Star Wars Episode VII : The Force Awakens  (2015)    75/100

Rating :   75/100                      Treasure Chest                  135 Min        12A

‘I have a bad feeling about this.’ Han Solo : Harrison Ford

Oddly enough, I felt no such feeling of trepidation over the continuation of cinema’s most famous saga and the biggest release of the year, due entirely to the fact that J.J.Abrams was on board as the director and he’d made such a wonderful job of rebooting Star Trek, indeed he also handles the scriptwriting duties here along with Lawrence Kasdan (‘The Empire Strikes Back’ 80, ‘Return of the Jedi’ 83) and Michael Arndt (‘Little Miss Sunshine’ 06, ‘The Hunger Games : Catching Fire‘). What the devoted cast and crew deliver is an extremely solid anchor for the future of the franchise, with obvious branches for expansion throughout and plenty for fans to love and be excited about. There’s something really comforting about George Lucas’s universe exploding on the big-screen once more, especially over Christmas, replete with original cast members and newcomers Daisy Ridley and John Boyega.

They have very much played it safe with the concept by recreating everything that made the original films a success, which was almost certainly the right way to go about it, as thirty years on from the events of ‘The Return of the Jedi’ sees the universe still embroiled in conflict in order to supply the constant background tension, whilst the essential and compellingly truthful philosophy of good versus evil via the light and dark side of the Force, at once both simple and complex, continues to spur everything forward as characterisation goes into hyperdrive and the central players’ relationships draw in our attention, all against the backdrop of fantastic special effects.

John Williams returns for the score, and interestingly if you watch early sci-fi epic ‘Metropolis’ (27) you’ll notice some overt influences on Star Wars generally but also hints of its various musical themes in Gottfried Huppertz’s original score (perhaps not surprising given both he and Williams were heavily influenced by Strauss and Wagner). Similarly, here there appears to be a nod to the space opera’s samurai roots (in particular the work of legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa – especially ‘The Hidden Fortress’ {58}, wherein the droid characters’ origin is immediately apparent) with one of the central bad guys wielding a lightsaber in the shape of a longsword (one imagines a katana blade wouldn’t really be feasible).

Without giving away any details about the story, the downside of playing it safe is that there’s nothing especially original to be found, and the various hooks are very similar to devices commonly used in TV series, but again this is a conscious choice from the writers and happily the pace continues to steadily escalate from the onset to the finale, delivering an adventure that’s fun and engaging enough to overlook the obvious gears at play – although some of the most important scenes do feel a bit shaky, and, as with Star Trek, a little more subtlety and depth may not have gone amiss (you can spot a few lens flares from Abrams dotted around the place as well – he could’ve gotten away with a few more to be honest, it’s a nice effect).

Ridley and Boyega play Rey and Finn respectively (not the first Star Wars characters to have less than inspiring names) and both do a great job, especially the relatively inexperienced Ridley given the pressure involved (when she smiles she looks a bit like Keira Knightley actually – maybe she is a clone, spliced with DNA from Natalie Portman {both Knightley and Portman were in Episode I}), and although the casting of a young female and a young black male as the two new central characters was an overtly political choice, it actually makes sense here and doesn’t feel, ahem, forced, and it’s certainly quite rare to see a black male protagonist not played by the same handful of actors – for a film aimed at being a defining moment for a new generation of fans the significance of these choices makes their final selection a really good idea.

There is perhaps a slight concern that they’ve gone too far and robbed Rey of any femininity whatsoever, accidentally making her a boy in their strive for political correctness, but I think that argument quickly disappears into the metaphysical, and, frankly, she’s one of the best things in the film and easily my favourite character (new droid BB-8 is also sure to be a hit, which she also mothers to a degree actually). Curiously, the producers stated there would be no moments reminiscent of Princess Leia in a golden bikini (perhaps fearing a backlash similar to that of Alice Eve in her pants in ‘Star Trek : Into Darkness‘) and this overconcern about her attire has led them, accidentally and slightly ridiculously, to sport Rey in the same set of unrevealing, but also unwashed, clothes for almost the entire story, meaning, basically, she must reek to high heaven. It’s a perfectly decent outfit but her activities ensure she likely sweats more than anyone else in the movie – detecting her presence via the Force presumably became redundant as the film progressed.

