Article: Top 10 Most Anticipated Blockbusters of 2015


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Article: Top 10 Most Anticipated Blockbusters of 2015

Trailer Trash: The Avengers: Age of Ultron


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Trailer Trash – The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Review – Shell Out


Director: Jonathan Liebesman

Writers: Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec, Evan Daugherty

Stars: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Whoopi Goldberg


Release date: August 8th, 2014

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 101 minutes


 

1/5

Best part: The mountainside action sequence.

Worst part: The by-the-numbers plot.

In 2004’s comedy gold-mine Anchorman: the Legend of Ron Burgundy, Steve Carell’s character Brick Tamland screams: “I don’t know what we’re yelling about!”. He hurriedly follows it up with: “Loud noises!”. This moment of slapstick genius, raised by Tambland’s borderline-mentally-challenged persona, sums up almost every modern blockbuster. For every Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a turgid mess like Transformers: Age of Extinction escapes from hell soon after. So, how much worse could it get? Well…

Our turtles – Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello & Michelangelo.

Further damaging hack director/producer Michael Bay’s critical reputation, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the latest big-budget extravaganza to shoot through theatres diarrhoea style. Causing more suffering than Ebola, ISIS, and Manchester United combined, this reboot/remake/prequel experiment delivers significantly more foibles than fun moments. A kitchen-sink-like basin for clinical blockbuster tropes, the latest TMNT instalment is as bland, banal, and boring as…this franchise’s other instalments. Destroying the original live-action trilogy’s good will, this cinematic hiccup/burp/fart concoction elevates the preceding entry(2007’s misjudged animated effort)’s status. The story, such as it is, is as damaging, slick, and sleep-inducing as a tranquilizer dart. Thanks to a clever opening animated sequence, the movie immediately delves into our favourite heroes in a half-shell(spoiled for choice, really)’s origin story. Four turtles and one rat, having escaped a life-threatening situation, fall into New York City’s sewers, become exposed to radiation, and mutate into bizarre human/animal hybrids. Looked after by Master Splinter (Motion-captured by Danny Woodburn, voiced by Tony Shalhoub), our evergreen team – Leonardo (mo-capped by Pete Ploszek, voiced by Johnny Knoxville), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) – places itself in harm’s way to protect Manhattan’s citizens from crime and corruption.

Megan Fox & Will Arnett.

Scouring the city as ruthless vigilantes, our team searches for infamous terrorist group The Foot Clan. TMNT, born from Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s black-and-white comic book series, has inspired TV iterations, toy lines, celluloid-driven fumbles, and pop-rock bands. Despite the immense success, there’s one thing everyone’s forgotten: the original concept was satirical. Warped by marketing strategies and contrasting  generations, this franchise is commercialism’s unholy nadir. Despite the stellar 2D animation, the aforementioned opening sequence sums up everything wrong about this reboot. Recycling obvious, well-known information, the movie drops its guard and surrenders to creativity’s biggest villain: The Man. Bafflingly so, the movie focuses primarily on several uninteresting and annoying human characters. Inexplicably, we follow eager TV reporter April O’Neil(Megan Fox)’s journey to find our reptilian renegades and discover the truth about her past. Pulling plucky sidekick Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett) and suspicious plutocrat Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) into this lazy adventure, the narrative is a laboured collection of superhero origin tropes, franchise reboot cliches, and set pieces stolen from similar popcorn-chompers. In addition, the story’s coincidence-driven mythology is as believable as, well, weapon-wielding terrapins fighting robot samurais. Bringing April’s dad into the mix, the movie’s comparisons to the Amazing Spider-Man series rest in plain sight. Despite replacing ninjutsu with shootouts, this action flick starts kissing the asian film market’s behind before you can say: “cowabunga!”.

“Four turtles…one’s fighting a robot samurai? Why not?” (Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).

Shredder & Splinter.

Never delving beyond its slime-covered surface, the story pushes its titular team into the background. Restricted to a fleeting sub-plot, defined by overworked comic-relief   tropes, the turtles’ battle with arch-villain shredder is picked up and dropped sporadically. This entire project reeks of studio desperation and a lack of enthusiasm. Delivering another nostalgia-drenched franchise kicker, this – like many before it – is ruined by a shoddy director. Jonathan Liebesman (Battle: Los Angeles, Wrath of the Titans) shell-shocks blockbuster fans and TMNT aficionados. Turning a lucrative idea into disposable dross, the South African filmmaker’s hack-and-slash style doesn’t deliver satisfying or even disarming entertainment. Unaware of the core demographic, Liebesman’s adaptation lurches from laugh-less jokes to punishing violence to overt sexual references to dreary warrior speeches about honour, fate, and destiny. Made strictly for financial gain, its ingredients allude to other, more successful, studio efforts including Transformers and G. I. Joe. Causing a Steven Spielberg/Tobe Hooper-esque debacle, Bay lays his overbearing style on thick throughout. Lathered with product placement, lens flares, useless slo-mo, and non-stop camera movement, his style resembles a teenager on Red Bull and uppers. The action, despite the heavy CGI and occasional impressive moment, is wildly hit and miss. The mountainside set-piece, reminiscent of the Morocco sequence from The Adventures of Tintin, provides a slight reprieve from surrounding dross.

Labeling this a ‘product’ would be playing into Bay and his production company(Platinum Dunes)’s desires. TMNT, thanks to its cringe-worthy narrative and personality-free style, might mark the high point of blockbuster fatigue. Stripping the franchise of wit, charm, or life, this entry turns this series into a shell of its former self. Driven by lacklustre performances, exhaustive direction, and a derivative story, this isn’t worth anyone’s free time. Save your movie and pizza money for something less…shell-fish.

Verdict: A cynical and messy reboot.

