Movie review: Red Sparrow

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to March – the new ‘it’ month for high-profile movie releases. And it opens with Red Sparrow!

IMDb summary: Ballerina Dominika Egorova is recruited to ‘Sparrow School,’ a Russian intelligence service where she is forced to use her body as a weapon. Her first mission, targeting a C.I.A. agent, threatens to unravel the security of both nations.

Writing

Red Sparrow was written by Justin Haythe (who wrote two previous Gore Verbinski’s films The Lone Rangerand A Cure For Wellness), based on the book of the same name by Jason Matthews. I found the writing to be quite uneven and I’m going to unpack my ideas more broadly by discussing the narrative and the themes. The film had two parts, each about an hour long. The first hour acted as an extensive set-up and developed the main character quite a lot. The viewers got to follow her life as an everyday citizen (though she was never just an everyday person – she was always special, first as a ballerina and later as a sparrow), then to witness the inciting incident and its consequences: the extensive training to be a tool of the state (more on that in the second part on themes). The set-up was quite long but it did work: the main character’s capacity for the horrific actions that she was going to commit as a sparrow was always present in the set-up.

In the second hour of the film (+20minutes), Red Sparrow’s actual plot unraveled, and sadly, it was quite uneven. The writers really tried crafting a complex and layered story, full of characters with constantly shifting allegiances. And while that sounds all good – actually it is quite fascinating – the mysterious and the secretive nature of the plot was not always realized compellingly. Also, looking back to the plot – not all the dots necessarily connect and make sense. Still, I have to applaud the ending of the story. For a while, it seemed like the movie was headings towards a typical romantic conclusion but then it broke away from all of that and delivered and strong finale with some great double-crosses and twists. Though, the reveal of the mole was a bit heavy-handed and surprising it a bad way a.k.a.it came out of nowhere.

Thematically, I’d like to touch upon two major things: the usage of sex in the film as well as the Russia vs. US standoff. Before going to see the film, I got the impression that the main weapon of the sparrow will be psychological manipulation but I feel like the ads and trailers lied to me. Red Sparrow, in my mind, was missing its promised psychological manipulation and was all about the pure physical manipulation a.k.a. manipulation through sex. And while physical and psychological manipulations are certainly connected, I really wish that the movie would have looked at that actual connection or the psychological side quite a lot more. Also, the usage of sex by a specifically female heroine of the film raised even more questions about the position of female sexuality on film. While it can certainly be seen/used as a strong creative choice, it has also been reduced to a cheap trick quite a few times. Also, there is but a fine line between female sexuality as a form of empowerment or a tool of exploitation. To my mind, Red Sparrow was leaning more towards the second option, as the female sparrows were taught and made to use sex as a weapon by a patriarchal system rather than having chosen it as a weapon out of their own agency.

On the US v Russia front, the picture was certainly successful at establishing the askew nationalistic ideas that were/are so prevalent in Russia and portraying the brainwashing politics accurately. Still, it had an overall message of American heroism as the better/ the winning option. The weird US/Russia antagonism also made the movie’s temporal setting feel rather vague: it could have been set during the Cold War, the early aftermath of it in the late 90s/early 2000s or even just last year.

Directing

Francis Lawrence (the director of the 3 last The Hunger Games films, including my two favorites – Catching Fire and Mockingjay 1) directed Red Sparrow and did an okay job. I highly appreciated the style of the picture: the raw and indie feeling of it as well as the cold and cool tone. However, the slowness of the pace and the length of the movie really minimized the enjoyment of the film. Moreover, the plot (the substance) wasn’t good enough to make up for the lacking pace. The graphic violence and graphic nudity were both present in Red Sparrow and I don’t really know whether they served the plot or were they just there for shock value. During the scenes of violence, Red Sparrow did feel like a more contemporary version of its predecessor Atomic Blonde, while the scenes of creepy nudity were more plentiful than in the whole Fifty Shades franchise.

