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The first Expendables film was rubbish. The 2nd Expendables film was slightly less rubbish. The 3rd Expendables film is even less rubbish than the second one, but unfortunately it’s not less rubbish enough to be anything other than a bit rubbish.

The problem with all three films is that none of them have been exciting or fun enough. Sure, there’s a big pile of sweaty action stars with daft character names (Terry Crews plays Hale Caesar!) shooting everything that moves (twice) and firing off limp one-liners (often bastardised versions of lines from their famous, much better, films), but I’ve never thought ‘Oh, this is cool!’ while watching any of them.

That this film slightly better is mainly down to Mel Gibson’s bad guy, Conrad Stonebanks (almost a name a real person would have), who is a proper shit and former Expendable, who parted ways with Sly’s crew when he realised he could make more money on the black market. Gibson actually has the charisma to make you dislike his character, whereas Jean-Claude Van Damme just mumbled his way through Expendables 2, and whoever was the bad guy in the first film was so dull that I have no memory of who played him.

But that’s not enough to push the film into goodness, particularly as it’s pretty shoddily made, with some really poor effects littered throughout the film, particularly in a scene during the (far too long) montage of Sly recruiting new blood with Kelsey Grammer when the pair are talking in an open top car, and it’s so clear that it wasn’t shot outside that they might as well have left the roof of the studio at the top of the screen.

The film also has far too many characters, with the new recruits all being a bit dull and not given enough screen time to really establish themselves, the older guys mostly just grunt at each other, while new recruits Harrison Ford and Wesley Snipes are fun but underused and the joke gets old very quickly with Antonio Banderas’ Galgo.

So three films in, The Expendables franchise remains a series of missed opportunities. The scripts and the action haven’t been up to scratch in any of them, and none of them have come close to matching the best films that any of its stars have made in the past (although most of them genuinely being too old for this shit is an unavoidable factor in that). And maybe that’s the biggest problem, that the older guys ARE too old for this shit, and their limitations stop the films from being as much fun as they need to be.

This film sees a new batch of Expendables introduced, but none of them really look like potential stars (and Kellan Lutz has already definitively proven that he’s not a leading man), but a film in which Jason Statham’s Lee Christmas is the main man, with Stallone and the other elder statesmen killed off or reduced to cameo appearances might result in a much more entertaining Expendables film.

But it seems unlikely that Stallone is ready to step aside just yet, so The Expendables will probably continue to be a series of forgettable disappointments.




Since it began showing at film festivals at the start of the year, the reaction to Richard Linklater’s Boyhood has generally been ecstatic. It currently has a rare 100% rating from over 100 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, with reviewers heralding it as a unique and bold film that can instantly be called a classic. So it’s fair to say that I went to see it with fairly high expectations, particularly as I have only recently watched, and loved, Linklater’s Before series for the first time.

So it was a surprise to me that I really didn’t connect with the film at all, despite some strong performances from its cast, particularly Ellar Coltrane as Mason Jr, whose boyhood lends the film its title. It goes without saying that the biggest risk for the project as a whole was getting that piece of casting wrong, because the project would probably have collapsed had his ability to perform on camera disappeared when he became a teenager. It’s certainly a highlight of the film that his performance feels natural and unforced at every age, whether he’s asking his father (Ethan Hawke) if ‘real magic’ exists in the world as a young boy or he’s ranting to his girlfriend as a teenager about why he’s deleting his Facebook page. Lorelei Linklater plays his sister Samantha and her performance is strong too, with a scene when she’s having an awkward conversation about sex with Hawke at a bowling alley a highlight.

The problem for me lies not in the performances, but with the development of the characters and the changes they go through, and how they are presented to the audience. I didn’t get the sense that I was really seeing the world through Mason’s eyes, and as a result, the relationships his parents have and the changes they go through felt under-written and a little contrived. Patricia Arquette’s Olivia has two long-term relationships that end when his drinking becomes a problem, but because those two men don’t have much screen time, the changes in their characters are hard to accept, because we don’t really get to see what triggered their personality changes (both of which revolve around drinking problems). In the case of Hawke’s Mason Sr., we first meet him as a man who hasn’t embraced the responsibility of being a father at all, and still talks about making music and lives in a shitty apartment, but a few years later he’s married with a baby, and this is presented to the audience without an explanation of why or how his life changed in that period of time that made him settle down.