The Expendables 3 Review – Rough ‘n’ Tumble


Director: Patrick Hughes

Writers: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Sylvester Stallone

Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes, Mel Gibson

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Release date: August 14th, 2014

Distributor: Lionsgate

Country: USA

Running time: 126 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: Snipes and Banderas.

Worst part: The dodgy CGI.

Anyone remember the hospital scene from The Dark Knight? In particular, the part where The Joker mashes on a detonator to set off a firestorm of explosions? Now, do me a favour: picture that scene, then apply it to the Expendables franchise. Over the course of three movies, the directors, actors, and ‘writers’ involved have done little more than mash on detonators and watch studio-approved pyrotechnics light up the sky. Here, our pathos-driven Expendables come out all guns blazing for one last hurrah. The Expendables 3 is, at the very least, an efficient and amusing way to waste two hours.

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Sylvester Stallone at his baddest!

Nowadays, action flicks – leaning on extreme expectations from young, middle-aged, and old cinema-goers alike – are continually shot down by harsh critical backlash. Despite making piles of money higher than Scarface’s cocaine mountain, this series is seen as being the nadir of blockbuster filmmaking. More so, its cast members are laughed at for drifting through an extreme aura of denial. However, thanks to cinema heavyweight Sylvester Stallone’s influence, there’s something just so intriguing about these movies! This time around, Stallone and co. delivered a gargantuan marketing campaign. Willing to roll tanks through the Cannes Film Festival, this cast and crew lap up the attention they so desperately crave. Obviously, The Expendables 3 is not looking to be a straight-laced meta-narrative about the perils of getting older. Here, Stallone’s army is simply having a grand ol’ time in the spotlight. The plot, such as it is, revolves around the aforementioned team losing members left and right. Breaking original Expendable Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) out of a fortified prison locomotive, Barney Ross (Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), and Toll Road (Randy Couture) meet up with Hail Caesar (Terry Crews) to track down more bad guys and send them to hell! Unsurprisingly, their Somalia mission goes horribly wrong when arms dealer/former Expendable Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) severely harms one of our muscle-and-wrinkle-bound heroes.

Jason Statham and Wesley Snipes' friendship on a...knife's edge.

Jason Statham and Wesley Snipes’ friendship on a…knife’s edge.

Obviously, this series has suffered its fair share of hits and misses. The 2010 original, thanks to cheap CGI and a diminutive scope, tripped over its own intriguing premise. However, 2012’s sequel delivered several testosterone-driven set pieces and ‘f*ck yeah!’ moments. Thankfully, The Expendables 3 defies the odds whilst  sticking to its guns…and knives…and colostomy bags. Running its premise ragged, this instalment could, and should, follow its poster’s advice and establish itself as that “one last ride”. Upping the stakes and scale immediately, this sequel displays more signs of life than our ageing screen icons. It delivers everything you’d expect: train/helicopter chases, car chases, knife fights, shootouts, explosions, funny lines, emotionally gripping twists, and more deaths than The Wild Bunch… and that’s all within the first 20 minutes! The opening set pieces, developing a consistent tone, launch this sequel into overdrive. Sadly, Stallone takes everything a little too much to heart. Firing his near-retiree buddies, Stallone’s roided-out stature goes looking for fresh meat. Sadly, despite mercenary turned recruiter Bonaparte(Kelsey Grammer)’s sage advice, the middle third stalls an otherwise promising actioner. Stripping away its nostalgic glow, the youngsters – rounded out by hacker Thorn (Glen Powell), Vegas bouncer Luna (Ronda Rousey), ex-Marine John Smilee (Kellan Lutz), and weapons specialist Mars (Victor Ortiz) – lack their elders’ overt charisma. Adding zero gravitas to the conventional narrative, the middle third is salvaged only by zany badasses Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Galgo (Antonio Banderas). In addition, the original members transition from vicious warriors into jealous buffoons.

“Jing-a-lang, jang-a-lang…” (Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes), The Expendables 3).

Antonio Banderas as kooky mercenary Galgo.

Beyond the vicious piracy scandals, The Expendables 3 is still one of Lionsgate’s biggest box-office weapons. However, Despite director Patrick Hughes(Red Hill)’s commendable intentions, the screenwriters and post-production workers spray a hellfire of bullets into this fresh corpse. Delivering dodgy CGI, cheap stock footage, distracting film grains, and off-kilter voice dubbing, this heavy-duty juggernaut hasn’t been taken care of. Delivering a near-inexcusable final product, Stallone and co. should know better by now. However, thanks to Hughes’ searing direction and the cast’s enthusiasm, The Expendables 3 is a franchise standout! The action, though choppy to accommodate the PG13+ rating, fires on all cylinders. Utilising its performers’ abilities, the fight choreography lands several effecting blows. With Hughes hitting his stride, these sequences deliver enough explosions, knife attacks, and gunshots to take down a small army. In fact, that’s exactly what our plucky heroes do in the hell-bells final third. Throwing in tanks, helicopters, Harrison Ford, and Jet Li, this extended action sequence delivers well-charged thrills and energetic back-and-fourths between fan favourites. Despite the stupidity, motorcycle stunts and falling buildings add to the immense spectacle. In addition, as expected, our leads’ rapport is worth the ever-increasing admission cost. As the franchise’s saviour, Stallone carries the lead role with style and gusto. Getting along with Statham and co., his immense presence elevates hokey material. In addition, Snipes and Banderas are wholly aware of the movie they’re in. Blissfully, their charm offensives sit well with the series’ baffling  stupidity.

With Stallone and the gang keeping everything afloat, at this point, this series has, unquestionably, said everything it could ever hope to say! With a fourth instalment and The Expendabelles on the cards, I can only hope they recruit some better screenwriters and post-production staffers to salvage the mission. Obviously, hiring Shane Black or John Woo would deliver that truly brilliant Expendables flick we’ve been waiting for. However, compared to 2014’s other nostalgia-driven actioners, you could do a helluva lot worse than this low-three-and-a-half-star explosive thrill-ride.

