Movie review: The Fantastic Four (2015) – Not so fantastic

I don’t think I’ve seen a franchise reboot come around quite so fast. The last Fantastic Four movie (Rise of the Silver Surfer) was released in 2007, which doesn’t seem that long. It must be a comic-book thing.
Anyway, Rise of the Silver Surfer didn’t exactly thrill me, so I was looking forward to a fresh start with new characters, new director and the involvement of the same production outfit that brought us the brilliant X-Men series.

Okay, first the good.

This outing was a lot grittier than the previous takes. The characters were vaguely human, which usually makes comic-book films a lot more approachable for more people. The special effects were fairly good (especially the Human Torch sequences), and the interaction between the characters were nothing to write a blog about, but were pretty much okay.

And that was the good.

Unfortunately, while the characters were vaguely human, they were also a little bit dull. There wasn’t much to separate them really. The good guys where good, and the villain was  . . . well . . . he didn’t seem that bad. He went about his master plan to destroy humanity as though he could be talked out of it if someone listened to his problems over a cup of tea and generous slice of chocolate cheesecake.

The film meandered from one inconclusive scene to the next, marking time until the final battle – which was over in a few minutes, and didnt’ really add anything to the film or the characters. To be honest, I was glad it was over.

I got the distinct impression that this film was made to a time budget: It was to run for 98 minutes and not a moment longer. The whole thing seemed very compressed; years squeezed into ten minute set pieces that were frustrating and uninspiring.

On the whole, something of a disappointment.

Three out of ten . . . :-(

Book review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

I woke up this morning in something of a panic.
Say, a sizeable majority of the human race (say, 96%) was wiped out by an airborne flu virus. Say that in the weeks that followed, civilisation collapsed: no industry, no infrastructure, no technology, no governments. The end of pretty much everything.

Say, that in the months that followed, the very few that are left, are forced to leave their homes to escape the lawlessness, the disease caused by bodies piling up in homes and in the streets.

Say, I had to leave to find food, to find water, to survive . . . 

I lay there, wondering what I’d do with the cats.

I couldn’t take them with me. I could just leave them; let them fend for themselves. Cats are good at that. Well, one is; the other one is a little bit dim.
What would I need on trek that would cover hundreds of miles? No need for a phone, or a computer, or money for that matter. I’d need clothes, weapons, tinned food, paper and pens to write with . . . 

The genius of Emily St. John Mandel’s apocalyptic epic Station Eleven is that she’s skipped the global view almost entirely. There’s no omnipotent eye watching governments collapse, infrastructure failing, people dying by the millions. Station Eleven focusses on a group of travelling actors and musicians who are trying to keep culture alive, two decades after the pandemic that wiped out the population. We’re led through the world as it is now, and, through the memories of the characters, what it was in the weeks before the virus struck.

Ordinary lives before, and the ordinary lives after. It’s extraordinarily powerful writing: deep, literary, poetic, and very much character-driven. If your expecting an all-out Mad Max-like race for survival across the United States, then this isn’t it. What you get is a thoughtful slow-burner that draws you into this collapse into the dark ages through the eyes of the people living it. When a book moves you to think what you’d do when the end of the world finally arrives, then you’ve found something very special.

Excellent. Nine out of ten, and the cats are on their own.

Book review: Wool by Hugh Howey

Whether he intended to or not, Hugh Howey has become something of a mascot for the self-published author, and given the quality of his work then it’s not hard to see why.

Wool is the first in a dystopian trilogy following a colony of thousands living in an underground silo for hundreds of years. Why? Not sure. I assumed that it was some kind of global catastrophe, but having finished the book, I’m wondering if it’s something a little less straightforward . . .

As you can imagine, such an environment has to be rigidly controlled in terms of resource distribution and population growth, all of which is handled by the wonderfully sinister IT department, whose remit seems to extend much further than keeping the servers running. Their main function, as it turns out, is to deal with any dissent that threatens the order maintained in the silo.
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Howey does a fantastic job of building a detailed, realistic environment which appears as vast as it does claustrophobic, and he does this without sacrificing the humanity of his characters. He moves from person to person, going into a great deal of internal dialogue that builds the characters, but also slows down the plot somewhat; it’s a tricky balance, and I’m not sure he’s got it right — for me at least.
Still, what you do get is very believable characters who you can empathise with; this includes the antagonists who dispatch citizens of the silo in ever-increasing numbers in order to maintain the status quo.

Even with some fairly lengthy exposition, the book cracks on at a blistering pace, and I have to say that it was genuinely difficult to put down. It doesn’t pack a lot of surprises, but it does leave a lot of questions unanswered which, I assume, will be picked up in later novels.

There are many similar books to this (City of Ember to name one), but Wool has more of a thriller feel to it; a real whodunnit and whydidtheydoit wrapped inside a large dark space.

Nine out of ten.