In the Before series, we meet up with Jesse and CĂ©line at different periods in their lives (the films were released in 1995, 2004 and 2013), and can see how they’ve physically changed, but the characters talk about what they’ve done in the time since we’ve seen them, and you get an understanding of why they’ve made certain decisions and what their current motivations are. In Boyhood, these kind of conversations are largely absent, and characters simply disappear from the film when their year(s) is over with. It makes the film feel fractured and didn’t allow me to really get invested in most of the relationships throughout.

In terms of seeing the world through Mason’s eyes, I would compare Boyhood with Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. While that film is much more abstract and meditative than Boyhood, I think Malick does a better job of capturing the world through the eyes of a child (particularly through Hunter McCracken’s Jack) than Linklater does in this film. To me, it often felt like Mason was on the outside looking in at the relationships his parents were experiencing, rather than being in the middle of them. What Jack goes through in The Tree of Life is much more successful, and you get a real sense of him learning from his father while also fearing him, as well as discovering the world in the way children do, when everything is fresh. So I couldn’t see how Mason was changing or learning in the same way and how those relationships would shape his life as he grew up.

Ultimately, I think Boyhood is an ambitious film that comes up short in a couple of key areas, and as a result, it didn’t have the kind of impact on me that it seems to have had with almost everyone else. I still think Richard Linklater should be applauded for taking the plunge on this kind of project, and I hope its success and acclaim from elsewhere can inspire more people to make independent films, but for me, it’s a noble failure.


agents of shield

You know what? I can’t really be bothered with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. any more. After an up and down (but mostly down) first season, its final episode is a further disappointment, despite the return of Nick Fury to save the day in a few different ways. The most frustrating thing about the episode is that it fails to set up anything particularly interesting for season 2. Garrett is killed having been pushed into the role of the season’s big bad just a few weeks ago, so there’s no real satisfaction in the team defeating him, and the hints at what’s coming next, the appearance of Skye’s father (who seems to be dripping blood) and Coulson displaying tendencies like Garrett was, aren’t big enough revelations to make me desperate for the show’s return.

So because a final confrontation with Garrett isn’t something that I’ve really been looking forward to, it leaves ‘Beginning of the End’ feeling very flat. There’s no real tension in Fitz and Simmons predicament at the bottom of the ocean, because like when Skye was shot, I don’t believe that the show is going to kill off any of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team in its first season, even if it does leave Fitz battling to recover from the effects of the bends after he and Simmons escaped the pod and were rescued by Fury (who was conveniently monitoring S.H.I.E.L.D. frequencies that Fitz had used to send distress signals). The showdown with Garrett is similarly underwhelming because not only has the show really rushed his development into a supervillain, but because it ends up being really too easy for the team to stop him, with Skye and May inflitrating Cybertek and rescuing Mike’s son just in time for him to turn against Garrett just as he’s ordered him to kill Coulson and Fury (well, I say just as, but there’s plenty of time for Coulson and Fury to talk amongst themselves before Deathlok actually takes the shot). There’s a reasonably funny gag as we see Garrett forcing himself into Deathlok armour and making a menacing speech, only for Coulson to casually explode his head off with a fancy weapon, but that gag actually highlights how poorly handled Garrett’s evolution has been, that the ultimate villain for the team to face off against can be killed off in such a throwaway manner, with only Coulson there to witness it.