Verdict: A charming yet transparent explosion fest.

2014’s Blockbuster Season: Conquerers & Wimps


Article: 

2014’s Blockbuster Season: Conquerers & Wimps

Franchise Fix – The Dark Knight Trilogy


Well, as far as superhero-action movies go, we have come to this point in our epic saga. Unquestionably, this genre has reached its proverbial peak. Certain entries, defying extreme expectations, have taken it upon themselves to stand out. How are they different exactly? They, above all else, have soared, dipped, punched, and stretched to elevate themselves above the meandering competition. So, what separates a Captain America from a Ghost Rider? It all starts with the seed of an idea, before growing it into an all-encompassing entity.

Nowadays, forced to pay ridiculous ticket prices, the average film-goer determines each superhero flick’s chances of success. To succeed, you need to deliver an action flick people will go see more than once. However, the other side of the coin is one of torrential, Twitter-fuelled critical comments and poor box-office performances. Of course, top spot on the superhero franchise podium belongs to the Dark Knight trilogy. Despite varying in quality between efforts, Christopher and Jonathan Nolan’s trilogy series has sparked a wave of darker, meatier blockbusters. With that said, each instalment delivers significant highs and debilitating lows. Like the caped crusader, however, they all manage to pick themselves up.

3. The Dark Knight Rises

As the highly anticipated franchise capper, The Dark Knight Rises had a helluva lot to live up to. Resting on Nolan and co.’s previous successes, the final product had the potential to be the best of the series. However, with rumours, videos, and images threatening to spoil the movie’s intricate plot, it seemed destined to continue the trend of underwhelming third instalments in superhero franchises. Fittingly, after its mega-successful release, this instalment was met with polarising reactions from critics, fans, and common film-goers.

Some people, looking past minor quarrels, saw fit to compliment Nolan for completing his game-changing franchise. Sadly, however, many people felt the opposite. Criticising villain Bane’s vocal patterns, the leaps in logic, and egregious run-time, this instalment’s detractors nearly threw it into the Spider-Man 3/X-Men: The Last Stand/Blade: Trinity pit of doom. Thanks to Nolan’s seminal final Batman flick’s mixed response, The Dark Knight Rises comes off as the trilogy’s third best instalment.

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Bane vs. Batman vs. Gotham’s soul.

With that said, I said “third best” and not “worst” for a reason. With minor plot-holes and character faults getting in many people’s way, the movie delivers more-than-enough positives. Nolan, at the very least, should be admired for pulling off such a gargantuan trilogy capper. In fact, the movie, thanks to its emotional heft and stunning performances, is more dystopian drama than superhero extravaganza. With Bane’s spectacular introduction pitting man against machine, this instalment seemed destined to follow charismatic characters through a dire journey. Of course, despite Bane’s raw power and regal presence, you can’t go past Christian Bale’s scintillating turn as a dilapidated Bruce Wayne/Batman.

Providing his best Caped Crusader performance, Bale’s energy and purposeful mannerisms propel his extraordinary character arc here. With an 8-year hiatus, Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle/Catwoman, Alfred’s betrayal, and Bane’s might to deal with, Wayne’s raw determination pushes him ahead of this instalment’s other well-drawn heroes and villains.

2. Batman Begins

Before the era of reboots, reboots, and more reboots, one origin tale took it upon itself to change the system. Batman Begins, introducing the average cinema-goer to a sickeningly dark version of the Caped Crusader, did its job in delivering something fresh and original for its time. In an age of sugar-coated blockbusters, this reboot opened the doors to several superhero origin movies willing to embrace their characters’ first ventures into crime fighting and personal discoveries.

The narrative, as usual for superhero reboots, kicks off with a younger version of the titular figure. Refreshingly so, his friendship with family friend Rachel Dawes kicks off this transcendent and touching superhero-action flick. With a child’s innocence smashing into said child’s greatest fears, the opening delivers an appropriate leap off the blocks. From there, Batman Begins falls into a pit of despair and anger. With a thirty-something Wayne (Christian Bale) meeting wise nobleman Ras Al Ghul (Liam Neeson), the lead’s journey transforms him from a rebellious fighter into an intriguing symbol of hope.

Batman Begins – the Caped Crusader’s true origin story.

Tackling several  weighty issues, Batman Begins looks into its own soul and examines Batman’s undying aura. With an arresting story wrestling with a claustrophobic atmosphere, this uncompromising thriller aims higher than whiz-bang effects and generic genre twists. From the first Batman sequence onwards, Christopher Nolan presents this fan favourite DC character as a philosophically bruised anti-hero willing to destroy anyone in his way. Like its sepia-esque colour palette, the tone pushes us into each gloriously dour setting. Fusing his Memento/Insomnia darkness with the comic series’ free-flowing nature, Batman Begins threw Nolan into another realm of fame and possibility.

Despite all this, it’s the cast members involved which divert Batman Begins from the Summer tent-pole blur.  Rounded out by Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Katie Holmes, Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy, the movie’s talented ensemble brought Oscar-calibre vibes to this intensifying superhero adventure. With movies like Man of Steel and The Incredible Hulk borrowing ideas and sequences from Nolan’s first Bat-flick, Batman Begins, 9 years on, still stands up to intense scrutiny.

1. The Dark Knight

I know, it’s a complete cliché to place The Dark Knight on top of any kind of ‘Best of…’ list. I’ll admit, my extreme infatuation with this feature might be clouding my judgement. However, I think I speak for a helluva lot of people when I proclaim this action-drama to be the best action movie of the past 10 years. Up there with the likes of There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men, this superhero flick is an instant classic that future generations will discover and fall in love with the way we all did. The Dark Knight, Nolan’s magnum opus, is a triumph on every level.

