Skip to main content

The suspect’s wearing a clown suit, sir.


Octopussy
(1983)

There was a time when I would have ranked Octopussy second only to The Spy Who Love Me out of the Roger Moore 007s. The thirteenth Bond movie falls somewhere between the flamboyance of the two Lewis Gilbert pictures and the vague gestures towards a real world setting of John Glen’s lacklustre For Your Eyes Only. Whilst it is replete with colourful settings and comic asides, the plot also seems to be curiously coded with a pro-nuclear deterrent ethic; it's a feature that makes you wonder how enamoured Cubby Broccoli was of the Tories at that time. This is no deal-breaker (if you’re that concerned about the politics of Bond you’d hardly consume regular helpings of his last bastion of British imperialism), but this does feel more like a statement than the series is used to. More damagingly, one of the best villains the series has come across is nigh on wasted; the irrepressibly maniacal Steven Berkoff. Nevertheless, any movie with not one but two action set pieces involving a spy in a clown suit must have something going for it.


It may not seem like it at first glance but the previous Moore Bonds, with the possible exception of The Man with the Golden Gun, all had a clear motivating force behind them (aside from making a ton of money, obviously). Live and Let Die was not only introducing a new 007, but it was also feeding off the Blaxploitation genre. The Spy Who Love Me was a conscious attempt to return to the vast spectacle of Thunderball and You Only Live Twice. Moonraker cashed in on the Star Wars phenomenon. And For Your Eyes Only was a back-to-basics attempt to put Moore Bond in a grittier From Russia With Love type world. Sure, none are the most creative of imperatives but they nevertheless represent a guiding force or statement.


With Octopussy, all they had was a slightly suggestive title from Ian Fleming (the short story bears scant resemblance) and the prospect, yet again, of Moore vacating 007 duties. He had been on a per-film contract for a couple of Bonds now, and it was most likely putting a strange on Broccoli’s voluminous wallet. And he wasn’t getting any younger. He turned 56 in the year Octopussy was released and, while you can’t deny he’s in pretty good shape, the wrinkles that had hitherto eluded him are beginning to make their mark. As per the last film, Eon had been sniffing around potential replacements. James Brolin very nearly bagged the role; his screen test (which can be seen on the DVD and Blu-ray releases) proffers the same kind of transatlantic charm Pierce Brosnan eased the character into more than a decade later. Broccoli reportedly blanched at the thought of an American in the role when it came down to the line. Whether that would happen now, in an era where Superman and Batman are played by Brits, is questionable. Ironically, probably more than ever. Superman may be an all-American hero, but he’s also an alien. Bond forever waves the flag for an ailing Britain and it’s unlikely the current producers would seriously want to run the risk of home-grown outrage.


There was also another, very pressing reason behind the decision to revert to Moore (or rather, to meet Moore’s price). Sean Connery. It’s a testament to Moore’s youthful visage that, even though he is three years older than Connery, he assumed the role 11 years after him. When Connery came back to Bond for Never Say Never Again he was a spry 52-year-old, and looked like he was in better shape than the slightly puffy greying 40-year-old of Diamonds are ForeverEverything else about NSNA let him down, from his toupee to his costumes. Whatever genius had gripped Irvin Kershner when he directed The Empire Strikes Back was wholly absent from this rogue Bond outing.


But Broccoli was rightly concerned over the prospect of putting up a fledgling Bond against the old master. Connery had starred in what were still by far the most successful pictures in the series (in inflationary terms), and there was a real risk that a debutant would be eaten alive (or outright spurned if he was played by a Yank).  So Moore came back, and the “real” Bond movie was the bigger hit. Marginally. One wonders how aware the general public were of the rights issues surrounding Kevin McClory’s bid to establish his own movie property (and presumably remake Thunderball, again and again and again); there must have been some understanding, as no doubt the kids were asking why two Bond films were vying for public attention (it’s not like they were in the same film; you could have previous Doctor Whos sharing the small screen together, as happened in 1983, and you could have comedy Bonds larking about , as in the ‘60s Casino Royale).