And with Garrett gone, that essentially means HYDRA is dead too, which means that the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier will more or less be negated by the time Avengers: Age of Ultron arrives in cinemas, especially as Fury puts Coulson in charge of rebuilding S.H.I.E.L.D. in his absence (and unfortunately he’ll be assisted by the still miscast Patton Oswalt, who return as Billy Koenig for some reason). Based on the scheduling of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s first season, it will only have a few episodes remaining in season 2 by the time Age of Ultron is released on May 1st next year, which will presumably mean that S.H.I.E.L.D.’s rebuilding process will at least be well under way if it isn’t actually complete, so the dramatic shift that was hinted at in The Winter Soldier may only have had an effect on the story in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and even that impact has only lasted a matter of days or weeks before the threat of HYDRA has been dealt with.

So at the end of its first season, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. really hasn’t achieved very much. It started well and had some really strong episodes that coincided with the release of The Winter Soldier, but has mostly fallen into a dull routine that sees little pieces of bigger stories dropped into repetitive ‘mission of the week’ episodes. I think part of the problem is it having 22 episodes, at a time when most of the best dramas on television have much shorter seasons (The Walking Dead is two parts of 8 episodes, shows like Homeland have 12 or 13). Streamlining the series to 16 or fewer episodes would put more emphasis on bigger stories rather than one off adventures, and actually having one big story to focus on would be an enormous help. But at this point, the show’s second season is not something I’m particularly looking forward too. I’ve enjoyed several episodes of the series, but after watching the season finale, I’m bored of it, and it doesn’t look like the issues the show has are going to be addressed in the near future. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will continue to be a show with enormous potential, but it needs to properly define itself in its second season, or it won’t get a third.

Follow me on Twitter @TheGlassCase

agents of shield

As we reach episode 21 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s first season, almost all of my enthusiasm for the show has disappeared. I’ve said before that it’s been an extremely erratic series so far, with a great start in its first few episodes, followed by a repetitive lull before the great run of episodes as HYDRA tried to destroy S.H.I.E.L.D., and now it’s back to being repetitive and just a bit dull. So this week’s episode is basically more of the same, with the only difference being some unnecessary flashbacks to tell the story of Ward and Garrett’s relationship. The only real purpose of the flashbacks seems to be to show that Ward is actually a bad guy, but everything he’s done since it was revealed he was always HYDRA has done that anyway. He’s killed multiple S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and helped Garrett escape, so while the S.H.I.E.L.D. team doesn’t know why he’s sided with Garrett, the audience does, which means that the only reason the flashbacks are there is to show that Ward doesn’t get attached to people (or animals), which is why he jettisons Fitz and Simmons from the Bus, despite Fitz believing that there is some good inside him.

The other big revelation in this episode is that Garrett is the original Deathlok, and the origins of the project go back as far as 1990. But Garrett’s body is failing him, and he has begun needing regular treatment (jumpstarts?) to keep him going. Which is why he’s been searching so desperately for the right formula of the that was used on Coulson, so that he can be revived in the same way. Bill Paxton is always an entertaining screen presence, but there’s still a sense that the show hasn’t done enough with his character to make him a the bad guy the show needs, although the episode does end with him (possibly) becoming even stronger, as Raina injects him with a synthesized variant of the Guest House drug that initially seems to overpower him, only to leave him able to ‘feel the universe’ (whatever that means).

For most of this episode, the S.H.I.E.L.D. team dedicates their time to learning more about Cybertek and the origins of Deathlok, meaning that what they’re up to isn’t really that interesting. It’s fun to see Coulson and May going undercover at Cybertek while getting advice in their earpieces about what to say to bluff their way in (Coulson accidentally gets a bit Scottish, Simmons tells May she doesn’t look older than 30), but other than that, it’s just them working out how to best go after Garrett and Ward, which is something that has been going on for a couple of episodes already and it feels like the show is just delaying this for the season finale.