Thanks to scintillating action sequences and pitch-perfect performances, this sequel proves itself worthy of repeat viewings and intense analysis. From the opening back heist sequence onwards, this superhero flick establishes itself as an unbeatable and transcendent. Despite soaring above and beyond the competition, the movie intrinsically examines the evils of good and the strengths of evil. As our characters stand on a knife’s edge, Gotham City’s newest resident seeks to turn everything inside out. Painting each character in shades of grey, The Dark Knight matches crime-thrillers like The Departed and Heat point for point.

Heath Ledger’s momentous portrayal of the Joker.

Of course, credit belongs to Nolan for elevating the genre from its cartoonish roots to a more mature and meaningful place. taking a real-world approach to the Cape Crusader, The Dark Knight  amicably discusses the consequences of vigilantism. Is Batman doing right by the citizens or his own sense of valour? The movie’s greatest moments belong to Batman’s fight against the Joker (Heath Ledger) and Harvey Dent/Two Face (Aaron Eckhart). With Gotham’s tug of war becoming increasingly violent, The Dark Knight lets loose on our society’s fragile world view. Wayne’s ego, now interlocking with his motivations, seeks to push him towards hanging up the cape and cowl. Establishing connections between Wayne, Alfred (Caine), and Lucius Fox (Freeman), the quieter moments cement this movie’s place in the annals of blockbuster cinema.

Despite delivering thorough questions and answers, The Dark Knight dons a core entertainment value at opportune moments. Blissfully so, the action sequences reach sky-high levels of fun. The Bat-pod chase through Gotham ends with pure gusto and awe-inspiring technical savvy. The truck flip alone is cause for celebration. By breaking up the light and dark moments, The Dark Knight proves its own worth as a momentous turning point for blockbuster filmmaking.

Ps. check out this video, it sums up everything awesome and immaculate about this series! Enjoy!

Guardians of the Galaxy Review – I Am Groot


Director: James Gunn

Writers: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman

Stars: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel

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Release date: August 1st, 2014

Distributors: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Marvel Studios

Country: UK

Running time: 121 minutes


 

 

 

4½/5

Best part: The dynamic soundtrack.

Worst part: The two-dimensional villains.

All-powerful mega-conglomerate Marvel Studios has, for the past few years, been keeping everything close to the chest. Its mission, to build an intricate cinematic universe whilst entertaining the masses, is worthy of immense critical and commercial acclaim. Unlike most blockbusters, the Iron Man, Thor, Incredible Hulk, Captain America, and Avengers tentpoles work as stand-alone adventures and vital instalments. Marvel’s latest effort, Guardians of the Galaxy, fits into this gutsy and entertaining franchise.

Peter Quill/Starlord in action.

Peter Quill/Starlord in action.

Hitting and sticking, this sci-fi epic puts the pedal to the metal from the get-go and refuses to listen to the studio big-wigs. As Marvel’s craziest venture yet, Guardians of the Galaxy is ballsy enough to stick to its overarching plan. Unlike Marvel’s preceding efforts, this movie refuses to stay Earth bound. Here, the narrative and characters reach for the stars and soar into the sky to achieve the nigh-impossible. Thanks to the alluring marketing campaign, its premise is significantly more bizarre and questionable than expected. Shortly after his mother’s death, a young Peter Quill escapes his family’s grasp before being abducted by an unknown entity. The movie then jumps several years, and thirty-something Quill (Chris Pratt), going by “Starlord”, is a lowlife criminal working for himself. Dodging bounty hunters and murderers across the galaxy, his immediate future consists of treasure and loose alien babes. Unsurprisingly, his latest prize, a sphere-like artefact, places him atop the universe’s Most Wanted list. After a tussle between Quill, assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Racoon-like badass Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and tree-like creature Groot (Vin Diesel), our brawlers are thrown into a vicious floating jail.

The Guardians kicking ass!

The Guardians kicking ass!

After a daring escape, aided by Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), these abrasive warriors come together to tackle villainous figures including Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), Nebula (Karen Gillan), and Korath (Djimon Hounsou). Predictably so, comic-book aficionados and giddy cinema-goers define Guardians of the Galaxy‘s set fan-base. Pushing its kooky and intriguing narrative into warp speed, this sci-fi actioner delivers on everything it promises. Director/co-writer James Gunn (Slither, Super) injects his off-kilter style into each scene. From the emotionally resonant prologue (placed in front of Marvel’s logo) onward, the movie delivers a balance of charm and poignancy. Mixing sci-fi, action, and comedy tropes, Marvel latest is even more boisterous and hearty than preceding efforts. Scouring the universe, the movie examines the comic-book series and Marvel’s Cinematic Universe simultaneously. As varying factions and figureheads fight for control, the story etches in several cartoonish heroes and villains. Despite the sequel baiting and distracting contrivances, the goodies (led by the Nova Corps) and the baddies (led by high-ruler Thanos (Josh Brolin)) never distort the narrative. Instead, the pacing and tone establish a Star Wars vibe with hints of Serenity and Indiana Jones. Bolstered by a 70s/80s soundtrack, its nostalgic glow pushes everything along with style and gusto. Venturing into the vast reaches of space, this Star Trek-like space opera connects aliens, humans, and animals together organically.

“I am Groot.” (Groot (Vin Diesel), Guardians of the Galaxy).

Ronan the Accuser

Ronan the Accuser.