Great support work throughout compliments that from the core performers, with Ford probably the best of the bunch and helping to settle the newcomers, and there’s even an evil Scottish guy at one point – you can tell he’s been given strict guidelines on how to deliver his lines by the way he pronounces all his t’s properly (we usually don’t bother with this in Scotland, we’re not great fans of glottal stops). I was fortunate enough to be at one of the IMAX preview showings and there was a terrific atmosphere with people cheering and applauding and I hope that’s repeated across the land – indeed I’m totally in the mood to go and re-watch all the previous films now.

Star Wars returns to mark a great end to a very mediocre year at the cinema, and hopefully it will become a Christmas tradition for future years in much the same way journeys to Middle-earth were in the past.

Victor Frankenstein  (2015)    37/100

Rating :   37/100                                                                     110 Min        12A

A monstrous waste of time. This is from 20th Century Fox and so isn’t actually part of Universal’s relaunch of their ‘monsters’ back catalogue into a new franchise, as last year’s ‘Dracula Untold‘ was (interestingly, Charles Dance played the ancient vampire in the cave there, and here he appears briefly as Frankenstein’s father), although no doubt Universal will be keenly taking note of just how badly they’ve bludgeoned the hell out of the material – the primary problem, aside from terrible scriptwriting from Max Landis (‘American Ultra‘), direction from Paul McGuigan (‘Push’ 09, ‘Lucky Number Slevin’ 06) and acting from James McAvoy (Victor Frankenstein), Daniel Radcliffe (Igor) and Andrew Scott (Inspector Turpin), is that it very much feels like a lame attempt to simply make more money from long since dead material, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Not that it couldn’t have been redone incredibly well, thematically it’s as compelling now as it was when Mary Shelley penned the novel in 1818, but we can gain some insight into the film’s many downfalls by looking at some choice quotes, mentioned here, from an interview with the director : “[Frankenstein] has always been a mad scientist with funny hair – and that’s it. He’s not really had a backstory.” Wrong. McGuigan has clearly never seen Hammer Horror’s classic ‘The Curse of Frankenstein’ (57), one of the most famous versions of the story, wherein loads of time is spent on building up Frankenstein’s backstory and character – one of the reasons it works so well. McGuigan continues : “… there’s not a reverence to the book… I don’t know if you’ve ever read it, but it’s as dull as dishwater, man… If you love the book, you’ll hate the movie.” Well, why exactly are you adapting the novel again?

The film opens with the soon to be Frankenstein’s assistant Igor living as a hunchbacked circus clown, whose medical ability is unveiled after a somewhat predictable ‘No Sebastian, don’t try it without the net!’ moment and then bizarrely the circus imprisons him, before the curious and scheming Frankenstein initiates a rescue and they become wanted criminals for murder as the circus also decides to try and kill them in their flight and someone gets nailed, or knifed to be more precise, although the protagonists aren’t actually responsible, all before Igor’s hunch is cured and mysteriously all the traits Radcilffe was ‘acting’ also oddly disappear. It’s awful, and makes little to no sense, much like the remainder of the film.

McAvoy’s accent ranges heavily from something close to his own to a truly horrid English one, as he displays a sort of vaudeville crazy scientist routine that’s about as appealing as nails scratching on his blackboard would be (although in true modern Hollywood style he often prefers to write on the floor), whilst Radcliffe mopes around like a wooden monkey, pushed aimlessly around by his mentor and the equally whimsical screenplay. Jessica Brown Findlay appears in a love interest role that is really a hopeless distraction for the story, but her performance, and her beauty, is in such contrast to everything around her that she ends up being one of the film’s saving graces in the end.

Similarly, the final section that takes place at Dunnottar castle in Scotland finally begins to build something resembling visual tension (Dracula’s castle may have been based on Slains Castle which is also in Aberdeenshire, incidentally) but it’s not long before all is forcibly throttled down the privy once more. We see Frankenstein, for example, go up to his creation declaring in despair ‘it’s not life!’, well the thing just got up and walked toward you on its own matey it looks pretty alive to me, and then everyone goes into hysterics for no reason and, well, one very much sympathises with the monster who is likely smarter than everyone else combined. Tremendously realised sets and costumes (if you are ever in Edinburgh check out Frankenstein’s pub for more on the same theme) but overall this just feels like a bad TV episode they couldn’t be bothered even properly linking scenes together in.

