Skip to main content

Today, there just isn’t enough war to go round.

The Avengers
4.20: The Danger Makers

A bit of a plod this one, enlivened by a couple of scenes, admittedly, but not enough to salvage The Danger Makers. The title pretty much tells you the score, as military personnel, dismayed by the lack of conflict in peacetime, create thrill-seeking exercises for themselves. Unfortunately, the thrill seeking only intermittently extends to viewer enthralment.


Robertson: There are very few wars nowadays. They’re rapidly becoming push-button affairs. No, your concept of military life is changing, Mrs Peel. The military man is becoming defunct, obsolete, a dodo.

On the plus side, veteran film director Charles Crichton delivers a polished rendition of Roger Marshall’s screenplay, in which Apollo (revealed to be Dr Long, played by Douglas Wilmer, perhaps best known as the BBC ‘60s Sherlock Holmes, before Peter Cushing took over) has discovered that, in some soldiers, combat fatigue led to mental regression because they actually missed the shock of war – “Yes, you could call it an addiction to danger” – and envisages tapping into “all that potential energy, destructive energy”.


His plan to harness it, having set various veterans on jaunts where they are “dicing with death like irresponsible beatniks” (including Admiral Jackson crossing the Atlantic in Force 8 gale and chemical warfare expert Gordon Lamble “trying to climb the side of St Paul’s Cathedral when he fell”) is to be put into action via a rather mundane plot to steal the Crown Jewels (why not, I guess).


Mrs Peel: What have we got so far?
Steed: Two black roses, three corpses.
Mrs Peel: Four white feathers…
Steed: And a partridge in a pear tree.

The black roses are the Danger Makers symbol (making Steed’s access remarkably easy, announcing himself as a member of their Northern Chapter), the feathers one of failure, both appearing on the crest of Manton House, a military museum run by Colonel Adams (Fabia Drake), oblivious to the goings-on. While Steed fakes being one of the select group, Emma attempts to join up, seeking an in with Major Robertson (an eyepatched Nigel Davenport). Steed suggests: “Show him… (looking at her cleavage) Show him your bumps. He’s a part-time phrenologist”.


Steed: Clearer?
Mrs Peel: Much. A bunch of schizoid, paranoid sociopaths.
Steed: And incidentally dangerous.

Maybe I’m being a bit hard on this one. There are a number of nice moments, such as Steed making up his society name; plumping for a Roman God, he naturally picks Bacchus, and receives a funny look from Peters (Moray Watson, The Quatermass Experiment, Black Orchid). There’s also a lovely punchline to the scene in which Emma receives a box of chocolates from Robertson, and Steed warns her not to touch it while he apparently inspects it for explosives:


Steed: Whatever you do, don’t touch the wrapped ones.
Mrs Peel: Why not?
Steed: Cos I like ‘em.


Mrs Peel’s initiation, in which she plays a deadly, full-scale version of the wire loop game (touch the sides and she’s electrocuted), moving along seesaws, is a masterful set piece, full of sweaty close-ups from the onlookers (and an impromptu cough from Robertson). 


And then there’s Steed, who was unable to hoodwink Apollo that he was a member, obviously, facing his would-be executioner with disarming cheerfulness:

Robertson: I’ve got to kill you.
Steed: Don’t make too much noise about it, will you.
Robertson: I said, I’ve got to kill you.
Steed (reading the newspaper): My goodness me, British tin down another point.
Robertson: Stand up.
Steed: Why?
Robertson: Because I’m going to kill you.
Steed: Major, your hand isn’t shaking at all. It’s as steady as rock. There’s more danger in stamp collecting.


He appeals Robertson’s flair for jeopardy, persuading him they should both have an equal chance of taking the gun, placed on the table. They sit opposite each other, the Major beginning a count to three. Robertson doesn’t get to two when Steed plucks up the gun and promptly hits him over the head with it (“Sorry, Major. I never did believe in rules”). Ungentlemanly, but very amusing.


Steed: How did you get out?
Mrs Peel: I knotted some sheets.
Steed: Oh, that old thing.
Mrs Peel: Well, originality didn’t seem imperative at the time.

Emma, of course, proves just as resourceful in her own off-camera way (above). Despite the high points, though, this one tends to the rather dry and militaristic elsewhere, right down to a Journey’s End-inspired character name (Stanhope, played by Adrian Ropes, although he’s more of a Raleigh, plotwise). The laugh-off is similarly breathless to The Girl from Auntie’s verbiage, only with Steed delivering this time, before their stunt doubles head off in go-carts:


Mrs Peel: Steed, I still don’t understand how you stumbled on the Danger Makers.
Steed: Simple, Mrs Peel. When Groves died, I saw Lowry, who put me on to Lamble, who led me to Robertson, through whom I met Stanhope, who later was killed, who passed on info about Manton, where I met Colonel Adams. I simply put two and two together.
Mrs Peel: Elementary.
Steed: Basic.
Mrs Peel: Shall we drive?













Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

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…

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…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Must the duck be here?

The Favourite (2018)
(SPOILERS) In my review of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I suggested The Favourite might be a Yorgos Lanthimos movie for those who don’t like Yorgos Lanthimos movies. At least, that’s what I’d heard. And certainly, it’s more accessible than either of his previous pictures, the first two thirds resembling a kind of Carry On Up the Greenaway, but despite these broader, more slapstick elements and abundant caustic humour, there’s a prevailing detachment on the part of the director, a distancing oversight that rather suggests he doesn’t feel very much for his subjects, no matter how much they emote, suffer or connive. Or pratfall.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

Whoever comes, I'll kill them. I'll kill them all.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) There’s no guessing he’s back. John Wick’s return is most definite and demonstrable, in a sequel that does what sequels ought in all the right ways, upping the ante while never losing sight of the ingredients that made the original so formidable. John Wick: Chapter 2 finds the minimalist, stripped-back vehicle and character of the first instalment furnished with an elaborate colour palette and even more idiosyncrasies around the fringes, rather like Mad Max in that sense, and director Chad Stahleski (this time without the collaboration of David Leitch, but to no discernible deficit) ensures the action is filled to overflowing, but with an even stronger narrative drive that makes the most of changes of gear, scenery and motivation.

The result is a giddily hilarious, edge-of-the-seat thrill ride (don’t believe The New York Times review: it is not “altogether more solemn” I can only guess Jeannette Catsoulis didn’t revisit the original in the interven…

I don’t know if what is happening is fair, but it’s the only thing I can think of that’s close to justice.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
(SPOILERS) I think I knew I wasn’t going to like The Killing of a Sacred Deer in the first five minutes. And that was without the unedifying sight of open-heart surgery that takes up the first four. Yorgos Lanthimos is something of a Marmite director, and my responses to this and his previous The Lobster (which I merely thought was “okay” after exhausting its thin premise) haven’t induced me to check out his earlier work. Of course, he has now come out with a film that, reputedly, even his naysayers will like, awards-darling The Favourite

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.