Indeed, Guardians of the Galaxy‘s universe-building techniques inject gravitas and awe into its simple-yet-effective plot. With our five leads at each other’s throats, their zany actions and reactions are worth the admission cost. Drifting between expansive star systems and planets, the movie’s production design eclipses that of both Thor instalments. The Knowhere, a mining district built inside a gigantic skull, is a sight to behold. Handling magic and mystery deftly, Marvel’s latest achieves everything Green Lantern failed at. Despite the confusing space-opera/source material jargon, its story beats and character motivations mature naturally throughout. Without becoming a slapstick farce, the comedic jabs craft memorable and applause-worthy moments. Pulling people from different realms together, our five leads’ camaraderie bolsters this inspired instalment. Outshining its set pieces and genre cliches, the quieter moments make for significant strides. Whenever  our characters sit and talk to one another, the movie’s negatives hurriedly dissipate. Graciously, its unique performers elevate certain set pieces and dialogue moments. Pratt, coming off Parks and Recreation and The Lego Movie, excels in his run-and-gun lead role. As the group’s Han Solo, Quill has the attitude, and dance moves, to match Marvel’s other anti-heroes.  Surprisingly, Bautista, Cooper, and Diesel steal the show from one another as the team’s wackiest members. Their foul-mouthed, vengeful characters solidify this sarcastic yet determined ensemble.

From Quill opening credits dance number to the third act’s spaceship showdown, Guardians of the Galaxy takes to shooting first and taking names second. Fuelled by its retro visuals and puffed-up swagger, this sci-fi actioner signifies the start of Marvel’s immense evolution. With Phase 2 coming to a close, this mega-studio is heading in the right direction. The pressure now rests on Avengers: Age of Ultron‘s God of Thunder-sized shoulders. I anticipate a Rocket/Groot/Iron Man team-up flick by 2019.

Verdict: Marvel’s most ambitious and peculiar effort yet!

Transformers: Age of Extinction Review – Broken Parts


Director: Michael Bay 

Writer: Ehren Kruger

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Nicola Peltz


Release Date: June 27th, 2014

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 165 minutes


 

 

 

1/5

Best part: The CGI-fuelled slo-mo shots.

Worst part: The egregious run-time.

Throughout Hollywood’s latest bowel movement, Transformers: Age of Extinction, we are subjected to idiotic characters who know more about pop-culture and filmmaking than anyone involved with the production itself. At one point, a senile retiree complains about Hollywood’s infatuation with sequels and remakes. At another point, the comic relief pokes fun at this franchise’s infamous foibles. Afterwards, another character defines a ‘flaw’ as a “serious failure”.

Mark Wahlberg.

Obviously, this would mean something if this series had been placed in the right hands. Unfortunately, all we can do now is sit back and watch the collapse of blockbuster cinema under the terrifying reign of multi-billionaire hack Michael Bay (Armageddon, Pearl Harbour). Marking itself as the defining point of ‘big-budget schlock fatigue’, Transformers: Age of Extinction relies on shrieking families and hormonal teenagers. Beating his audiences to a pulp, Bay knows that a single person conveys significantly more intelligence than a large group of people. Rushing into the cinema, said crowds have made this instalment the year’s most profitable movie. I used to defend this franchise for being “fun” and “exhilarating”. Nowadays, I look back on my younger self and laugh at his overwhelming stupidity. Of course, for my loyal readers, I should at least make an effort to describe this instalment’s underwritten and overcooked story. I know, words like ‘narrative’ and ‘subtext’ don’t belong anywhere near this series. However, to launch into my searing hatred of Bay’s latest cinematic slip-up, I should point out just how dumb everything is about it. First off, I’ll delve into the ‘human’ aspects of this horrific mess. On the modest side of this disastrous flop, we have farmer/roboticist/man-child Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg). Living by his stupid name, his immature antics threaten he and his daughter Tessa(Nicola Peltz)’s livelihoods. With eviction and embarrassment looming over them, Yeager’s aspirations clash with major obstacles.

Stanley Tucci.

In a better world, this story-thread would’ve fit perfectly into this monstrous action flick. Sadly, with Bay at the helm, this sequel’s narrative sluggishly transitions from bad to worse. Don’t get me wrong, I love blockbusters of all shapes and sizes. I regularly review Summer tentpoles to gain an informed perspective on pop-culture and modern entertainment. However, I can’t possibly defend anything as hackneyed, pointless, and dumbfounding as Transformers: Age of Extinction. In fact, with my laundry list of criticisms in tow, it’s difficult pinpointing anything even remotely worthwhile here! From the opening frame, Ehren Kruger’s wafer-thin script becomes lost in a barrage of questionable concepts, trite character arcs, and hokey emotional beats. Within the first third, the familial drama turns this gargantuan extravaganza into a cheesy and stupefying miscalculation. In addition, along with the Marky Mark’s family woes, the movie throws several more plot-lines into this bloated and inconsistent concoction. An elite task force called Cemetery Wind – headed up by alien bounty hunter Lockdown, CIA agent Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), and spec-ops ‘badass’ James Savoy (Titus Welliver) – has been assigned to kill the remaining Autobots and Decepticons. In addition, egomaniacal tech-head Joshua Joynes(Stanley Tucci)’s has developed a new element labelled, you guessed it, Transformium. Like the preceding Transformers sequels, these narrative threads are cumbersomely and nonsensically thrown together.

“I think we just found a Transformer!” (Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), Transformers: Age of Extinction).

Optimus Prime doin’ his thing!