Indeed, the movie is so poor that multiple people found checking their Facebook news feeds for the majority of it more interesting; normally I would suggest people who check their phones in the cinema should have their tongues superglued to the screen after the show, but on this occasion, I similarly found their Facebook news feeds more entertaining than anything happening in McGuigan’s lazy, disjointed, muck-fest of a movie.

The Hunger Games : Mockingjay Part Two  (2015)    73/100

Rating :   73/100                                                                     137 Min        12A

I’m more than a little surprised by how good this is. It begins having to deal with the remnants of the especially deplorable melodrama left over from part one, but when it eventually gets going it begins to fire off with some really terrific special effects and production design, coupled with suspenseful direction that begins to introduce cross-genre elements, with scenes that feel very much like a part of the ‘Alien’ franchise, and, most importantly, really good writing that delivers an extremely fitting and poignant end to the series, one that at times had been dipping into repetition and seeming to rather meander along to a foregone conclusion.

Jennifer Lawrence is once again the central focus with her choice weapon of bow and arrow, equipped here with pyrotechnic arrowheads, as she leads her own personal thrust against the considerable military prowess of The Capitol, whilst the troops of the rebellion amass for the final push against their oppressors and their devilishly silken ways. Speaking of which, the images of Lawrence draped in fiery red combat gear plastered all over the advertising posters in fact depict something which is never shown in the film, a shame but since it would effectively be painting a large target all over her you can see why it wasn’t featured.

Lawrence has been captivating from the onset and she continues in the same vein for the finale here, although her character Katniss does seem to have a few iffy moments which somewhat go against the grain – such as blaming herself for her entourage’s current predicament when it’s blatantly not her fault, probably not putting her unit at great ease there, and not anticipating fairly obvious things, like being searched at checkpoints and so forth. All performers return from the previous instalments, including Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Julianne Moore, Natalie Dormer and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in his last ever film role, and for anyone put off by the last film, as I was, don’t let it prevent you from seeing Suzanne Collins’s trilogy finish on considerably more memorable form.

The Lobster  (2015)    81/100

Rating :   81/100                       Treasure Chest                     118 Min        15

Easily one of the best films of the year, and indeed one so stylistically reminiscent of the equally great ‘Dogtooth’ (09) that it comes as no surprise to learn that it’s from the same creative team – Greek writers Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou, with Lanthimos once again handling the directing duties. It’s a satirical black comedy examining relationships and the pressure and scrutiny society can put on them, as we watch a committedly overweight Colin Farrell check into a hotel after recently becoming single, a hotel where the guests must successfully pair up with another person or be turned into the animal of their choice and where, to gain extra days in the complex, reality TV style, they go out hunting loners in the forest with tranquillizer guns. Need I say more?

At its heart, the movie explores the concept of sameness, of bonding through commonality and the desire to adapt to become more alike, whether through love or desperation. The idea is wonderful and the filmmakers deliver what is by no means a frequent experience – the feeling that you are actually watching a film; you’re relaxed and yet immersed and slightly excited about the story, aware that you’re being entertained and equally so that this is really what you’re supposed to feel like in the cinema. The acting from everyone is fantastic, with the most recognisable faces being John C. Reilly, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Olivia Colman, Michael Smiley, Ashley Jensen, Rachel Weisz and the lovely Jessica Barden (as nosebleed woman) all with Farrell as the central focus who is nothing short of brilliant, with flashes of his comedic talent displayed in 2008’s ‘In Bruges’ despite playing a much more demure character. It loses a little steam in the final third, but nevertheless one not to be missed.

The Martian  (2015)    73/100

Rating :   73/100                                                                     141 Min        12A

Ridley Scott’s latest returns to space for a film steeped in science, and one which sees explorer Mark Watney (Matt Damon) left behind on Mars after the rest of his team (sent from NASA to establish a base on the planet) leave him behind when a storm forces them to abort and they assume him to be toast. Possibly sending into the popular domain phrases such as ‘I’m going to have to science the shit out of this’, and, ‘Nobody gets left behind, except Matt Damon’, the film begins sloooowly as we’re mostly dealing with Mark by himself wondering how to survive and indeed we’re greeted by multiple moments from the trailer, but at least that gets them out of the way and it’s not too long before the story flits between ground control on Earth and the other crew on the Ares III who are on their way home, which finally brings us back onboard as an audience (interesting if they had found life on the planet and had to explain coming in peace and yet naming their mission after the Greek god of war {Mars is the Roman equivalent of Ares}).

