“The Hitman’s Bodyguard”

The Hitman's Bodyguard

YOU HAVE TO admire the bravery of Patrick Hughes for casting at the centre of his new film, The Hitman’s Bodyguard, two of the more polarising actors to be working today. For those who find either Ryan Reynolds or Samuel L. Jackson irritating, watching––or perhaps it would be better to say enduring––this film must be about as enjoyable as being punched in the face. For those who can’t stand both, it must feel like the sort of experience that you could only recover from with the help of a patient therapist and a lifetime supply of clozapine.

The story begins with the assassination of a Japanese businessmen through the window of his private jet, to the shock and professional horror of “triple-A rated executive protection agent” (or “bodyguard”, as some people insist on saying) Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds), who had, until that point, done an excellent job of keeping him safe. (That might, on reflection, have been the wrong adjective to use). At any rate, a year later, Bryce has stubble, which is cinematic language for being either washed-up or French, and I think we can probably eliminate the second option. Thanks to our troublesome mystery assassin, Bryce has lost his triple-A rating but is nevertheless as competent as he ever was.


Bloodthirsty dictator Vladislav Dukhovich, (played by the always-brilliant Gary Oldman, who is presumably in the film for ironic reasons) is on trial for assorted war crimes committed in Belarus which, we’re helpfully told, is a “former Soviet Union” country, and therefore a swirling vortex of nihilism, lawlessness and goat stew.


Meanwhile bloodthirsty dictator Vladislav Dukhovich, (played by the always-brilliant Gary Oldman, who is presumably in the film for ironic reasons) is on trial for assorted war crimes committed in Belarus which, we’re helpfully told, is a “former Soviet Union” country, and therefore a swirling vortex of nihilism, lawlessness and goat stew. The success of Dukhovich’s trial for all that indiscriminate slaughter rests on the shoulders of an elite hitman named Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson, Jr.), who is to be taken to the International Court of Justice in The Hague by a specialist protection team in an effort to prevent or foil any attempts at an intervention by Dukhovich’s killing squads. Needless to say things don’t quite go according to plan, and Amelia Ryder, an Interpol agent and one of the only surviving members of the fragmented protection detail, calls on a former flame to finish the job and get Kincaid to The Hague. Accordingly, our bodyguard comes to find himself protecting our hitman.

As I suggested in my opening remarks, the degree to which you enjoy The Hitman’s Bodyguard will rest in a large part on how fond you are of its principal players. I am, at best, ambivalent about the both of them, although Ryan Reynolds has been in my good books, so to say, since his appearance in the brilliant Deadpool. As a result I can’t help but feel that handing over the usual sum of money to see this film would have felt pretty bloody expensive. The Hitman’s Bodyguard is fundamentally a buddy cop flick, only without the cops, or what the great Roger Ebert used to call a “Wunza Movie”, as in “One’s a …, the other’s a …” These films invariably got the same way: they include a good deal of reluctant cooperation and verbal sparring between the two main characters and usually end with an understanding that both the main characters actually quite like each other. How lovely.


Hughes and cinematographer Jules O’Loughlin treat us to a variety of landscapes and cityscapes of Belarus, the Netherlands and the UK. (Fortunately we’re still told if the scene takes place in, say, Amsterdam, because the gratuitous shots of flowers, canals, prostitutes and signs in Dutch might otherwise lead you to think you were in Stockport).


The film is notable for including a lot of what you might call Europe porn, given the vast majority of the action takes place in London and Amsterdam. Hughes and cinematographer Jules O’Loughlin treat us to a variety of landscapes and cityscapes of Belarus, the Netherlands and the UK. (Fortunately we’re still told if the scene takes place in, say, Amsterdam, because the gratuitous shots of flowers, canals, prostitutes and signs in Dutch might otherwise lead you to think you were in Stockport). It would be unfair to say that there aren’t a few genuine laughs in The Hitman’s Bodyguard––a scene on a bus full of nuns might just force a laugh out of even the most composed filmgoer––and the action scenes are well-choreographed and well-executed by O’Loughlin. There’s more than one thrilling chase sequence that I’d probably remember even more fondly if Baby Driver wasn’t so fresh in my memory, although the sequences in The Hitman’s Bodyguard do run to a breathtakingly unoriginal stock action score. There are decent enough supporting performances by a foul-mouthed Salma Hayek, who plays Kincaid’s incarcerated wife, and Élodie Yung, and there’s an amusing cameo by Richard E. Grant early on in the film.