Acting

Jennifer Lawrence (reunited with F. Lawrence after THG) played the lead of the film and did a good job but she wasn’t great or irreplaceable. Her Russian accent was fine, though, at times, she did sound like she was speaking with a clogged noise (as if she had a cold). Her decision to play this role is probably more interesting than the performance itself. The actress has vocally expressed how uncomfortable she was with the skin tight costume of Mystique in the X-Men movies and yet she was somehow fine with complete nudity in this film? Was this an act of bravery and growth as a performer or a desperate attempt to reclaim some fame? Her fan circle has been decreasing: The Hunger Gamesfinished a with whimper rather than a bang, she annoyed a lot of Marvel/X-Men fans because of her lack of enthusiasm about that series, her various comments on talk shows have also been reacted to quite badly online, and even her last two more serious awards films failed to connect with the audiences or the critics (Joyat least got her another Oscar nomination, while mother! turned out to be a complete disaster).

Some big-name talent was also involved with this film on the supporting front. Joel Edgerton (Bright, Midnight Special, Loving, Black Mass) and Matthias Schoenaerts (Far From The Madding Crowd, The Danish Girl) had two best-developed and most interesting male roles in the film. Jeremy Irons (BvS, High-Rise) and Game of Thrones’ Ciaran Hinds (Justice League) also both appeared but in much smaller, cameo-sized roles. Charlotte Rampling (45 Years, Assasin’s Creed) played the matriarch of the school of the sparrows and it was quite unexpected seeing her in a film with a, supposedly, strong female lead after her sort of anti-women comments a few awards seasons ago (that ran along the lines of ‘women in the West don’t have anything to complain about’).

In short, Red Sparrow was a mediocre thriller that betrayed its message and overstayed its welcome.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Red Sparrow trailer

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Movie review: The Lego Batman Movie

Movie reviews

Hi!

With the DCEU films being critical nightmares, which do not earn as much as they should do, Ben Affleck stepping out as director of the Batman solo movie and The Flash film being completely rewritten, the Warner Bros desperately needs a win concerning its DC properties. Might The Lego Batman Movie be the win? Let’s find out!

IMDb summary: Bruce Wayne must not only deal with the criminals of Gotham City but also the responsibility of raising a boy he adopted.

Writing

The Lego Batman Movie was written by Seth Grahame-Smith (who wrote Dark Shadows, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and the novel version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), Chris McKenna (a TV comedy writer), Erik Sommers (Spider-Man: Homecoming writer), Jared Stern (who provided additional story material for Wreck-It Ralph), and John Whittington (a newcomer writer who doesn’t have any significant credits on his IMDb page). The duo of writers/directors behind the uber-successful The Lego Movie – the film that started The Lego franchise – Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – helped to produce this spinoff flick as well. I, personally, absolutely loved the writing for this movie.

Let’s star with the on the nose humor as it was such a huge part of the picture. The Lego Batman was basically Deadpool for kids. Like Deadpool, this film didn’t waste its credits and began mocking the studios and the executives in the first few seconds of its runtime. It then moved on to making fun of the comic book movies cliches, such as ‘the unnecessarily complicated bombs’, ‘the villains who explain their plan aloud’ and other plot conveniences.  Plus, I laughed out loud several times when the characters would start making the shooting noise – ‘pew pew’. I also loved the funny inclusion of the comic book sound effect balloons which showed the origins of Batman. Lastly, the movie also poked fun at merchandise with that merch gun scene (I’m definitely guilty of owning some items myself – I was actually wearing my batman sweatshirt at the screening).

The narrative wise, The Lego Batman Movie didn’t bother with neither the setup nor the basic development and origins of the character and I’m actually really glad that they skipped all of that, cause everybody already knows Batman’s background. Nevertheless, the film still did some cool stuff with its main character, for example, portraying him more as an anti-hero and raising the questions of accountability and legitimacy (basically, Captain America: Civil War storyline). The movie also teased and parodied the Batman’s Rogues Gallery and also mocked his gadgets (while at the same time, showing them on screen just so that they could turn them into toys and merch, which they have also made fun of already).