Used specifically to jump from one action sequence to another, this instalment’s bloated plot delivers more plot-holes and irritating moments than two M. Night Shyamalan disasters and Prometheus combined. Why are Tessa and her boyfriend bound by Romeo & Juliet laws? Why do Yeager and co. tag along with the Autobots? Why are US Government forces killing some robots whilst creating more powerful ones? Seriously, this review could just consist entirely of these questions! However, pathetically, people turn out see gigantic CG-driven creations smash into one another for interminable periods. At a whopping 165 minutes, the question must be asked – does a Transformers flick really need that much time to gestate? No, of course it doesn’t! Protecting our annoying lead characters, the Transformers themselves are given short shift. Pushed literally and figuratively into the background, our Autobot buddies are defined by phoney speeches, heavy-duty weapons, and dated stereotypes. Along with Optimus Prime and Bumblebee (both poorly represented here), the movie throws in a cigar-chomping truck (John Goodman), a Samurai/helicopter (Ken Watanabe), and a trench-coat/wing-donning Aussie-bot. Beyond the glaring flaws, including the hit-and-miss CGI, Bay still delivers a few inspired shots and set-pieces. Infatuated  with explosions and product placement, the coked-up buffoon is let off the leash in the final third. The China set-piece, set up specifically to attract an asian demographic, provides some relief for this otherwise damaging experience. Bafflingly so, however, the marketing-drenched Dinobots show up late to the party – given only 15-20 minutes of screen-time.

Can you believe $210 million went into this irritating and exhaustive schlock?! Nope? Well, neither do I. Sadly, beyond our control, the studios are throwing, and will continue to throw, money at Bay and his ongoing ‘vision’. Bay, with all his bigger-is-better gusto, has delivered the ultimate example of overcompensation. Destroying his already damaged reputation, Bay’s latest effort proves his worth as little more than an Independence Day fireworks show technician.

Verdict: Bay’s catastrophic descent into director hell. 

Man of Steel Soundtrack – Soaring Superhero Score


Composer: Hans Zimmer (composer)

Label: WaterTower

Genres: Score, Orchestral

4½/5

Each year, acclaimed composer Hans Zimmer picks a handful of blockbusters to cover. Having scored for everyone from Christopher Nolan to Ridley Scott, Zimmer’s glorious style caters specifically to what audiences want from their summer tentpoles. However, by taking on such a high number of popular superhero-action-dramas, people begin to confuse one score with another. For every good Zimmer score (Inception) there’s a tedious one that knocks him back down (The Amazing Spider-Man 2).

Last year, one blockbuster he conquered was the controversial Man of Steel. Despite the movie’s mixed response, everyone agreed that his soundtrack was a super-heroic knock-out. Soaring well-above most sombre orchestral scores, Zimmer’s work redefines the blockbuster soundtrack for the next ten years. The first few tracks, chronicling the movie’s intensifying mood and dreary tone, throws John Williams’ original Superman score into the stratosphere to float away from this new universe. The first track, ‘Look to the Stars’, delivers something most superhero movies fail to deliver – a recognisable theme tune. This uplifting track, building to a ravenous and quintessential crescendo, is one of many highlights in this transcendent compilation.

Surprisingly, this soundtrack flexes its muscles early on. The second track, ‘Oil Rig’, bangs on the drums – emphasising the danger of certain sequences. Cranking up the rousing orchestral aura, this track further bolsters Zimmer’s encompassing vision. Noticeably, like our titular character’s cape, this soundtrack flutters as it soars gracefully from one track to another. Without compromise, Zimmer’s emotionally resonant harmonies and deft nuances seek to lend as much character as inhumanly possible.

Recommendations: ‘What Are You Going to do When You Are Not Saving the World?’, ‘Oil Rig’, ‘Look to the Stars’

From the touching strands of ‘DNA’ and the percussive, mind-melting interludes of ‘Goodbye my Son’, the soundtrack flows in rapid succession from one revelation and unique touch to the next. As is custom for this note-worthy composer, many tracks mould into an idiosyncratic and familiar mass. Drawing us in, each track’s opening chords rise with Superman before zooming into explosive climaxes. Despite the inherent joys and affecting moments, several tracks blend together without lending any time to reflect.

However, hitting the audience like Superman punching his adversaries, these walloping tracks hit where we’re most vulnerable. ‘Krypton’s Last’, coming in at a vital moment in this compilation, tells an intimate narrative about pain and vengeance. With Violin-based notes kicking off this track, its only a matter of time before the intense percussive beats kick in. After a repetitive yet wondrous mid-section, with tracks including ‘Launch’ and ‘I Will find Him’ blending into each other, this compilation ends with its most enthralling and memorable track. The aptly-titled ‘What Are You Going to do When You Are Not Saving the World?’ is an extensive homage to the movie’s awe-inspiring vision.

As one of Zimmer’s more interesting and nuanced scores, Man of Steel blends thunderous percussive beats with impressionable rhythms to set an appropriate tone for this relentless blockbuster. Despite the slight repetitiveness,  several tracks stand above the bold competition. Delivering a thundering aura, this soundtrack will make you believe in Hollywood’s true potential again.

Verdict: A rigorous and energetic score. 

X-Men: Days of Future Past Review – Time Warp


Director: Bryan Singer

Writer: Simon Kinberg

Stars: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence


Release date: May 22nd, 2014

Distributor: 20th Century Fox 

Country: USA

Running time: 131 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: The kinetic action sequences.

Worst part: The slight tonal shifts.

I’m going to state a fact that will make almost every cinema-goer feel incredibly old: the original X-Men movie was released 14 years ago. Kicking off the current, and seemingly unending, wave of big-budget superhero flicks, the original threw mutant powers, attractive stars, and thought-provoking issues at a modest $75 million budget. Today, this amount feels insignificant compared to the sums thrown at blockbusters like The Avengers and the Amazing Spider-Man instalments. This year, the latest adventure, X-Men: Days of Future Past, takes the franchise in a new and wholly welcome direction.

Hugh Jackman.

