It feels as something has been missing from big studio films in recent memory, at least when you ask general audiences. The kind of archaic, action-heavy and pathos-ridden blockbusters that usually draw many to the theatre, seem to have lost their appeal. In the exact moment where the cinema as an institution has gained a major rival in the form of streaming services, the films that usually gel so well on the big screen, with their opulent production design and their often CG-supported visual grandeur, seem have lost contact to their potential audiences, no matter how visually inventive or audacious they are. Some of these films get a push in the case of a positive critical reception or massive marketing campaigns, but in general, new franchises are hit hard at the box office. Recent examples are plenty and to be fair, many of these films are forgettable. But even films that truly stand out have to take major losses in their cinema runs.
One example is Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow (2014), an action film with a star-studded cast, a talented crew and stellar reviews. It concisely mixed genre conventions into big entertainment — but despite the quality on display and the accessibility in the film’s storytelling, the general public wasn’t interested in seeing it. And while they didn’t get away with a positive critic’s consensus, flopped films such as the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending (2015) and Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) have gained a community of fans, who admire them for their courage to be original in their vision of spectacle and who prevent their names from being forgotten in the flash flood of the contemporary blockbuster landscape. It’s a slightly different story with Mortal Engines — but not all too different.
The base setup of the film is one that seems to be, in theory, a safe bet: produced and co-written by Peter Jackson, who used to be the biggest name of the industry in relation to the type of filmmaking in question, Mortal Engines somehow managed to completely bomb at the box office. It is actually quite a shame, because the film keeps its promise of – big – and manages to possess much more vigor and excitement than the average blockbuster film.
Around halfway through Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Lily James’ youthful incarnation of Donna Sheridan, the character originally made famous by Meryl Streep ten years ago, states that there are only two types of people in the world. In reference to “seducers”, Donna argues that there are those that seduce women because they have a genuine contempt for them and would like to assert their dominance over them, and that the others simply fall in and out of love every evening. I would like to take Donna’s claim, that there are only two types of people, and rather than use it with regards to so-called seducers, I would like to suggest that the two kinds of people in the world are as follows: Those that love ABBA, and subsequently fun, and those that do not. If you are of the latter, then I would not recommend you read this review.
Picture the scene: a half-full cinema screen on a Saturday afternoon, a loud chattering of many teenage boys, a slightly off-putting scent of theatre food. When seated amongst this crowd, painfully hungover and desperate for light relief, there is a sudden blissful realisation of the very low expectations that one can credibly have for a movie such as the Jumanji remake. There is no pressure for this blockbuster to make any kind of impact on the cinematic world, nor is there anticipation for a mind-blowing script, notable acting skills, or clever direction. As a viewer, you’re sat amid people who share the understanding that what they are about to see is not exactly going to be Oscar material. Honestly, at this point, you just want some cool explosions to distract from the throbbing headache that triple vodka caused the night before.
The fact that ‘Jumanji’ manages to pull off two hours of thoroughly enjoyable entertainment, then, is a pleasant surprise. In fact, it’s proof that remakes, sequels and other such “popcorn movies” should be held up to a certain standard, even if that standard relies on their ability to successfully entertain and little else. Every inch of this movie is intended to keep the viewer in a comfortable lull of real life avoidance, and though there are many flaws that cannot be ignored, ultimately, these flaws do not lead to an overall critical failure.