As the 2015 movie season draws towards a close, it has occurred to me that two of it’s most anticipated titles have a rather odd connection. And not necessarily the one you’d imagine. Those two movies? “Ant-Man” and “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens”.
“Ant-Man” arrived with a lot of baggage this summer. I admit, I boycotted it for a time due to the behind-the-scenes fiasco that resulted in original writer/director Edgar (“Shaun Of The Dead”) Wright and co-writer/producer Joe Cornish walking off the project right before filming was to start. (This, mind you, after a ten-year development period according to many reports.) As it happens, the end result, directed by Peyton Reed, is thoroughly enjoyable. Wright’s fingerprints are still noticably on it, and it would be really fucking petty of me to say that this truly wonderful movie would be 10x better if Wright and Cornish had remained on board. So I won’t.
Seriously. “Ant-Man” is a great movie. I actually liked it better than “Avengers: Age Of Ultron” which, to be fair, was pretty great itself.
Look. I LIKED “Ant-Man”. Okay? So… Maybe, just MAYBE, it would have been EVEN BETTER if a certain writer/director who MAY have spent 10 or so years developing it actually got to DIRECT it, but… No. I really did like it. I liked it a lot! Who knows how much MORE I might have liked it if said theoretical scenario had been allowed to happen, is all I’m saying.
Anyway. As I mentioned in the midst of all the ranting above, Edgar Wright’s co-writer/producer on “Ant-Man” was a certain Joe Cornish. Back in 2011, Cornish was the writer director of a little film called “Attack The Block”, on which, incidentally, Edgar Wright was the executive producer. The star of “Attack The Block” was a young actor by the name of John Boyega.
Which brings us to the OTHER highly anticipated film of 2015 I mentioned earlier: “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens”.
John Boyega is literally the first human face many of us saw in connection to the new “Star Wars” movie. You might even know him as “the black Stormtrooper” guy.
Or you might know him as the “holy fuck is that Moses from “Attack The Block” wielding a motherfucking LIGHTSABER???” guy. Which is kinda how I reacted to this one-sheet:
Either way, Joe Cornish’s awesome little sci-fi/action/comedy/social-commentary movie “Attack The Block can honestly boast of having been a stepping stone to two of this year’s most intensely monitored and commented on films. And so it seems appropriate to take a look at it again as we count down the days til “Star Wars VII” arrives in our local multiplexes.
I bought “Attack The Block” in 2013 as a used DVD for maybe $5 or so. I bought it in descending order of interest for: (1) the fact that the team behind “Shaun Of The Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” was apparently involved in it’s making; (2) Nick Frost, co-star of “Shaun Of The Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” appeared in this movie; (3) I’ve always had a peculiar fondness for “base-under-siege” movies and this looked like it could fall into that sub-genre.
As it turned out, “Attack The Block” more than justified that financial outlay. It was definitely made in the same style and mindset as “Shaun Of The Dead”/”Hot Fuzz”. It takes a familiar story line (Alien/Monster invades a closed-off community; community has to band together and fight back) and breathes new life into it. It skillfully uses it’s low budget to maximal effect, and arguably is better off for what it can’t show than what it can. And it forces you as the viewer to rethink what you expect and want out of it’s protagonists: I really didn’t know who, let alone if, anyone was going to make it out alive by the end.
As Moses, leader of a gang of teenaged thugs on a council estate in London, Boyega absolutely shines. He starts off as the living embodiment for middle-class fear of the Urban Youth. He and his gang begin the movie by mugging just about he most likable character there is: an idealistic young nurse played by Jodie Whittaker, whom US viewers might recognize from the excellent series “Broadchurch”. This opening scene is played absolutely straight, and it’s genuinely upsetting. (I was surprised to learn that one of Cornish’s inspirations in making the film came from being mugged by a gang of toughs himself. It’s not every filmmaker who’d go on to make their attackers the heroes in a sci-fi/action/comedy, that’s for certain…)
To Boyega and the filmmaker’s credit, there is no attempt to downplay Moses’ actions. He’s a lost kid, on the way to becoming a bad guy. It’s hard to imagine him coming back from that opener, let alone that he and Whittaker’s nurse will forge an alliance to survive the night. But by movie’s end he’s a bona-fide action hero, leaping out of windows as explosions erupt behind him. Part of what makes “Attack…” more than just a boilerplate sci-fi/action/comedy is that you really believe in these characters when they are forced to become unlikely heroes. And the acting, especially by Boyega and Whittaker, is what sells that.
Having said that, it helps when the script is as clever and well-paced as this one. Boyega and Whittaker are clearly the stars, but there’s lots of room for a rich cast of supporting characters to breathe and make an impact. Nick Frost is dependably good as the weed dealing middle-aged slacker, and Jumayne Hunter gives a great performance as Hi-Hatz the psycho gang boss and would-be rapper. Remarkably, most of the cast were first-time actors or relative unknowns.
On top of that, the production and creature designs might be low-budget, but they are first rate. These aliens are spiky black shapes with phosphorescent jaws, like killer apes made of anti-matter. They manage to be intriguing and damned scary at the same time. And Cornish takes a cue from Edgar Wright when staging his action sequences: lots of movement and flair, but you can tell exactly what’s going on at any given moment. (Wright, for my money, is one of the best action directors working in modern cinema. He’s easily worth ten Michael Bays.)
So take a moment and consider the plucky little film from Britain that inadvertently paved the way for two of the biggest films of 2015. If you do watch it I feel safe in guaranteeing that you won’t be referring to John Boyega as “that black stormtrooper guy” any time soon. This guy’s gonna be a star. And this is the movie that put him on the map.