Attempting to revitalise a once-declining saga, Days of Future Past comes out swinging and, for the most part, pulls off more miracles than effect shots. After the thumbs-up success of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and thumbs-down debacle of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Days of Future Past proves just how prescient and touching these blockbusters can be in the right hands. Unlike the latest Spider-Man instalment, this movie ties multiple ideas together without giving off the overwhelming aura of studio interference. In this intricate and entertaining instalment, the X-Men characters we know and love – and even some of those we only mildly tolerate – come together after years of bickering and battling. The plot picks up with our heroes struggling to survive a 2023 Terminator-like apocalyptic wasteland, situated atop where our world once stood. Infected by destructive robots known as the Sentinels, the Earth houses mutant and human inhabitants under strict control. In the opening sequence, Several younger mutants try and fail to fight off the all-powerful Sentinels. Landing at a mountain-carved base, Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Storm (Halle Berry), Charles Xavier/Professor X (Patrick Stewart), and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Ian McKellen) have a plan to end the war before it can begin. Sent back to a Nixon-drenched 1973 by Kitty Pride/Shadowcat (Ellen Page), Logan must find the younger Xavier (James McAvoy), Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), and Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult) to prevent a vengeful Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating slimy military scientist/Sentinel developer Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage).

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Professor X & Magneto.

Despite all this, the greatest assignment, related to this production, has been handed to screenwriter Simon Kinberg. Avoiding hiring multiple screenwriters – unlike most modern blockbusters – Kinberg’s task revolved around tying the original X-Men trilogy, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Wolverine, and X-Men: First Class‘ timelines together. Being a stressful and obstacle-laden mission, this labyrinthine system pays off more often than not. Thanks to its favourable character arcs, tangible plot threads, and valuable thematic details, Days of Future Past smoothens out the franchise’s rough edges. X-Men and X2 director Bryan Singer returns with a grand vision in mind. Legitimising even the franchise’s most frustrating instalments, the narrative is never tied down by its exhaustive number of super-powered creations. Moving at a rollicking pace, exposition and questionable explanations are pushed aside in favour of awe-inspiring action sequences and memorable character beats. Efficiently, the story’s time travel laws are discussed and dropped at opportune moments. After Logan’s time-jump, fun comedic moments and solid performances elevate this otherwise confusing thrill-ride. In fact, Logan’s journey is the movie’s strongest asset. In the first 70s-set scene, the clawed crusader must contend with mobsters, half-naked ladies, lava lamps, and water beds. Making for an impressive sequence, Logan’s amusing facial expressions deliver the most essential details. Of course, like with the preceding instalments, the historical and social aspects cast an inspired shadow over the action-heavy narrative. Comparing Nazi Germany and the Vietnam War to the West’s stranglehold over Earth, major events and emotion-fuelled moments amplify this series’ true merits.

“All those years wasted fighting each other, Charles…but at least we got a few of them back.” (Magneto (Ian McKellen), X-Men: Days of Future Past).

Jennifer Lawrence.

However, the average filmgoer, looking beyond the Paris Peace Accords and John F. Kennedy’s assassination, is expecting to see our favourite mutants showing off their extraordinary abilities. For better or worse, those sequences fuel a good portion of the exhaustive 130-minute run-time. Some effects, ranging from Toad’s whip-like tongue to Iceman’s slick manoeuvres, overpower certain scenes. Occasionally, some set pieces come off as excessive more so than necessary. In fact, the excessive number of characters and superpowers occasionally shifts the tone. However, the grander set pieces, along with the eclectic 70s aesthetic, bolster this ambitious saga. The Paris sequence, crossing several plot-strands at once, delivers intensifying and heartfelt jolts. With allegiances and motivations tested by significant political events, this sequence sets certain characters on edge whilst introducing the world to our lead characters. In addition, the climactic battle in Washington D.C. could be the year’s best set piece. Thanks to Magneto’s stadium-raising prowess, this sequence caps off this already sumptuous and captivating superhero drama. Thankfully, despite limiting some major characters’ screen-time, the leads re-invigorate their roles. Jackman, in his 7th outing as Logan/Wolverine, carries this confronting narrative with style and charisma. Perfecting his character’s gruff tone and purposeful mannerisms, Jackman’s prowess remains immortal. McAvoy and Fassbender delve deeper into their roles with effervescent turns. Meanwhile, in and out of the blue make-up, Lawrence and Hoult make for worthy members of this ever-expanding cast.

Admittedly, I have a soft spot for this franchise. Having grown up with this series blaring into my consciousness, I eagerly anticipate every instalment. Thankfully, Days of Future Past is a mature, exciting, and meaningful instalment. Legitimising this series in this post-Avengers era, this instalment rights some wrongs and justifies each character and storyline’s inclusion. From Quicksilver’s bullet-time sequence to Xavier’s resurrection via Cerebro, the movie delivers more outstanding moments than superpowers (and that’s saying something).

Verdict: The most ambitious and entertaining X-Men flick yet. 

Cinema’s Greatest Movie Monsters: Slimy and (Occasionally) Sympathetic


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Cinema’s Greatest Movie Monsters: Slimy and (Occasionally) Sympathetic 

The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro Review – All Tangled Up


Director: Marc Webb

Writers: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner

Stars: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan

poster-TheAmazingSpiderman2


Release Date: April 17th, 2014

Distributor: Sony Pictures Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time:  142 minutes


 

 

2½/5

Best part: Garfield and Stone’s chemistry.

Worst part: The hokey villains. 

At one point in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series, pithy geek turned super-powered saviour Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire), after fighting off the Sandman, empties sand out of his shoe and says to himself: “Where to these guys come from?”. Ideally, this question can be applied to every comic-book/superhero franchise. It’s a good call – pinpointing the absurdity of having super-powered ne’er-do-wells attack these superheroes one after another. Spider-Man’s latest offering, The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro, attempts to answer Peter’s question. Sadly, the final product is significantly less than amazing.

Andrew Garfield & Emma Stone.