Talking of which, the show isn’t really doing enough to up the stakes for the final episode, even with Fitz and Simmons being jettisoned off the Bus by Ward (the rest of the team will presumably have a limited window to rescue them next week). There’s no sense that anything will be resolved in the finale, that Ward or Garrett will be stopped or Deathlok will switch sides and become Mike Peterson again. It’s just another example of the show not really nailing down what it’s supposed to be in its first season. There have been high and low points, but no consistency, and no sense of a clear narrative for the show to follow, something that is required for a TV series to be successful. At this point, the show needs a really spectacular finale to stop it from being an overall mediocre first season, but for me it just doesn’t look like that’s possible.


agents of shield

I’m trying to think of a show that is more frustrating that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. In its first season, the show has been wildly inconsistent, starting strong before settling into an increasingly dull routine, before bursting into life as HYDRA’s infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D. became an uprising, only for the show to settle back into its previous disappointing style once again. And so it is that ‘Nothing Personal’, the 20th episode of 22 in season 1, is another of those disappointing episodes, one that progresses the story at a snail’s pace, and includes a scene with some truly terrible CGI that represents a real low point for the show (more on that later).

The audience already knows that Ward is a HYDRA agent and has fled Providence with Skye (who knows he is HYDRA but is playing along to stay alive), but the rest of the team (minus May) is still at Providence, trying to work out why Ward and Skye took the Bus and left, and where Koenig is. The problem is that it takes the episode far too long to reach a point where Coulson and the team have actually worked out what has happened, and even then they stumble into the truth, because Simmons decides to make everyone pancakes, which leads her to discover Koenig’s bloody corpse, and Fitz notices that the monitors Koenig used to simulate day and night are out of sync, because Skye has scratched ‘WARD IS HYDRA’ onto one of them and hidden it. It seems like a very laboured way for the team to join the dots, but before they can do anything about it, Maria Hill arrives with Colonel Talbot, intent on handing the station over to the US Army, and reminding Coulson that S.H.I.E.L.D. no longer exists. There’s then a lengthy conversation between Hill and Coulson about what happened to him at T.A.H.I.T.I. and Fury’s involvement and etc etc, all the stuff that we’ve heard any number of times before throughout this first season, before Coulson changes the subject and says ‘Oh, by the way, Ward is Hydra’, which angers Hill and annoys me, because shouldn’t that be the first thing Coulson tells her when she arrives at Providence? Don’t dick about talking about things that the show has covered extensively already, the thrust of the story should be about getting to HYDRA to stop Garrett and saving Skye.

Meanwhile, Skye is stalling for time as Ward pushes her to decrypt the research, and she takes him to the diner where she first encountered Deathlok to do it. But she’s soon taunting him about being a traitor, before revealing to him that she’s actually set him up, and has brought the police to the diner to apprehend Ward. But he gets the upper hand, and when Skye tries to flee, Deathlok arrives and takes control himself. Back on the Bus, Deathlok implants a device in Ward’s chest that can stop his heart unless Skye agrees to decrypt the research, but the S.H.I.E.L.D. team arrive in the nick of time, with Hill and Triplett distracting Ward while Coulson sneaks onboard to try and reclaim the Bus himself, not realising that Deathlok is onboard too. This leads to a shootout, and then that disastrous piece of CGI pops up as Coulson rescues Skye and uses his flying car, Lola, to escape. The special effects have actually been rather impressive in previous episodes of the show, but as the car falls from the sky, with its engines failing to fully spark into life, the CGI is disastrously unimpressive as Coulson and Skye ‘fall’ to the ground, and the scene is capped off with the very worst effect as the car lands. Watching the scene, it’s hard to imagine that the show’s producers thought it was conceived well enough to make the final cut of the episode, but it’s there, it’s terrible, and it represents a real nadir for the show.

So Ward and Deathlok escape, and the episode ends with May returning to the team and yet more guff about T.A.H.I.T.I. and what really, really, really happened with Coulson, which is that he told Fury the T.A.H.I.T.I. program didn’t work, but it was still used on him. Is this really what the show should be about? Coulson has become a very popular character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and that popularity is one of the main reasons for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. existing, but his story since the Battle of New York is not interesting and is not what the show should be about. I’m also becoming increasingly convinced that Clark Gregg just isn’t a particularly good actor, and that he’s better in small doses, rather than as the star of a show, particularly a show like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. which isn’t as good as it needs to be.