There was clearly no solidarity in getting behind brand Bond. For all that audiences had embraced Moore’s nudge-nudge-wink-wink style, there were as many who longed nostalgically for the original. When the series was serious (anyone actually reviewing Connery’s era will see that lasted for exactly two pcitures) and the lead has some heft. For some it was simply an embarrassment of riches; two 007 movies in one year, it didn’t matter where they came from. And there was also genuine curiosity at play, no doubt. I suspect much more so than seeing how duelling Robin Hoods (1991) Columbuses (1992), O.K. corals (1993/4), volcanic eruptions (1997), meteor strikes (1998) or White House invasions (2013) compared.


One thing even the staunchest champion of the Moore era is unlikely to argue is the lack of physicality of its hero. Connery’s Bond was a bruiser. He was right in there, and grounded each scene with his earthy brawn. Moore had none of that. He was light on his feet, but had no weight behind his punches. When he runs he conjures images of a reluctant Sunday afternoon game of gentleman’s cricket. There’s a sense that it would be somewhat inelegant to actually bend those knees. He and his stuntman still make a good team when it comes to dodging yo-yo saws or avoiding a testicular mishap while sliding down a staircase, but there’s no longer a passing illusion that it might all be the star up there. He might have been able to get away with this as 45 year old 007, but one a decade older? Brosnan may have been knocking his sixth decade when he left the role, but he doesn’t look as if he lives in a London establishment club; it may just be the increasing youthfulness of each generation, but he looks better at 60 than Moore did at 50). Then, that fine wine quality worked wonders for Connery. The beardless Scot of 1983 is out of joint with his soon-to-be rebirth as a major Hollywood player in the last half of the decade. It seemed like his actual age had caught up with his face; I mentioned that Connery looked trim in his return to Bond, but that doesn’t mean he looked right for the role any longer.


At least with Moore, they had the sense to age-up his female co-stars, very slightly. Brolin would have been five years older than Maud Adams’ titular leading lady, but such is the deep-rooted sexism of the series that at 38 she seems like a grand dame (only Honor Blackman was older). To be fair, it probably just seems like a conscious choice after the embarrassing age gaps of FYEO. Kristina Wayborn, the other Bond girl, was also in her 30s. And there were still nearly two decades between Moore and decrepit Adams.


Which is all to emphasise that Octopussy now looks like something of a placeholder. With a new Bond, it would have seemed like a reassuringly traditional adventure, blending styles and scenarios in order to usher in a strange face in familiar surroundings (although its hard to believe the double-taking camel and Tarzan yell would have made it to the final cut). With Moore involved, it occasionally succumbs to the pedestrian. That’s not just about the leading actor, though. Director John Glen has adjusted to the demands of calling the shots more seamlessly than in his debut, but he’s never more than workmanlike in his approach.


He can’t be seen as fully to blame, though. The screenplay (credited to George MacDonald Fraser – the Flashman man - , producer Michael G. Wilson and regular Richard Maibaum) makes few concessions to intrigue and suspense until the climax, which stands up as one of the series’ best, focussing on a countdown clock (like Goldfinger) rather than huge explosions (I’m talking about the true climax, rather than automatic pilot of the ensuing attack on the Khan’s palace and plane sequence).


Bond: Fill her up, please.

The Cuba-set (Bond showing his support of US interests, evidently) pre-credits sequence is jolly, but there’s nothing jaw-dropping until Bond makes his escape by flying a micro-jet through an exploding hangar (it was all done on wires, you know). It stands up, but you’d be hard-pressed to recall what surrounds it; Moore impersonates a general (who does bear a passing resemblance) with a fake ‘tache, setting the store for a series of disguises throughout (clown, knife thrower, gorilla…) He makes a joke about a Spanish-sounding character name, Toro (“Sounds like a load of bull”) and flies a jet out of a (intentionally, but still very fake) horse’s arse. Of course, the jet is red white and blue on it, the series now falling prey to overt patriotism at every opportunity; ever since the show stopping opening of The Spy Who Loved Me



Later, Q’s hot air balloon is inevitably adorned with the Union Jack; there’s something rather lazy about this self-regarding Britishness, and it has an increasingly sour taste when it is mirrors the tone of the surrounding era; Thatcher’s manipulative and jingoistic appeals to national pride and identity.  There are some squawking chickens, always a bonus in a scene, and a particularly inimitable Moore wink-wink smile as his seductive sidekick attracts the attention of Cuban soldiers while he opens their parachutes. There’s the same sense of mayhem we’d see later in Tomorrow Never Dies’ pre-credits sequence, but it’s all a little too relaxed. I suppose you can excuse Bond’s tech crew for not keeping the jet’s tank full since it fosters such an obvious line as the one above, with 007 pulling his plane in to a petrol station.