The science doesn’t always hold up; it’s been said the atmosphere wouldn’t actually be able to generate the initial storm, for example, and we see a manual docking procedure in space which is unlikely (after the collapse of the USSR the Russian space agency decided to save money by not paying for the now Ukrainian automated guidance system for supplying the Mir Space Station, with the resultant manual attempt a devastating crash that shut down half of the power to the station and left the Spektr module inoperable), but all these things are minor details and don’t ultimately matter – the science critical to the plot, especially relating to survival, is often both sound and interesting, although certain characters do seem to keep ideas to themselves for a questionable amount of time.

Adapted from Andy Weir’s 2011 novel by screenwriter Drew Goddard (‘World War Z‘, ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ 12) and with several big names in support: Jessica Chastain (who actually gets to go into space this time after ‘Interstellar‘), Kate Mara, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean and Benedict Wong as the head of the Jet Propulsion Lab (not wise – apparently no one remembers Danny Boyle’s ‘Sunshine’ {07} come the 2030s) and they, together with Damon and great visuals of Mars (Martian scenes were filmed in Jordan, and visors were commonly omitted for the astronauts – they had to be made digitally afterward replete with reflections which is no mean feat) all create an involving human drama on a par with the memorable ‘Apollo 13′ (95). Look out for the bit with the sticky-tape, so annoying.

Solace  (2015)    71/100

Rating :   71/100                                                                     101 Min        15

A movie dealing with a psychic who helps the F.B.I. solve crimes and which is, surprisingly, not total rubbish. It sounds like ‘Species’ (95) but the film very quickly just posits the fact that John Clancy (Anthony Hopkins) has far-reaching mental gifts and you basically think ‘OK great’, partly because it’s Hopkins playing him and as always he is brilliant to watch. Clancy has retired after family tragedy, but agents Merriweather (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and the disbelieving Cowles (Abbie Cornish) request his services to trap a particularly skilled serial killer.

It’s a thriller that’s eminently easy to watch and its better moments are very reminiscent of ‘Se7en’ (95), indeed the initial script was intended as a sequel, and although it’s not really in the same league as that seminal film it does tick a number of the same boxes. From director Afonso Poyart and writers Sean Bailey and Ted Griffin and with some solid support from Colin Farrell, the film keeps the audience engaged throughout with a fairly eloquent delivery of what prove to be quite interesting core ideas.

Maze Runner : The Scorch Trials  (2015)    61/100

Rating :   61/100                                                                     131 Min        12A

The sequel to last year’s first instalment, ‘The Maze Runner‘, and based on the second novel in the series by James Dashner (published in 2010) this follows in much the same vein as before – again with really good special effects and an impressive production overall, but still with an overall weakness that taints everything. Looking at the still above you can see a sort of cleanliness that covers everything, with actors that never look like they’re more than two seconds fresh from a scrub in their trailer and everything decidedly aimed at a younger audience that they presumably assume is going to care less about any sense of realism. The end result is Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) running away from the latest thing trying to kill him and his friends for the majority of the film, mouth agape in the same sort of nullified perpetual shock, all in a sterilised but otherwise well realised world.

Following on from part one, the survivors of the maze are taken to a fortified sanctuary that is currently under siege from unknown forces. It’s a time for everyone to regroup and recuperate but with Thomas’s memories only partially returned the past is as murky as the future, and they must ask where they, their rescuers, and the latter’s assailants all stand in their blighted and overtly dystopian new world. The overarching story is actually petty good and full of promise – and visually it is often done justice, but the characters never interact realistically with each other, nor their environment – cue lots of moments of ‘we really should be as stealthy as possible here, la la la la la, what’s your favourite colour?’, and equally unforgivable scenes where scarce weapons are just carelessly discarded. Too loose and too whitewashed for a ‘safe’, although not totally unsatisfactory, final product. New support from the likes of Aidan Gillen, Barry Pepper, Alan Tudyk, Lili Taylor, Rosa Salazar and Giancarlo Esposito.