As the show reaches the end of its first season, real questions continues to linger about its long-term future. It has already been renewed by ABC for a second season, but it really needs to end strong, because with viewing figures significantly lower now than they were when the show started, I don’t think the audience of going to stick with it if it continues to drop the ball like it has done.



I’ve never seen any of the original Japanese Godzilla films, and I wasn’t a fan of Gareth Edwards debut film, Monsters (sure it looked great, but it was, well, a bit dull), so when it was announced that Edwards would be directing a new Godzilla, it wasn’t something that really got my attention. But the promotional campaign for the film has definitely changed that and from the moment I saw the leaked unofficial teaser featuring J. Robert Oppenheimer quoting the Bhagavad Gita, ‘Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds’, I was definitely in. Since then, the posters and official teasers and full trailers have only sucked me in more, with some spectacular looking shots from the film as well as a few teases of the size, look and sound of Godzilla (basically, he’s flipping massive in this one) making the film look like it could end up being one of the films of the year.

But after watching the film, I start to wonder what I had really been expecting from the film and if it had delivered what I had been expecting, or if it left me slightly underwhelmed. There’s no debate about whether or not the film delivers as a spectacle, because it’s absolutely a visually stunning film. The creatures look incredible, light years ahead of Roland Emmerich’s 1998 debacle, and it’s a genuinely breathtaking sight to see Godzilla in action. Even the action without giant monsters causing chaos looks fantastic, but the film’s biggest problem is what’s going on when there are no monsters.

One of the things I really liked about Cloverfield is that the characters in it never really know what’s going on as a giant creature destroys New York around them. In Godzilla, the opposite is true, as we follow the action through a scientific eye as Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins try to work out what’s happening and why, before moving mostly to the army’s point of view, as Aaron Taylor-Johnson first travels to Japan to see his father (Cranston), who has been looking for the truth since an unexplained incident caused a disaster in Japan and resulted in the death of his wife, then back towards America as Godzilla and the other creatures assemble for a monster bash.

And I think it’s this part of the film that ultimately means Godzilla doesn’t quite meet my lofty expectations. Because much of the film is about the army trying to work out what is happening and how to stop it, Godzilla isn’t actually on screen very often. The film wouldn’t work if it was 90% Godzilla roaring and smashing shit up either, but I don’t think the script quite gets the balance right. Too often it feels like Edwards cuts away from what Godzilla is up to too early, when more of him in action is what people really want to see. So instead a lot of that happens in the background as we see more of the army or the scientists working out what they need to do, and that gets a bit repetitive and dull after a while.

It’s when Godzilla is doing his thing that the film really entertains and excites, but because that element is utilised so infrequently, the film doesn’t totally work. But that said, this is still a giant leap forward from the disastrous 1998 effort, and is definitely a film designed to be seen on in cinemas. Gareth Edwards shows that he can handle the responsibility of directing a film with a budget in the hundreds of millions, but it’s the exposition that prevents Godzilla from being totally successful, not the action.

Follow me on Twitter @TheGlassCase

agents of shield

Like last week’s episode, ‘The Only Light in the Darkness’ is something like the calm after the storm for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Not that everything is back to normal, simply that this episode is more like earlier episodes in the season, with a case of the week coupled with smaller details woven into the plot to keep it moving.

So this week sees the group splitting up in more ways that one, as firstly Coulson takes Triplett, Fitz and Simmons with him to stop a man named Marcus Daniels, a former Fridge prisoner who is able to use the powers of an extra-dimensional energy known as Darkforce, and previously had an obsession with a cellist called Audrey Nathan (Amy Acker), who happens to be the cellist that Coulson has repeatedly talked about in his various appearances in Marvel films. This leaves Skye, May and Ward at Providence with Eric Koenig, only for May to pack her bags and leave, telling Ward that she no longer has the trust of Coulson, and with Nick Fury apparently dead, there’s no reason for her to stick around.