Bond: That’s a charming tune.

The title song that follows may not be one of the series’ biggest hits, but it could well be my favourite. There’s a delightfully over-the-top quality to Rita Coolidge’s delivery, and Maurice Binder’s titles may be the most ridiculous yet; “Bond” swings a lovely lady around by her legs as Coolidge’s voice reaches a crescendo. Moore, who had been drafted to perform in earlier sequences, appears here only as a cardboard cut-out. Sadly, the theme is used minimally as a cue during the score. The Bond theme pops up diegetically though, as 007 expresses approval of the tune his “snake charmer” contact is playing.


Bond: What is that?
Magda: That’s my little Octopussy.

A look speaks a thousand words. Or a predictable one in Moore’s case. Fleming wrote his short story in the years following the film adaptation of Goldfinger, and he must surely have decided if you can get away with a cheap dirty joke once you can get away with it twice. So Pussy Galore becomes more outrageous; now pussy is in the title of a movie, which conjures images of some particularly nasty Manga cartoon. The producers were initially a little trepidacious over how far they could go; a character is one thing, but a suggestive title risked boycotts. As it turns out, there was little comment. This was Roger Moore Bond; it’s precisely what everyone expected. Indeed, it’s only the above scene, where 007 catches sight of Magda’s tattoo, that proffers any innuendo from the title. Kristina Wayborn’s delivery of her line helps as much as Moore’s expected look. If the scene had been played in the dark, it couldn’t get any more suggestive.


At first sight Magda might be expected to assume the traditional Bond girl role; 007 beds her early in the proceedings, leading to one of the movie’s rare moments of visual poetry (lets face it, the series isn’t really vying for that kind of laurel) to the accompaniment of a lusciously romantic slice of John Barry’s score; she takes her leave from Bond’s balcony, her sari unravelling for a soft descent, and a bikini-clad Wayborn enters a waiting car (Wayborn polishes up well in circus top hat and tails too).  But this is a Bond movie devoid of an imperilled leading lady who just needs protecting by our hero. Magda’s official role is as Octopussy’s henchwoman, and she emulates her mistress by not needing a man around. Wayborn, like Adams and Britt Ekland, is a Swede. With an extensive forehead and slightly feline features, she’s also one of the series’ most striking ladies. Yet her character is the antithesis of Ekland’s clumsy klutz in The Man with the Golden Gun.


Octopussy: I don’t have to apologise to you, a paid assassin, for what I am.
Bond: You’re right. We’re two of a kind.

The background to Adams’ character is faintly dull (and the single aspect carried over from the short story), the only glimmer of interest being what sort of father would call his daughter Octopussy, even as a “pet name” (that just makes it worse). Adams was called in for the Bond audition pieces and ended up nabbing the role. Reportedly, it started out as a straight villainess. Names considered included Faye Dunaway, Barbara Carrera (Never Say Never Again’s Bond girl), Sybil Danning and Persis Khambatta. It would probably have been more interesting to have a lady as the baddie.


Maud is fine, and enjoys good chemistry with Moore, but there isn’t enough to maintain an interest in Octopussy, not even with nude bathing and a harem-come-army of women. One might argue that Octopussy ends up as just another manipulated Bond girl who needs the dashing British Secret Serviceman to save her (“Oh, James!”). But her proactivity and self-sufficiency do mark her out from the norm; it’s just that Adams is maybe a little too demure for a role that ought to make a big splash. This is the title character, after all.


And the final scene does rather reduce her to the usual totty. It also rubs it in that this is Bond mimicking past glories, right down to a returning Bond girl. Bond appears to be injured following his climactic scrape, with Octopussy tending to him (“I wish you weren’t in such a weakened state.”) But actually he’s fine! So for whose benefit was he pretending? The audience, of course. At least it doesn’t plumb the depths of the Dennis and Maggie impersonators at the end of FYEO.