Absolutely Anything  (2015)    25/100

Rating :   25/100                                                                       85 Min        12A

Simon Pegg is granted the power to do absolutely anything by a bunch of aliens and then proceeds to do absolutely nothing with it of any interest whatsoever. What. A. Surprise. This is the latest in a lengthy list of Simon Pegg led films that have no real point to them – soft comedies that feel sanitised and apologetic from the offset, much like the characters he relentlessly plays, and where the laughs effectively have someone standing there with a sign saying ‘This is funny. You can laugh now’, and are greeted with silence.

Naturally, the core concept is Pegg’s character is a dork who can’t get the woman he likes (Kate Beckinsale), or rather he thinks he can’t and that by ultimately doing the right thing everyone will live happily ever after. Watching this it’s impossible not to feel ashamed at the amount of money that must have been spent on gags which are beyond terrible, with acting that’s just a complete waste of biomatter. Speaking of which, things we see the superpowers used for range from some dog excrement being told to clean-up after itself, and then it promptly forms into a pair of legs and marches into the bin, lovely, to helping out his mate by having the girl he is infatuated with fall head-over-heels for him, which sees him run off immediately in the opposite direction. LAME. I mean, come on – you wouldn’t get tired of that scenario for a pretty, long, time.

Sad beyond sad is that the aliens in question, who are testing mortals to see if the Earth should be annihilated or not, are actually played by the entirety of the extant members of Monty Python (Terry Jones directs the film, and co-wrote it along with non-Python Gavin Scott), and when the protagonist’s dog is made to speak he is voiced by none other than Robin Williams in his last ever acting role, but their combined talents are drowned by the indulgent drudgery running rampant onscreen. Pegg recently had the audacity to launch a public tirade against the ‘dumbing-down’ of the movie industry and more specifically the success of superhero films, movies beloved by millions, but then I suppose he is an actor/screenwriter who has been mired in gritty, surrealist/realist exposés of the human condition and has struggled for recognition and to have his work shown in more than a few thea… Oh no, wait a minute, he’s made millions effectively becoming the live-action equivalent of Jar Jar Binks and continues to headline vacuous, inert, twaddle. Hmm.

Pixels  (2015)    53/100

Rating :   53/100                                                                     106 Min        12A

Opportunity squandered. Adam Sandler’s latest comedy sees an alien race test the human species to deadly combat via an invasion of 80’s arcade games come to life on a large scale (Pac-Man flits about eating cars for example), leaving Sam Brenner (Sandler) as humanity’s best hope for survival and conveniently giving justification and meaning to his and some of his friends’ lives (although to be fair, one of them has also become President of the United States) wherein much time was previously wasted/invested playing classic arcade games.

The film has very obviously taken huge inspiration from the wonderful documentary ‘The King of Kong’ (07), which charted the rivalry between two contending Donkey Kong champions (although there is suggestion it may have sacrificed facts for drama in the process which would be a shame if true). Here, the characters are all pretty lame and the actors: Sandler, Kevin James, Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage, invest in them with varying degrees of success but none succeed in creating anything with enough screen presence or workable comedy to be worthwhile. Indeed, Michelle Monaghan is arguably the most successful with her fairly run-of-the-mill romantic interest for Brenner, but the film’s largest drawback is that, despite convincing effects, they have managed to make the concept unbelievably dull and tedious. It perhaps wasn’t all that great for comedy to begin with, but coupled with plodding and ungrounded character and environmental interplay it just grinds ever downward into predictable and irredeemable pointlessness.

Fantastic Four  (2015)    0/100

Rating :   0/100             COMPLETE INCINERATION           100 Min        12A

Easily the worst superhero film in memory and in fact a very strong contender for one of the worst films I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s as if they asked a nine-year-old fanboy to scribble the entire story on the back of a milk carton and then accidentally put the entire thing into production. It’s so bad it almost parodies itself – but not in an amusing way, rather the movie sends you through a Dante-esque descent through seven hells of depression before you finally manage to climb out in a torrent of rage just in time to kick the chair in front of you during the one-dimensional finale. You could probably make a better Fantastic Four film with your mates, a Handycam and twenty quid for special effects (try if you like – call it the ‘FakeFour Challenge’).