After a recent run of great episodes, ‘The Only Light in the Darkness’ is a bit underwhelming and predictable, more in keeping with the problems the show had earlier in its run that in the last few weeks when everything has been more purposeful and dynamic. I suppose the big draw with the Coulson-led mission this week is the introduction of the cellist, but casting someone like Amy Acker in a role that isn’t particularly demanding seems like a waste. She’s absolutely brilliant in a recurring role as Root in the excellent Person of Interest (which you really should be watching), but Audrey Nathan isn’t a full sketched out character, and as a result, she ends up being a stereotypical damsel in distress, and the threat posed by Marcus Daniels is one that is (relatively) easily solved as Fitz devises a way to get rid of him fairly quickly. It remains to be seen if Audrey is a character that will reappear in the show (and while Coulson keeps himself out of her sight because she thinks he is dead, the idea that he might tell her the truth is teased), but if that isn’t the case, then the whole of this plot simply becomes a way of leaving Ward back at Providence to get what he wants for Garrett and HYDRA.

Ward has told the group a version of how HYDRA took down the Fridge which involves him executing Garrett, so the team have no idea that he has switched sides, which means Coulson has no problem with leaving him behind with Koenig and Skye at Providence. But when Skye and Koenig decide to hack the NSA to learn more about how the Fridge was over-run, Ward murders Koenig (which is fine with me, because again, Patton Oswalt wasn’t working for me in the role) and attempts to seduce Skye to stop her wondering where Koenig has disappeared to. Again, like Coulson’s mission, this part of the episode feels a bit too cliched, as Skye eventually goes looking for Koenig, only to find him very dead in a closet, forcing her to pretend like everything is normal when Ward finds her nearby. She’s then forced to keep up the act when Ward tells her that they need to take the Bus to meet with Coulson, when the reality is that he’s taking her to Garrett and HYDRA before Coulson returns to Providence and discovers what has happened.

So with both parts of the story in this week’s episode being underwhelming, ‘The Only Light in the Darkness’ is a bit of a disappointment after the show’s recent high points. Next week’s episode will presumably involve the rest of the team discovering the truth about Ward and going after him and Garret to rescue Skye (again) while May is off looking for Maria Hill, but after all the drama and game-changing in the last few episodes, it’s worrying that some of the problems that plagued the show during the first half of the season seem to be appearing again.

Follow me on Twitter @TheGlassCase


With 24, it seems to be a case of the more things change, the more they stay the same. The story might have moved to London, and it’s going to be told over 12 episodes instead of 24, but those are really the only two things that have differentiated Live Another Day from everything we’ve seen before in the show. The second episode is more of the same, both in terms of what happened in the first episode, and what’s happened in the previous 192, as Jack follows Chloe to the base of her hacking group, looking for a man named Derek Yates who has developed software that can allow its user to take control of drones, which is what happened at the end of the previous episode. John Boyega’s Chris Tanner is a patsy, a soldier with a bad reputation who is being framed for the drone attack, making it appear as if he deliberately attacked US and British troops, causing an international incident and putting pressure on President Heller as he attempts to reach a deal with the British Prime Minister, played by Stephen Fry.

As this is developing, 24 falls in line with its familiar routines, as Jack manages to stay (more or less) one step ahead of the actual authorities, while bad guys are double crossed by people they think they can trust. The latter is particularly evident when we see Yates working alongside a his Russian girlfriend. When we first meet him, he’s hiding out in a block of flats with Tamer Hassan’s Basher and his girlfriend appears to be particularly nosy about what he’s up to. Because this is 24, it immediately becomes obvious that she’s going to have a more significant role in the series, and so it’s no surprise that after Yates has escaped from Bauer and the CIA (naturally they arrive just after Jack has found him), she murders him, taking his work to the un-named (at this point) Michelle Fairley, who’s playing a woman who told Yates she’d buy his software and needed the attack on the US & British troops to prove that he could deliver what she wanted.