Q: 007 on an island populated entirely by women? We won’t see him until dawn.

Octopussy’s palace is the most trad-Bond fantasy part. You know; the villain’s army all wear rather silly costumes to show they are part of a super scheme for world domination. Why Octopussy’s smuggling ring does likewise, aside from maintaining series tradition (and the Octopus Cult), is anyone’s guess. Well, there is one reason.  The tight fitting leotards of Octopussy’s posse result in a particularly prolific case of camel toe; to be seen throughout in the character of Gwendoline (Suzanne Jerome, who sadly died only three years after the movie’s release). It’s impossible that the producers weren’t aware of this, so they presumably considered it a lucky accident, something to be embraced as part of the series’ unthreatening lewdness.


Gogol: Our military role is strictly defensive.

The fantasy army element jars somewhat with the attempt to tackle a “real world” theme (rogue Russian general), one the series had tentative moves towards in the previous three Moore films, with Walter Gotell’s Gogol kept on the fringes. Here, a character that appeared to have a rather affable and relaxed outlook on East-West relations is shown to be positively Gorbachev-like in his progressiveness compared to Orlov.

Bond: And that’s for 009.


The plot concerning the sale Fabergé eggs seems like a bit of a stretch depending on what the profits are actually for. The money is clearly being used to finance Orlov’s quest for dominion over Western Europe. But what precisely he is using it for, I’m not sure. I’ve seen it suggested that it’s for the purchase of a Soviet nuke, but surely he could lay his hands on one of them anyway (and how much would one cost? He can only have made in the low millions from his scheme. What are his overheads?) Octopussy is doing the smuggling while Orlov has the military at his disposal. Is the money needed to pay Khan, to ensure his loyalty and the safe delivery of the warhead? There were surely less conspicuous ways of making money, if money was needed, than flooding the market with art treasures that would draw attention from both MI6 and Orlov’s superiors. That said, it makes a change from initiating the plot with stolen weaponry or top secret advanced military equipment. And there are some neat switcheroos in en route, with Bond palming the egg and replacing it with a fake at the Sotheby’s auction


Bond: What happens when the US retaliates?
Orlov: Against whom?

If the financing methods lack subtlety, Orlov’s plan for victory is extremely optimistic, based upon a series of unlikely developments. He believes there will be an assumption that America accidentally triggered one of its own nuclear bombs. Europe will insist on unilateral disarmament, allowing Orlov to walk across every border (“Tomorrow I shall be a hero of the Soviet Union”). Something here does not compute. First, it’s a stretch that the US would reach such a conclusion regarding the explosion of a nuke. Wouldn’t they just count their bombs and note that it was a rogue device? And why is Orlov so convinced that the tide would turn in favour of disarmament, just like that? It doesn’t seem at all likely. Far more probable is the realisation that it was a Soviet device and the resultant reprisals. Apart from the problems of trying to wring a single drop of logic out of his hare-brained scheme (and in fairness, Orlov’s clearly barking, first introduced ranting at a volume of 11, in a quite magnificent “war room” set from Peter Lamont that outdoes any other piece of design in the picture) there’s something a bit whiffy about the subtext.


Early on we see Orlov opposing weapons reduction treaties (favoured by Gogol). The movie is careful to make “most Russians” appear to be decent sorts; it’s just that one rotten apple that spoils the barrel (isn’t this the way with all Hollywood terrorist factions?) But the subtext seems quite clear; disarmament is a bad idea because it only requires one mad dictator to take advantage of it. In the age of Greenham Common protests, Bond’s message couldn’t be more oppositional to lily-livered hippy peaceniks. One might argue the plot is derived from an attempt to justify Bond’s place in an ‘80s political landscape, but if so it seems enormously coincidental that the movie’s sentiment goes hand in hand with Thatcherite values. There’s also little reason why anyone would go along with Orlov’s plan once he is iced. What is Kamal Khan’s interest in seeing the bomb go off? He’s just out to make money. Very little of this one stands up to close scrutiny, and it’s a sign of a script thrown together from fragments of ideas rather than drawn from a central one.


Khan: Good, let the sport commence.