This is 20th Century Fox’s latest attempt to the milk their Fantastic Four intellectual property which they bought from Marvel years ago and then proceeded to do nothing much of value with thereafter: 2005’s ‘Fantastic Four’ and the 2007 sequel ‘Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer’ far from doing the source material justice. Here, they’ve foolishly eschewed any input from Marvel legend Stan Lee and instead relied on a screenplay from the film’s director Josh Trank (‘Chronicle’ 2012) but rumour is Trank not only behaved erratically onset, he also published a critical tweet slating the final version of the film the day before its international release before quickly deleting it – his treatment ultimately having been rewritten by the producers themselves.

Whatever the truth of the matter the existence of behind-the-scenes issues really, really shows and indeed it would hardly be the first time meddling producers had helped torpedo their final product – although it’s interesting that you rarely hear of producers stepping in and making large-scale positive changes, and directors saying ‘hmm, actually I like what you did there’ … In any event the story concerns itself with the four youngsters: Reed Richards (Miles Teller), Sue Storm (Kate Mara), Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), as they gain their superpowers by travelling to another mysterious world all before having to combine their talents to defeat their arch-enemy and old friend Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), and they will of course learn the value of working together in the process in order to avoid the aforementioned certain Doom.

The film opens with primary school age Reed actually developing the prototype inter-dimensional doohickey that he’ll eventually be paid to develop, so it doesn’t exactly get off to a believable start, but as the film progresses there are really only two locations used throughout – the lab (which then gets moved to a military base, but for all intents and purposes is the same place) and the other world they visit, but they explore no more than, say, one hundred metres of the place and it contains nothing other than volcanic primordial superhero-making goo. They leave Doom behind because nobody likes him, and so he tries to exact brutal revenge by destroying the entire Earth and everything living there, which makes no sense whatsoever but there you are (he says he’d prefer to live with the goo).

Arguably pointlessly controversial, asides from the innate terrible nature of the movie, is the casting of a black actor, Michael B. Jordan, to play a white character (they changed that aspect obviously, it wasn’t a reversal of ‘blackface’ although they could have had a lot of fun with that – ‘what’s your superpower?’, ‘I ignite myself, Oh and I’m black now – and yep, it’s completely true what they say about black men. Now, where’s that white chick? Oh, I guess she’s still my sister. Hmm..’). This is hardly the first instance of this happening – Marvel famously did the same thing with Nick Fury in its cinematic universe of course, but there he was played by Samuel L. Jackson and nary a peep of complaint was heard due to the respect carried by the performer, which is ultimately the point – if they have the right actor for the part the colour of the skin is essentially irrelevant unless it pertains to the story somehow.

It’s interesting, however, that the argument used for the character change is that it’s more reflective of modern day American society in terms of ethnic diversity. I mean, that is a valid point in general terms, but for the Fantastic Four, really? Is there a person alive from any background at all that gives a damn that Richard Reed and co are/were white? Seems unlikely…. but when we consider that Trank also directed Jordan in their biggest success at that time, Chronicle, and that Jordan and Teller starred together as buddies in the equally loathsome ‘That Awkward Moment‘, it seems rather likely that they simply wanted to cast their buddy and used this somewhat flimsy racial argument to justify it when really ‘That Awkward Moment’ ought to have been the justification for not casting the two of them together in anything again (they are equally poor in tandem here, in fact Kate Mara is the only one who doesn’t suck tremendously in this).

Having Jordan play Johnny Storm is also curious – seems somewhat daft when the character is not only originally white but also has a sister, who is oddly enough also white, thus forcing them to break two original character traits (they make Sue Storm adopted here) instead of the one that would be broken with either Ben or Reed, ah but would casting him as Ben leave them open to attack given what happens to the character and would casting a black man as the lead who gets the white girl, as Reed would represent, be too big a risk for their predominantly white main market? Does this suggest that this is effectively still a ‘token black guy’ character?

Ultimately, the film isn’t good enough to care a jot about, but for an interesting take on this concept watch ‘Suture’ (93) where two brothers are played by a black and a white actor but they are described onscreen as looking identical by all the other characters – it’s quite a nice little exploration of the theme.