And again, these are things that I’ve not only come to expect from 24, but that I’d become bored with by the time the show finished in 2010. It may be a shorter season in a new location, but there’s nothing new about the way this story is being told. Jack Bauer still wants to protect the President at all costs, Chloe O’Brian is still loyal to Jack even when he lies to her (he set her up to lead him to her hacking group, led by Michael Wincott), and inevitably ends up caught in the action as she helps guide Jack to Yates and steals a car to help him escape. Then there’s the plot-line about Heller’s deteriorating mental health, which is starting to become a major issue as he tries to respond to the drone strike that cost the lives of American and British troops. It feels like the type of storyline that has always existed in 24 (like whenever Kim would do something stupid), but isn’t necessary when the season is half as long as it used to be.

So two episodes in, there’s really little to commend 24: Live Another Day for. There are familiar patterns emerging and the way each episode has developed so far has been too predictable to be entertaining. If 24 was going to come back, it really needed to be different in some way, but so far having it set in London has been largely irrelevant, and yet again there’s a government agency trying to do things by the book that is being out-thought and outmaneuvered by Jack Bauer, with them making life difficult for Jack as he tries to save the day. If this is how the rest of the season is going to play out, it’s going to be a long boring story, even if it takes half the time to tell it.

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By the end of its eighth season, it felt like 24 had reached its natural conclusion. There’d been a sense of ‘been there, done that’ for the last few seasons, and even moving the story from Los Angeles to Washington and finally New York hadn’t really given the series the jolt it needed to keep it a vital, thrilling TV experience. So Jack getting away at the end of season 8, having saved the day one more time, felt like the logical way to finish the series. But rumours of a 24 film persisted, and when Kiefer Sutherland’s return to TV in Touch failed to take off, Fox announced Jack Bauer’s return in a revamped version of the show that would not only move the series to London, but would only be 12 episodes long, keeping the real time aspect of the show, but skipping ahead at times, meaning that the beginning of an episode wouldn’t necessarily begin a second after the last one finished.

So the newly retitled 24: Live Another Day begins at 11:00 in the morning, as a CIA team storms a warehouse in pursuit of a high priority target. As the target starts to take the team out, we’re reintroduced to Jack Bauer, who systematically neutralises his pursuers before fleeing the warehouse. But he appears to take a wrong turn and ends up trapped beside the Thames, and surrenders himself. At the CIA’s London base, head of operations Steve Navarro (Benjamin Bratt) is happy to have Bauer in custody, but Kate Morgan (Yvonne Strahovski) has doubts about Bauer’s capture, believing that he wouldn’t have made such a simple mistake, and must have an ulterior motive for being captured. This is pretty standard 24 fare, and sure enough, Kate is proven correct as Bauer (with outside assistance) soon has the upper hand, escaping within the building and heading to a part of the building where Chloe O’Brian (Mary Lynn Rasjkub) is being held. I actually think that the show misses a trick by briefly showing Chloe earlier in the episode. She’s been heavily featured in the promotional material of course, but once you know that Chloe is in the same building as Jack, it’s obvious why he has allowed himself to be captured, and means that it’s being heavily signposted that not only will he escape, but that Kate will be the one to work out what he’s up to, and attempt to stop him.

Elsewhere, President Heller (William Devane) is in London for talks with the British government, but his memory is starting to fade as he battles what is probably Alzheimer’s but isn’t specifically named as such. His daughter Audrey (Kim Raver) is in London too, fully recovered from Jack Bauer-induced stresses and strains, and married to Mark Boudreau (Tate Donovan), Heller’s chief of staff. He’s the first man in the administration to learn of Bauer’s capture, but wants to keep it from the President and Audrey, and tells a secret service agent to make Bauer disappear. In another location, Chris Tanner (John Boyega) is a drone pilot who suddenly has control of his drone taken from him, which then targets US troops and takes them out as he desperately tries to warn them.

