Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Spy Who Flubbed Me: HAMILTON 2 - BUT NOT IF IT COMES TO YOUR DAUGHTER (2012)

I am not going to screw around here. No beating around the bush. The Swedes have let me down. Hard. HAMILTON 2 is an absolutely terrible sequel to one of last years big surprises and quite possibly the disappointment of the year.

Hamilton (Mikael Persbrandt) finds himself helping out during a small crisis in Stockholm where a known terrorist is clumsily attempting to assassinate a visiting Palestinian politician. After Hamilton helps to foil the most dunderheaded of assassination attempts with a simple clothesline, the press starts attacking Ewa Tanguy (Frida Hallgren), the head of Säpo (the Swedish secret service), with the help of propaganda from Abdul-Rahman (Milind Soman), the head of an Al'Queda-esque terrorist network. The terrorists decide that if they can undermine confidence in Ewa, they can achieve something that is not made terribly clear.

Predictably enough, Ewa's daughter is soon kidnapped by some ex-SAS operatives and Hamilton is on the case. Even more predictably, this time it's personal, as Hamilton is the godparent of the kidnapped girl.

Writer Stefan Thunberg, who also wrote the first HAMILTON (2011) movie and THE HUNTERS 2 (2010), stumbles through this non-adaptation of the novel, with almost no action, canned dialogue and the most simplistic of plots artificially made complex by lots of pointless scenes that do little more than pad out the film. Matter of fact the script is so disjointed that I'm not even really sure if Hamilton does anything very effective, except perhaps rescue a cat, and it doesn't even focus on a villain for him to face off with. Yes, I said "rescue a cat".

Even James Bond never rescued cats from trees.
Made quiche in a tux, yes, but never a cat from a tree.
The main villain is Abdul-Rahman, but he is only in a few scenes and while he is something of a pompous prick, he hardly seems villainous in the James Bond sense. Sure, he kidnaps a little girl, but he has no intent to harm her. He merely dresses her in a burka and has her read some of his religious propaganda. Granted this isn't very nice and there are better ways to navigate cultural differences in the modern world, but this puts him in the category of "religious creep" rather than, say "Ernst Blofeld". When it comes right down to it, Abdul ain't even fit to sharpen Rosa Klebb's shoe.

Obviously realizing that the villain is rather weak, Thunberg decides to throw in a few minor villains who have even less of an impact, such as a CIA agent who is supposed to be working with Swedish intelligence, but is in fact working with the terrorists. Why is this? Thunberg seems to be using the Bush family's relationship with the Saudi bin Laden family, but in a completely and totally fictional way. Why is that being brought up again with Bush Jr but a distant memory? Who knows? It doesn't bother me if they are going to make the CIA the bad guys, hell, we do it in Hollywood movies all the time, but at least offer some sort of reasoning for it. I'm guessing it's an oil connection, but the script never even hints that might be the case. Perhaps it is simply because The Royal Film Commission of Jordan was involved in the financing of the film, which would explain why the whole Arab terrorist sections of the plot are not only soft-pedaled, but presented as the slightly more aggressive side of a perfectly reasonable political agenda. I'm not saying Islam should be painted in broad strokes, what I'm saying is that there is nothing wrong with making a bunch of violent men with military hardware who kidnap little girls bad guys that a hero (or anti-hero) can prevail against. If your script has only the vaguest pretensions of depth, just leave Islam out of it and make a popcorn movie. There is no shame in that.

The cast seems to have not been handed a copy of the script as there are long pauses during the dialogue, that I'm assuming are substitutions for real drama, where the actors seem unsure of what exactly is going on in the scene and could at any moment break and call for the line. Some of the actors actually seem lost, as if they were not even sure what movie they were in, much less what scene. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that their actions made little sense (one of the kidnappers who Hamilton previously beat up, is now being paid by Hamilton’s boss to help with the rescue mission) and several of the returning characters, such as Mouna (again played by Jordanian pop-star Saba Mubarak), are simply used as window dressing. In the last film Mouna was a dynamic character, every bit Hamilton's equal. Here she gets the wallflower treatment, existing mainly to be framed for shots that look like advertisements for "50 of the World's Most Romantic Melodies" and gaze fondly into Hamilton's eyes whenever the sun sets. I'm beginning to think that Danish director Kathrine Windfeld had more of a hand in the first film's script than she is credited with.

 "Right," I hear you say, "it doesn't have to be all about characters and plot, it's an action movie!" You would think that, wouldn't you? The only action to be found in the film are two hand-to-hand fight scenes and both were over in two seconds and contained so many hand-held close-ups that were rapidly edited together that I have no idea what happened in them. I think there were some kicks and punches, but I can’t say for sure. The only other action is a really brief firefight during the finale which is started because Hamilton makes a rash, out of character decision to fire a shotgun at a terrorist who is within arms reach during a stealth raid, instead of taking the guy out silently. Hamilton, the ne plus ultra of special intelligence agents, puts the entire operation in jeopardy, but if he hadn't, we would have never had a shootout. Not that it actually matters because these three action sequences are so badly directed that they end up being completely unexciting, uninteresting and not in the least bit engaging in any way. The firefight at the end is a few flower-pots short of an '80s TV show.

Instead of keeping Windfeld on board after the success of the first film, for some inexplicable reason the producers decided to hand the sequel over to the Swedish Tobias Falk whose most recent work was on the reasonably-well received video game "Battlefield: Bad Company 2" (2010). Yes, they ditched the class act and went with a video game guy. Everything about this sequel seems like a cheap rush job, that I suspect was shot back to back with part 1. With so little production time between movies (less than a year), I suspect that script pages were falling like the autumn leaves of the September release date. This would explain the script, which feels as composed as a Jackson Pollack painting, and the complete lack of production values (not even a foot chase to liven things up). Fortunately HAMILTON 3: ON HER MAJESTY'S SERVICE, which went into production in August of 2012 with a new writer, has a release date of 2014. Fingers crossed that the producers realized what a turkey part 2 is and are going to use that extra production time and new writer (Petter Skavlan who wrote the acclaimed 2012 film KON-TIKI) to do some serious justice to the series. They have a lot of good will to make up after this stinker.

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