By BRUCE DENNILL
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter / Directed by Paul WS Anderson / 16V
Assassin’s Creed / Directed by Justin Kurzel / 13V
Blunt Force Trauma / Directed by Ken Sanzel / 16LV
Suicide Squad / Directed by David Ayer / 13LV
On-screen fighting is good for getting viewers’ adrenaline levels up and for cementing notions of good and evil, but it often feels like such base concerns are sometimes all that filmmakers consider, bar effects, costumes and whatever marketing bumf needs to go on the posters.
So it is, to a large extent, with Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, allegedly the last in an entire series built to showcase Milla Jovovich’s admittedly impressive athletic abilities as she rids the world of the most recent wave of zombies and the plutocrats who would manipulate whatever terrified community was under threat at the time. This film is just one explosive setpiece after another, an expensive assemblage of incendiary effects with a whirling, punching, kicking Jovovich at their centre. There is a steady diminishing of the cast as the action unfolds and the body count rises, with a minor twist included in that aspect of the less-than-textured plot. Credit where it’s due – the film, like its predecessors, looks great and fizzes along. But this being the final instalment (if indeed it is) is hardly reason for tears.
Assassin’s Creed has all the same baseline issues as Resident Evil – it’s based on a computer game and has a similar reliance on action sequences for its appeal – but it disappoints profoundly given the resources at its disposal. Its protagonists are played by Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons, and all three contribute easily the least substantial performances of the last ten years of their respective careers. The core concept – that a group of assassins have operated throughout history to keep the disruptive intent of groups like the Knights Templar in check – is diluted by an over-complicated mechanism involving digitally tapping into mechanisms. A more traditional approach to the same central ideas would likely have worked better; something in the more mainstream vein of an Indiana Jones caper. What has been presented is unnecessarily dense and sluggish.
There’s a more philosophical edge to Blunt Force Trauma, which adds the quest aspect of the above two titles to an almost Fight Club-esque cult involving a group of individuals who like to partake in duels simply called The Game, which involved shooting each other while wearing bulletproof vests. There is a rude sort of honour code to the activity, and also a desire in participants to not only be the best at what they do, but to find some sort of meaning in their violent calling. Ryan Kwanten is a journeyman trying to track down the sport’s elusive champion (played by Mickey Rourke), accompanied by a woman (Frieda Pinto), who has her own reasons for wanting to get in touch with the elder statesman. For a film in which chapters are marked by barrages of gunshots, there is a peculiarly considered progress from the time viewers are introduced to its characters to the time the inevitable but wholly fitting ending arrives. The film has something like the mood of a classic Western (and not just because of the gunfights), and convinces, even as an outlier in the various genres it overlaps with.
Suicide Squad made a splash on its cinematic release thanks in large part to its high-profile cast (Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Jared Leto) and in particular to the latter’s controversial method acting approach to his violent, unpredictable character, The Joker. Now, while adding layers to what is effectively yet another superhero flick – the difference here is that all involved are anti-heroes at best; the lesser of two evils employed to fight against what is considered a more dangerous force – is commendable, there’s simply too much thrown at the screen here, and not enough of it sticks. It’s understandable, in some ways, with the DC group trying to keep up with the massive Marvel franchises that own huge segments of the box office, but this film veers from wonderfully over the top sequences to bewilderingly wasteful segments in which peripheral – almost to the point of irrelevance– characters are shoved into too-small seams in the narrative and the whole thing becomes unwieldy. There are many amusing moments, and a thought-provoking thread about which characters are actually the more evil. But this is not enough to build a market-leading franchise of any sort on.