As episodes of 24 go, it’s a fairly straightforward one. It’s heavy on the exposition as it fills in gaps from the four years since Jack Bauer escaped while the plot starts to take shape, but while it was a fairly exciting hour of television, it is worryingly predictable. You know Jack’s been caught for a reason, you know that Heller’s health will become significant in future episodes, and I found myself suspecting everyone except Jack and Chloe could potentially be undercover agents or traitors in some way. Even Colin Salmon (who is very British) appearing as an American general as part of Heller’s team makes me wonder if he’s been cast because he’s a mole, or is he just there because he’s a good actor and the series is set in London? A big deal is made about Kate’s husband being a traitor to his country, which is why she’s no longer a field agent, can she be trusted? You never know with 24, but the problem is that if you’ve watched the whole series to this point, you’ve been conditioned to expect the unexpected, that anyone at anytime could suddenly switch sides.

It’s a new day and a new format for 24, but the first episode has a sense of over-familiarity rather than one of excitement and anticipation of what’s coming next. I’m not going to write the show off based on a single episode, but this one serves as a reminder that the show had perhaps over-stayed its welcome during its first run, and that what it’s doing now isn’t fresh enough to really justify its return. But I can’t deny that it’s fun to have the beeps back, and that Jack Bauer remains one of TV’s most iconic characters, so I’m happy to stick with the show and see what comes next.

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agents of shield

After the frenetic, chaotic nature of the last few episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., ‘Providence’ takes things at a much slower pace, as S.H.I.E.L.D. tries to recover from the damage inflicted by HYDRA, with Coulson trying to find Nick Fury, who he believes is still alive. What he doesn’t know is that Ward has aligned himself with HYDRA and Garrett, having previously been undercover for HYDRA on the S.H.I.E.L.D. team. They are forming plans together to infiltrate The Fridge, one of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s key facilities, and enlist the help of Raini, whom Ward springs from prison to continue research into the Guest House drugs that saved Coulson, as Garrett has been unable to find the drug that saved Coulson and Skye among the samples he was able to secure before the Guest House was destroyed (and the ones he has tested have yielded unpleasant results on the unlucky patients).

But the main focus of this episode is Coulson’s reaction to the HYDRA uprising, and his unshakable belief that Nick Fury is alive and guiding him somewhere important, based on co-ordinates embedded on his original S.H.I.E.L.D. badge. With a military team set to arrive at the Hub to investigate recent events, Coulson orders the team to get on the Bus and head to the Canadian wilderness, where he hopes to find Fury, or at least a sign that his mentor is still alive to guide him. The team start to doubt Coulson as they find nothing, but when he throws his badge away, having lost his faith, an gun shoots the badge out of the sky. Coulson identifies himself in front of the gun, and gains access to a top secret S.H.I.E.L.D. facility unofficially called ‘Providence’ by its sole inhabitant, Agent Eric Koenig (Patton Oswalt). Once the team are inside, Koenig takes Coulson aside to tell him that Fury is still alive.

While the team begin to regroup at Providence, Garrett and Ward are leading a team into the Fridge, freeing prisoners and acquiring some extremely fancy weaponry. Ward also has a surprise for Garrett, using one of the weapons to reveal a hidden room that contains the gravitonium that Dr. Franklin Hall was sucked into, way back in ‘The Asset’. Garrett presents it as a gift to Ian Quinn, who had previously been unhappy at being imprisoned because of Garrett, and it seems likely to me that Dr. Hall will re-emerge at some point and prove to be another asset for HYDRA to utilise against S.H.I.E.L.D.

So ‘Providence’ ends up being a quieter episode than the last few, but still advances the show’s story in significant ways. I’m not sure I totally buy Brett Dalton’s performance as a bad guy so far, his personality doesn’t seem that much different besides some designer stubble (Garrett also gets bad guy bingo points for adding polo neck jumpers to his wardrobe), and I don’t think Patton Oswalt really brings anything to his role, feeling more like a bit of stunt casting rather than the right man for the job. It remains to be seen how big a part Koenig plays in future episodes, and if Ward will remain on team HYDRA, but overall, it’s another impressive episode that keeps Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on the right path as it approaches the finale of its first (now mostly successful) season.

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