At this year's Comic-Con in San Diego, "Drive" director Nicolas Winding Refn proclaimed genre films "the new progressive cinema," according to Badass Digest. The man could be onto something.
All throughout this summer we've seen big tentpole action movies lob softball after softball at audiences, while little genre movies like "Black Death," "Hobo with a Shotgun" and "Trollhunter" have brought energy, excitement, and that special spark of life we call "fun" to the game.
Now another underdog champion is coming to rescue you from a summer of uninspired formula, and that movie is called "Attack the Block," written and directed by longtime Edgar Wright associate Joe Cornish. Cornish began in British sketch comedy yet shows an adept hand at adrenalized action and suspense, spinning his wicked yarn about a South London tower block in the middle of an alien invasion.
The aliens themselves are badass, like nothing you've ever seen before, basically a Predator crossed with a bear with pitch-black fur, no eyes, and neon teeth. Taking on these extraterrestrial baddies are a gang of teenage street thugs led by Moses (John Boyega) who begin the film robbing an innocent nurse named Sam (Jodie Whittaker) on her way home from work. Not the most likely set of heroes.
These kids are funny and resourceful, but they aren't the innocent, Norman Rockwell-esque rascals of "Super 8." They're hardened punks who have seen some serious s**t in their lives, so much so that they can process an alien invasion without blinking and have right at the creatures with knives, swords, guns, explosives, the works. "Welcome to London, motherf**ker!"
Right from the get-go, "Attack the Block" pulses with energy, from the fast pace (it runs a streamlined 87-minutes) to the cheeky humor down to every beat of the electronica/John Carpenter-inspired soundtrack. There's plenty of levity throughout, but most of it comes from the lunacy of the situation. Even "Hot Fuzz" star Nick Frost's sedate pot dealer straight out of "Withnail & I" doesn't provide any blunt slapstick; he merely reacts the way his character would.
Like all great genre classics, this one has a subtle socio-political subtext about inner city projects being the hidden shame of governments, with nary a police officer in sight once the beasty E.T.s hit the scene. There's no S.W.A.T. team coming to the rescue, and the prime minister does NOT take a page from the Bill Pullman playbook and fly a fighter jet to attack the aliens. One helicopter patrols the area. That's it.
In fact, the highlight of the film comes when Moses breaks from his typical taciturn nature to compare the aliens with the crack epidemic, reasoning that proper society would like nothing better than for the members of the underclass to kill each other. Boyega is phenomenal as Moses, carrying the film with a quiet rage and a level of charisma reminiscent of a young Denzel Washington.
All the young cast is great, and the movie never hits a sour note or fails to surprise. See it with as rowdy a crowd as you can find, and bring your friends. If they text you back asking what the movie's about, tell them, "This is too much madness to fit into one text!"