Back in the dark days before Marvel seized back control of their property, studios rushed in to monetise superhero licences with mixed results. At the dismal end of the scale, the Fantastic Four were left ill-served by a lacklustre first outing in 2005 and a terrible follow-up in 2007. Still outside the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Fox have another stab this week alongside teenage affairs, Russian science-fiction and drone warfare.
The omens looked so good for the Fantastic Four reboot. Director Josh Trank came with impeccable lo-fi science-fiction credentials following his 2012 debut Chronicle, and a cast of top drawer young actors signed on to play our stretchy, invisible, flammable, and rocky friends. A simple story – returning to the start to show them gain their powers before harnessing them to defeat Dr Doom – suggested it might avoid the over-complication afflicting Marvel these days. Alas hopes look to be dashed. Rumours of onset discord, extended embargos, and now a rush of first reviews slamming it show that for the Fantastic Four, it’s more of the same.
No such reaction has been experienced by The Diary of a Teenage Girl. After wowing audiences at Sundance, and then again in Berlin, the film has opened to great reviews everywhere. Writing about her experiences, teenage Minnie tells of an affair with her mother’s boyfriend. Kristen Wiig and Alexander Skarsgård join Bel Powley for an astute, emotional and often very funny film. It’s a real gem that deserves to find an audience in the otherwise difficult peak blockbuster season.
And now for something completely different. For his last film (he died a few months before the premiere in 2013), Aleksey German follows in the footsteps of many a Russian great by creating a three hour science fiction epic. Set on a planet that resembles medieval earth, Hard to Be a God follows a scientific observer from our world who breaks the rules by directly involving himself in local affairs. The plot is a muddled affair but this is an incredibly potent film, creating the dirty, rotten feel of life for a medieval peasant almost too vividly. Told in black and white, and oozing mud, blood and faeces, it’s a disturbingly unique experience.
On his day, Andrew Niccol is a thoughtful, prescient filmmaker, capable of grappling with cutting edge issues. While not quite on a par with his best work, Good Kill is a strong attempt to show the conflicted morality of drone warfare. Ethan Hawke plays the operator based in Las Vegas, struggling to deal with his now grounded career, the disconnection he feels killing from safety so far away, and the increasingly unethical orders from the CIA. It trips up on the home front, but when on the base, Good Kill is the kind of intelligent drama you often hear people complaining they don’t see enough of.
Now go out and enjoy all that. I’ll see you next week for Adam Sandler battling Pac-Man.