In addition, this film attempted to do something with the Batman and Batgirl relationship, which was very similar to what The Killing Joke movie did. That development really angered the fans and The Killing Joke really suffered from that addition, so I was worried that this idea might damage The Lego Batman too. However, this film dragged the ship more than pushed it, so everything turned out fine in the end. On the other hand, I really liked the relationship that was created for Batman and The Joker. The were literally like an old married couple. The other little details, like Batman’s password (‘Iron Man sucks), the Hugh Hefner-like dressing gown, and his obsessions with romcoms (shout out to Jerry Maguire) were just amazing. I also loved the fact that they managed to include a Nightwing easter egg and actually used the fact that lego figurines can join together as a plot point in the film.

From the thematical standpoint, the movie explored relationships within a family and between friends as well as narcissism. It looked at the fear of human connection which arose from the possibility of being left alone. The final message of the film – that one has to let people in even if they might hurt you by leaving and disappearing – was a neat one.

Directing

Chris McKay, who worked as an animator and editor on The Lego Movie, directed The Lego Batman and did a spectacular job. I just loved the fact that he took the grimmest property from the dark and sophisticated DC and made it work as a comedy. The Lego Batman Movie was, truly, one of the best action comedies I’ve seen. It had the non-stop jokes and the fast action (the film was unbelievably energetic) but it still found time for quieter, more heartfelt moments (every animated movie needs ‘the feels’). The only few moments in the picture, which annoyed me a bit, were all the singing and rapping scenes. They juts seemed of a lower level of humor than all the wonderful meta-references and jokes.

Additionally, the animation was just striking. Every shot looked so densely animated and complex – you could just see how much work it has taken to bring this story to life in this format. The Lego Batman Movie was definitely a perfect match between the material and the format, cause I doubt that this narrative could have worked in live action. It would have just come across as stupid (mostly because of all the rapping), but now it blended the right amount of stupidity and cleverness and was, overall,  extremely fun and very enjoyable.

Speaking more about the visuals of the film, I loved seeing the recreations of all the previous Batman films in the lego form. I also really appreciated the lego versions of all the other DC and non-DC villains that cameoed in the film – crossover all the way! We got to see Voldemort, Sauron, King-Kong, The Wicked Witch, and Doctor Who’s Daleks – basically all properties that belong to WB.

I have also noticed, that the majority of DC films (both live-action and animated) are now team-ups. It also seems that one cannot have a Batman movie without Superman or the other Justice League members (that short scene was a neat surprise and maybe it was there to set-up a sort of solo Lego movies for other DC characters?).

Music

Lorne Balfe was responsible for the soundtrack and he picked some very appropriate, witty, and catchy songs for the film. While I didn’t really like the actual Batman song, I loved the updated version of ‘Man in the Mirror’ and felt that it was a more clever jab at Batman rather than the on the nose Batman song.

Voice Cast

The film had an amazing voice cast. Will Arnett (a long time voice actor and narrator) just killed it as Bruce Wayne / Batman, while Zach Galifianakis (who has also had some experience with voicing) was an equally amazing JokerMichael Cera (Sausage Party) brought a sense of innocence to Dick Grayson / Robin, while Rosario Dawson’s (who voices Wonder Woman in most of the direct to video JL films) voice really fit Barbara Gordon / Batgirl – she sounded as and actually was an efficient go-getter. Ralph Fiennes (Kubo and the Two Strings) oozed class as Alfred PennyworthJenny Slate (Zootopia, The Secret Life of Pets) was the voice of Harley Quinn. It might be the Margot Robbie effect, but I wanted Harley to sound sassier.  The filmmakers also managed to get the big name talent – Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill –  to record a few lines as Superman and Green Lantern, respectively (they voiced these characters in The Lego Movie), while Adam DeVine joined them as The Flash.

In short, The Lego Batman Movie was both a successful spin-off of The Lego Movie as well as a great parody of all the comic book movies. Extremely funny and highly enjoyable!

Rate: 4.7/5

Trailer: The Lego Batman trailer

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