Berkoff’s Orlov is sadly underused; for such a magnificent scenery-chewer, there was a real missed opportunity not to make him the central villain. He fires up the screen whenever he appears, tossing off lines with relish (“Follow that car!”) and more of his energy might really have lit a rocket under Octopussy’s arse. As it is, the movie suffers when he is extinguished; the remaining villains don’t have his gusto. Louis Jordan as Kamal Khan is eminently watchable and but he’s not remotely menacing.


Bond: I don’t suppose you’d care for a nightcap?

Bond has a nice scene at the casino where he bests Khan at backgammon by using the villain’s lucky dice. But it shows that Kabir Bedi’s turbaned henchman is little more than an Odd Job clone (he grinds the dice to dust, just as Odd Job did with a golf ball). It’s a shame Bedi, a Bollywood star, didn’t get more to work with. With only Orlov passing muster, the final attack on Khan’s palace sees Octopussy’s kick-ass commando chicks make short work of the opposition, and it smacks of a for-the-sake-of –it damp squib big set piece.


Bond: It’s odd that, when I’m stared at, I seem to lose my appetite.

Staging the final sequence on a plane also recalls Goldfinger, as does having Bond do some investigative work when he is held prisoner at Khan’s palace. It should come as no surprise that Bond isn’t above cheap gags at the exotic cuisine of foreigners; here he  is served a stuffed sheep’s head. Spielberg went a similar route with a whole series of gross courses in the following year’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Eon’s similar sense of humour to Lucasfilm is also evidenced by both Octopussy and Return of the Jedi featuring Tarzan yell gags in the same summer.


Temple of Doom was denied permission to film in India, with the script cited as racist and offensive. Octopussy escaped indictment, and filming took place in Udaipiur; it’s probably the most striking location in a Bond movie since The Man with the Golden Gun’s trip to Thailand. It may not have been taken to task, but the movie is still awash with many clichéd ideas about Indian culture and some dubious taste gags (“Keep you in curry for a few weeks”, Bond tells Vijay (Vijay Amritraj) as he proffers his casino winnings; perhaps the only aspect that might let it off the hook is Moore injecting every joke with self-conscious mockery. He knows his sexist one-liners are groan inducing just as he knows his stereotyping of Indian culture is. He’s a naughty schoolboy, basically. Nevertheless, it’s difficult not to take away a the feeling of a rather backwards viewpoint coming to the fore in the moment where Bond surprises an ignorant native; he assumes Bond is a mummy come to life.


Bond: Thank God for hard currency.

As ever, the movie has its share of memorable set pieces. Glen and his crew put together a highly amusing electric taxi chase soon after Bond’s arrival in India. The visual gags are piled so high that Lewis Gilbert must have been green with envy; with tennis rackets are employed as a weapon, the crowd’s head turn back and forth following the blows as if they are a watching a game at Wimbledon (Amritraj was a famous tennis player, and this was his first screen role). Bond is stabbed, but only his wad of cash is hit. He throws it from the cab and it lands in a beggar’s bowl. As a taxi does a particularly daring leap, a camel raises its head to follow the trajectory.  Also appearing are a bed of nails and a sword swallower (“You’d better stick this back yourself”).


The danger here is that Bond occasionally looks as if he has come back to take charge of one of the ex-colonies. Amritraj is immensely appealing as Vijay, but he’s little more than Bond’s batman. It’s a cruel and unnecessary development when Vijay is murdered, serving no purpose in terms of the plot and leaving Bond relatively unaffected (his “That’s for 009” rather underscores this; a character we haven’t even seen him interact with). This, after Q suggests Bond will have a mentoring role (“Don’t let him teach you any of his bad habits” he tells Vijay).


Tourist: Are you with our group?
Bond: No ma’am. I’m with the economy tour.

The human safari sequence is another burst of frothy silliness, complete with Bond telling a tiger to “Si-it!” à la Barbara Wodehouse, but the potential of a manhunt isn’t really tapped. For one thing, Bond escapes far too easily. It’s more memorable for the gags than for exerting any grip.


The other set piece of note is the chase atop a train (likely an inspiration for Wolverine). It’s an effective action sequence that kicks off with Orlov being killed and then sees the knife throwing duo eliminated. But the behind the scenes is probably the most dramatic part; stuntman Martin Grace was hit by a concrete pole during Bond’s climb down the train. His left leg was severely fractured and it led to the second unit director considering retirement over the guilt he felt for his part in the incident.