The question as to whether you should see this film could be resolved by a flow chart. Do you find Samuel L. Jackson and/or Ryan Reynolds annoying? If so, then don’t see this film. If not, then, Do you like buddy cop films? If not, then don’t see this film. If so, then, well, I mean, maybe.

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‘Deadpool’

Deadpool

THE ANTIDOTE TO A string of truly awful superhero films is the hilarious, ridiculous Deadpool, and if you, like me, have been left frustrated by X Men: Apocalypse, Batman v Superman and other recent efforts, I suggest you uncork the bottle and take a good swig.

The film opens on a busy motorway flyover after a credit sequence which uses its titles (“Produced by Asshats… Written by the Real Heroes Here”) to lampoon superhero-film stereotypes while, at the same time, conceding the film will include these stereotypes anyway. Deadpool‘s eponymous fast-talking antihero, played with glee by Ryan Reynolds, gets out of a taxi and begins to get to work with violent abandon on a group of armed goons.

How Deadpool–Wade Wilson–came to be in this situation is told through a series of flashbacks. Wilson was a Special Forces operative-turned-mercenary (“I’m a bad guy who is paid to fuck up worse guys,” he says) who met the equally self-destructive Vanessa (Morena Baccarin)—their opening dialogue is one of the best exchanges of the film—in the sort of bad-guy dive bar Marv liked to skulk around in in Sin City, and they begin a love affair. Everything is going swimmingly until Wade contracts inoperable late-stage cancer, but he is offered survival–and superhuman abilities–at the hands of Ajax (Ed Skrein). His superhero makeover comes at the expense of his all-American good looks, and, fearing that his beloved will reject him, he sets out to find Ajax (who also goes, comically, by “Francis”) and put things right.

Reynolds is well-fitted for the role of the motormouth Wade/Deadpool, who is just the right balance of likeable and annoying, and dispenses bloody violence with the same speed and facility that he dispenses off-colour one-liners. When he isn’t quipping in-story or breaking bones he’s breaking the fourth wall—or rather, smashing it to bits with a wrecking ball—to make in-jokes about the bloated Marvel universe or production costs.

Deadpool is refreshingly irreverent towards its heritage, but equally self-referential. In the spirit of its bad-boy antihero, it extends a middle finger to the films which made it possible, yet satirises itself as much as it does the other films of its genre. It is to the credit of writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick that Deadpool never strays into the territory of parody or cynicism, and the plot is interesting enough, if not particularly inventive or complex. Though it is a smirking deconstruction of all the excesses and tropes of the genre, it is also in its own right an ultra-violent, sweary romp, buoyed by ironic upbeat pop music and excellent visual effects (director Tim Miller is a visual effects artist with a background in video games.)

The film is most effective when the plot zips along at the speed of Wade’s dialogue. The scenes involving Ajax and his sidekick, Angel Dust––played by MMA royalty Gina Carano––are alternately hammy and boring, and the less said about CGI X-Man Colossus, who is so jarringly fake it is hard to tell whether the creators intended him to appear that way on purpose, the better.

The final act descends into the usual scenery-smashing mayhem required by the genre, which shows that even Deadpool can’t out-manoeuvre certain comic-book tropes. Therein lies the irony of Deadpool: it is still very much a superhero flick, if an unconventional one. And its success is unlikely to change the genre significantly. The studios will always put commercial success before artistic success, and superhero films are still written to appeal to a young audience. In other words, studios won’t do away with PG-13 films simply because the R-rated Deadpool was a success.

Deadpool achieves indisputably what it sets out to achieve. It’s riotously funny and it’s well-put-together. On the one level, it’s a superhero film for people who don’t really like superhero films, but on the other, it’s a wink-wink, nudge-nudge to dedicated fans of the genre.

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