill Condon, it should be a no-brainer, right?
Well, not quite – though it’s hardly the fault of Jackman, who oozes Barnum-like showmanship from first frame till last. The story picks up as Phineas Taylor Barnum marries the woman of his dreams, Charity (Michelle Williams), despite her parents’ objections over his lowly status. With their two children to support, Barnum – an inveterate dreamer – sets up the American Museum of Curiosities, a flop exhibition that almost leaves him bankrupt.
When it’s suggested that live acts may be more intriguing, he begins to gather “oddities” – like his bearded lady (Keala Settle), a three-legged man (Jonathan Redavid) and dwarf performer Charles Stratton (Sam Humphrey), better known as General Tom Thumb.
Also joining the troupe is skilled trapeze artist Anne Wheeler (Spider-Man: Homecoming’s Zendaya), although it’s Barnum’s partnership with the (fictional) playwright Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) that really helps establish his circus nationwide. There’s further expansion when he visits England, meets Queen Victoria (Gayle Rankin, playing her like a braying mule, in a very odd sequence) and sets his eyes on opera singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), ‘the Swedish nightingale’.
A packed bill, then. Trouble is, Showman is a bit too calculated to really engage. From the romance that blossoms between Anne and Phillip to the ‘be anything you want’ message, it’s got a Hollywood-by-committee feel to it. True, the numbers are slick and polished, and the songs by Pasek and Paul (including The Greatest Show and From Now On) are infernally catchy, but it’s all far less relatable than the edgier, more ragged world of La La Land.
As for the characters, they’re largely two-dimensional, particularly the female ones – Williams for one is left with little to do other than look radiant. Barnum’s exploitative side also makes him problematic as a protagonist you can fully root for. Still, if you’re after glittery, undemanding entertainment, Showman gives a solid performance.
THE VERDICT: Enjoyable to a degree, with top-tapping songs and fine work from Jackman, Ferguson and Zendaya. Lacks real emotional weight, though.
Director: Michael Gracey; Starring: Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron; Theatrical release: December 26, 2017
“I don't fuck with no fairies,” gripes Will Smith's cop at the start of David Ayer’s (Suicide Squad (opens in new tab)) movie. It’s a statement that turns out to be literally true, as his wise-cracking cop Daryl Ward scrapes by in a glittering ghetto-world of elves, centaurs, and, yep, winged sprites.
In Bright's grimy alt-universe, gun fights between gangs are as commonplace as turf spats between humans and tusk-toothed orcs. The latter is something Ward knows all about after he's paired up with ink-stained orc Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton) to tackle crime on the LA streets.
When they investigate a shoot-out in a rough neighbourhood, they uncover a half-mute youngster (Lucy Fry) who's acquired a powerful wand from its owner, dark elf Leilah (Noomi Rapace, underused). With Leilah in pursuit, Ward and Jakoby dodge between orc gangs and the Magical Task Force as they attempt to keep the wand from falling into the wrong hands.
Bright's blend of grit and magic initially allures, like a crazy clash between Warcraft and Ayer’s own End of Watch (opens in new tab). But while Ayer's grip is surer on this “ghetto fairytale” than on Suicide Squad, he's let down by Max Landis' swiss-cheese script.
Neither a satisfying treaty on diversity and 'race' wars, nor a fulfilling fantasy, it derails at the end of the first act with a confusing moment of anti-heroism, and never recovers. Be(a)st in show is Edgerton as the sweet-natured orc just trying to do his job, but he's the one bright spot in an otherwise confused genre mash that fails to deliver on the promise of its big ideas.
Director: David Ayer; Starring: Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, Noomi Rapace, Lucy Fry; Netflix release: December 22, 2017
Spanish bull Ferdinand isn’t like other bovines: they enjoy fighting, he digs flowers. Director Carlos Saldanha makes engaging work of Munro Leaf’s 1936 classic, even if the be-yourself subtext is faintly diluted.
If the plot needed cattle-prodding into sharper shape, the misfits-united message, anarchic action, camp ponies and game voices hoof it from china shop to arena with amia-bull enough charm.
Director: Carlos Saldanha; Starring: John Cena, Kate McKinnon, Bobby Cannavale; Theatrical release: December 16, 2017