Bond: General, there’s a bomb in that cannon.
General: Sure, where else would a bomb be?

For whatever reason, Bond is quite the man of disguise in this movie. His first scene finds him posing as a Cuban officer, he dons knife thrower’s garb and even pulls on a gorilla costume (again, Octopussy seems to have a feel for the movie world around it; gorilla suits are a key ingredient in the same year’s Trading Places). But best of all is 007 disguised as a clown in a countdown to present a nuclear bomb going off (it’s also a reason why this should have been the climax proper; neatly bookending the film with clown chases). This is the sort of surreal inspiration that one might more expect from TV’s The Avengers. Obviously, John Glen is far too literal a director to fully grasp the potential of the scenario. But just the juxtaposition of Bond saving the world wearing a big red nose is sufficient.


Talking of unusual moments, the brief scene where Bond thinks he’s going to get a lift (“Come on, get in”) before the car speeds away, its occupants laughing at him, is a lovely touch; it ups the ante as time is of the essence, but it also has a bunch of kids taking the piss out of granddad Bond; they’d never have done that to Connery!


Bond: Well, I must say. You become more beautiful every day.
Moneypenny: I am over here.
Bond: Oh yes. Of course you are.

The series’ regulars (just Q and Moneypenny now) are quite well served in this outing, with a reasonably high quip quotient. Lois Maxwell is the same age as Moore, but obviously he really sees her as a grandmother. So the (brief) introduction of Penelope Smallbone makes for a decent sight gag about her age.


Bond: Having problems keeping it up?
Q: I haven’t time for these adolescent antics.

Desmond Llewellyn, meanwhile, was knocking 70 but rewarded with his largest part yet. To be honest, I think it’s too much and kills the pace to have him floating by in his balloon. Sure, it’s a bit of fun to have Octopussy’s girls throw themselves at him (“Later, perhaps.”) but it’s an indulgence too far. Great for Q fans but a crawl for everyone else (the series is never on firm ground when the peripheral characters take on larger roles; look at how Dench’s M encroached on the plots).


Octopussy surprisingly doesn’t feel like Moore's Bond is quite on his last legs. Indeed, 007 is very nearly back on form after the slog of For Your Eyes Only. Sure, the plot is equal parts bite and sag, but it tends to the winning through being much more reflective of its star’s sense of humour; it’s not really Moore’s Bond if he isn’t peddling a bit of smut and a raft of dodgy one-liners. If he’d left here, he would have done so with his reputation more or less intact. Things could only go down hill by clinging on, and A View to a Kill was to see the producers’ reluctance to embrace change (I know, they got Duran Duran to do the theme song) result in one of the most maligned entries in the canon.


The quite dreadful trailer:




Comments

Popular posts from this blog

What ho, Brinkley. So, do you think we’re going to get along, what?

Jeeves and Wooster 2.4: Jeeves in the Country  (aka Chuffy)
The plundering of Thank You, Jeeves elicits two more of the series’ best episodes, the first of which finds Bertie retiring to the country with a new valet, the insolent, incompetent and inebriate Brinkley (a wonderfully sour, sullen performance from Fred Evans, who would receive an encore in the final season), owing to Jeeves being forced to resign over his master’s refusal to give up the trumpet (“not an instrument for a gentleman”; in the book, it’s a banjulele).

Chuffnall Hall is the setting (filmed at Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire), although the best of the action takes place around Bertie’s digs in Chuffnall Regis (Clovelly, Devon), which old pal Reginald “Chuffy” Chuffnell (Marmaduke Lord Chuffnell) has obligingly rented him, much to the grievance of the villagers, who have to endure his trumpeting disrupting the beatific beach (it’s a lovely spot, one of the most evocative in the series).

Jeeves is snapped up into the e…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

Angry man is unsecure.

Hulk (2003)
(SPOILERS) I’m not a Hulk apologist. I unreservedly consider it one of the superior superhero adaptations, admittedly more for the visual acumen Ang Lee brings to the material than James Schamus, Michael France and John Turman’s screenplay. But even then, if the movie gets bogged down in unnecessarily overwrought father-son origins and dynamic, overlaid on a perfectly good and straightforward core story (one might suggest it was change for the sake of change), once those alterations are in place, much of the follow through, and the paralleling of wayward parents and upright children, or vice versa, translates effectively to the screen, even if the realisation of the big green fella is somewhat variable.

