Movie reviews: Fantastic Four, Max, A Doctor’s Sword

THERE’S a charming quality to the opening scenes of Fantastic Four (12A), as child inventor Reed Richards (Miles Teller) bonds with bullied kid Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) as they attempt to build a machine capable of teleportation. 

When Reed accidentally invents a device that facilitates inter-dimensional travel, he is taken under the wing of the Baxter Institute, where he meets the brilliant Sue Storm (Kate Mara), her brother Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) and the equally brilliant, but ominously troubled, Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell). The kids end up being exposed to an energy that causes them to mutate into humans with fantastic powers. 

It’s at this point that Josh Trank’s movie starts to wobble on its axis, and the neatly knitted-together origins tale of the quartet begins to spiral down into a story that is a plodding, by-the-numbers triumph of good over evil. 

Jamie Bell is the only one of the main players to display anything approaching nuance

, while the script becomes a mess of conflicting motives as the Four struggle to come to terms with their unique powers. 

Meanwhile, the most fascinating aspect of the story, Victor’s experience of surviving in a parallel dimension, warrants barely a mention. 

Played with a straight bat, and lacking the kind of self-deprecating humour that tends to leaven even the most po-faced of superhero adaptations, Fantastic Four is a rare misfire from Marvel.

Max (12A) is a US Army ‘war dog’, a Belgian malinois traumatised when his handler, Kyle Wincott (Robbie Amell), is killed during a fire-fight in Afghanistan. 

Entrusted to Kyle’s family when he returns to Texas, Max gradually comes to trust Kyle’s teenage brother Justin (Josh Wiggins), providing in turn the focus that allows the Wincott family to overcome their loss. 

Directed and co-written by Boaz Yakin, Max begins in promising fashion, as the canine hero’s mistrust of the world around him is mirrored by Justin’s hatred of the glorification of war, and particularly that expressed by his father Ray (Thomas Haden Church), himself a wounded veteran. 

Wiggins puts in a good performance as the awkward and angry teen, but once the story starts following Josh as he scrambles to extricate himself from some petty teenage criminality, its plausibility quickly becomes strained, not least because it requires Max — a search dog — to develop tracking skills that might well defeat satellite technology. 

The supporting characters are solid if not remarkable, with Haden Church drawling his way through a standard interpretation of a stock character, and Luke Kleintank investing his role as Kyle’s shifty army buddy Tyler with a degree of slimy menace, although Mia Xitlali, playing Justin’s romantic interest Carmen, fairly fizzes with promise when she appears on screen. 

Overall, however, the latter stages bring to mind a particularly energetic episode of Lassie, despite the best efforts of Wiggins and his canine chum.

The documentary A Doctor’s Sword (12A) opens in Castletownbere, investigating the reason why a Japanese officer, Commandant Kusuno, did the unthinkable at the end of World War II and presented his enemy with his ceremonial sword. 

That ‘enemy’ was Dr Aidan MacCarthy, a truly remarkable man: recently qualified as a doctor, MacCarthy signed up as a medical officer with the RAF at the outbreak of WWII, survived Dunkirk, earned a George Cross, got captured after the fall of Singapore, and endured years of abuse in a Japanese POW camp before being shipped to mainland Japan, and a POW camp in Nagasaki, where he was incarcerated when the atomic bomb was dropped. 

And that’s only part of Aidan MacCarthy’s story, which would be utterly unbelievable were it fictional. 

Gary Lennon’s film (produced by Bob Jackson) does full justice to this singular man, employing interviews with MacCarthy’s family, haunting animation, and a recorded narration from MacCarthy himself (Dr MacCarthy died in 1995) to tell the story. 

Meanwhile, MacCarthy’s daughter Nicola travels to Japan, hoping to find the family of Commandant Kusono. 

Despite the fantastical storyline, the narrative is presented in an unsentimental way, which is helped hugely by the humble and pragmatic MacCarthy’s own account of his adventures: typically modest, MacCarthy ascribed his survival to “an Irish Catholic heritage, my family background, and lots and lots of luck”. 

The word ‘awesome’ has been much abused in recent times, but the story told in A Doctor’s Sword fully deserves that description, and the film ensures that Dr Aidan MacCarthy will take his place in the pantheon of Irish heroes.


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