I do… very competitive ice dancing.

Justice League (2017)
(SPOILERS) Superheroes, and superhero movies, trade in hyperbole, so it shouldn’t be surprising that DC’s two releases this year have been responded to in like, only each at opposite ends of the spectrum. Wonder Woman was insanely over-praised in the rush to fete a female superhero finally leading a movie, crushing all nuanced criticism in its wake. Justice League, meanwhile, has been lambasted on the basis that it’s more of the same as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, only worse – to the extent there have been calls for a Zach Snyder Director’s Cut, which is quite an extent, as extents go – as it’s guilty of being an unholy clash of styles, grimdark Zach scowling in one corner and quip-happy Joss pirouetting in the other. And yes, the movie is consequently a mess, but it’s a relatively painless mess, with the sense to get in and get out again before the viewer has enough time to assess the full extent of the damage.

That be what we call scringe stone, sir.

Doctor Who The Ribos Operation (1978)
Season 16 is my favourite season, so I’m inevitably of the view that it gets a bad rap (or a just plain neglected one), is underrated and generally unappreciated. Of its six stories, though, The Ribos Operation is probably the one, on balance, that receives the most accolades (on some days, it’s The Pirate Planet; many moons ago, back when DWAS was actually a thing of some relevance, The Stones of Blood won their season poll; there are also those who, rightly, extol the virtues of The Androids of Tara). I’m fully behind that, although truthfully, I don’t think there’s an awful lot between the first four stories. Why, I even have great affection for the finale. It’s only “KROLL! KROLL! KROLL! KROLL!” that comes up a bit short, which no doubt makes me a no good dryfoot, but there you are. If that Robert Holmes script is on the threadbare side, through little fault of his own, The Ribos Operation is contrastingly one of his very best, a hugely satisfyi…

Sometimes when you take people away, they don't come back.

The Ward (2010)
(SPOILERS) I’d felt no particular compunction to rush out and see The Ward (or rent it), partly down to the underwhelming reviews, but mostly because John Carpenter’s last few films had been so disappointing, and I doubted a decade away from the big screen would rejuvenate someone who’d rather play computer games than call the shots. Perhaps inevitably then, now I have finally given it a look, it’s a case of low expectations being at least surpassed. The Ward isn’t very good, but it isn’t outright bad either.

While it seems obvious in retrospect, I failed to guess the twist before it was revealed, probably because I was still expecting a supernatural element to be realised, it being a Carpenter movie. But then, this doesn’t feel very much like a Carpenter movie. It doesn’t have a Carpenter score (Mark Killian) or screenplay (Michael and Shawn Rasmussen) and it doesn’t have Gary B Kibbe as lenser (Yaron Orbach). I suspect the latter explains why it’s a much more professi…

‘Cos I’m the gringo who always delivers.

American Made (2017)
(SPOILERS) This is definitely more the sort of thing Tom Cruise should be doing, a movie that relies both on his boyish™ charm and at least has pretensions of ever so slightly pushing the envelope of standard multiplex fare, rather than desperately attaching himself to an impersonal franchise (The Mummy) or flailingly attempting to kick start one (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back); remember when Cruise wouldn’t even go near sequels (for about 20 years, The Color of Money aside, and then only the one series)? American Made is still victim to the tendency of his movies to feel superstar-fitted rather than remaining as punchy as they might be on paper (Made’s never quite as satirically sharp as it wants to be), but it at least doesn’t lead its audience by the nose.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You diabolical mastermind, you.

The Avengers Season 4 Ranked – Worst to Best
Season Four is generally held up as the pinnacle of The Avengers, and it certainly maintains the greatest level of consistency in the run. Nevertheless, as I noted a few reviews back, one viewer’s classic is another’s ho-hum with this show, perhaps because it doesn’t elicit the same kind of exhaustive fandom to establish any level of consensus as some series. There follows my Worst to Best ranking of the season, told mostly in pictures. The index for full episode reviews can be found here.