Obviously, the conflict between the original Spider-Man trilogy and Sony’s new Spider-Man saga is a major talking point here. With the 2012 reboot released five years after the much-maligned Spider-Man 3, this franchise contains a strong “too soon” vibe. However, for commercial success’ sake, the relevant studios have ignored pop-culture’s critical backlash. Unfortunately, these studio-fuelled quarrels hit The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro like one of Spider-Man’s wily punches. The plot, to put it simply, tangles itself into a convoluted and incessant creation. Here, much like 2004’s Spider-Man 2, Peter (Andrew Garfield) is struggling to balance his personal and professional lives. Should he protect New York’s citizens as the wall-crawling arachnid or look after long-time girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and Aunt May (Sally Field)? Breaking his promise to Gwen’s father, Captain George Stacy (Denis Leary), to stay away from her, Peter is torn between his life’s most important strands. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your relationship with Spidey’s comic-book saga, the narrative delivers several sub-plots and cartoonish characters. Some of these include Aunt May heading back to nursing school and Gwen being accepted into Oxford University. Believe it or not, eclipsing these already unnecessary subplots, the narrative throws even more strands into its already bloated and top-heavy structure.

Spider-Man vs. Aleksei Sytsevich/The Rhino.

Obviously, there’s way too much going on in Spidey’s latest cinematic endeavour. Notorious blockbuster screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Transformers, Star Trek) spray their frustrating screenwriting ticks all over this sequel’s intriguing premise. Backed up by fellow screenwriter Jeff Pinkner, their needlessly convoluted and sketchy screenplay forms an inconsistent and cheesy web of plot-lines, character arcs, tragic moments, and predictable revelations. Sadly, it’s as if this particular universe means nothing to these infamous screenwriters (other than a hefty paycheque). This instalment, striving to overlook the now two-year-old reboot, is treated like yet another mindless and glossy jumpstart. Overtly, the narrative and Marc Webb((500) Days of Summer)’s direction are strongly influenced by preceding superhero/action-dramas. For the first third, The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro strives to string Raimi’s trilogy, the Dark Knight trilogy and Marvel’s Cinematic Universe into its dense, labyrinthine structure. Despite containing several of the original’s foibles, I will give credit where it’s due. Unlike the original, this instalment doesn’t blatantly copy one of Raimi’s efforts. However, temped to make more web puns, I’m still perplexed by this movie’s flaws. With a $200 million+ budget anchoring this sequel, the movie’s tonal and pacing issues are more obvious than Spidey’s web-based “I Love You” signals.

Jamie Foxx.

Aiming to be bigger, broader, and ballsier than previous flicks, this instalment’s reach drastically exceeds its grasp. After mistreated dweeb turned freakish monster Max Dillon/Electro (Jamie Foxx) and long-time confidant turned slimy adversary Harry Osborn/Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan) are introduced, the story suddenly decides to crawl toward its explosive and miscalculated final third. Setting up conflicts for future instalments, the second half’s dour side clashes with its more over-the-top moments. Seeking a Tim Burton/Batman vibe, the kooky villains’ motivations, heart-wrenching twists, and bizarre alliances overthrow the first half’s light-hearted and comedically savvy tone. The movie, advertising itself as “the untold story”, almost immediately forgets about Peter’s missing parents. The movie’s emotional stakes rest on Garfield and Stone’s shoulders. Fortunately, their sweet-natured performances lend a romantic-comedy tinge to this laboured superhero-action flick. Despite their nonsensical roles, Foxx and DeHaan deliver fun performances as Spidey’s snivelling adversaries. Unfortunately, Paul Giamatti, Martin Csokas, Chris Cooper, B.J Novak, Colm Feore, and Felicity Jones suffer through thankless roles. Sadly, the characters, though likeable and occasionally sympathetic, are as inhuman and ridiculous as their superpowers. Peter and Stacy’s relationship flip-flops between cheerful exchanges and soppy admittances. Worse, however, is Osborn and Electro’s involvement in Oscorp’s shady wheelings and dealings.

“You know what it is I love about being Spider-Man? Everything!” (Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield), The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro).

Spidey vs. Harry Osborn/The Green Goblin.

Ultimately, apart from telegraphing certain events, these interactions stall an already disjointed and vacuous tale. Fortunately, Webb injects his signature style into several sequences here. In fact, some scenes, when judged on their own, come off like acclaim-worthy highlights lifted from this shoddy misfire. With this instalment being a compilation of disparate concepts and set pieces, Webb’s style heightens its interest factor above tedium. Certain sequences, charting Peter’s descent from misguided simpleton to mischievous and miserable vigilante, add class and charm to this overcrowded extravaganza. Several montages, depicting changing seasons and super-heroic acts, track Peter’s bizarre life story. In addition, saving certain sections from becoming laughably earnest, Webb’s action-direction vastly exceeds his previous efforts. With Spidey flying through the sky, his web-swings deliver gloriously thrilling adrenaline rushes. Overcoming the under-utilised villains, the stakes are raised with each sprawling action sequence. Spidey’s first action sequence pits Peter against a car chase and his graduation ceremony. This conundrum, complete with Spidey’s sarcastic wit, commendably kick-starts this instalment. Meanwhile, Spidey and Electro’s showdown in Times Square almost rectifies this antagonist’s inclusion. However, nowadays, this whiz-bang stuff is expected of every big-budget tent-pole. Despite the movie’s glossy sheen and thrilling moments, its major issues intrinsically poison an otherwise enjoyable blockbuster.

Today, we expect our blockbusters to entertain us and re-shape the Hollywood system. Fresh ideas and brilliant minds keep audiences coming back to these exhaustive and over-long adaptations (thank you, Joss Whedon). Unfortunately, The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro is a case of too many cooks, and crooks, spoiling the broth. With plot-threads, character arcs, and Easter eggs clashing with tonal shifts and tiresome pacing issues, this sequel, fittingly, gets stuck in its own gargantuan web (last one, I swear).

Verdict: An underwhelming and confusing sequel.

2014’s Blockbuster Season: Good and Bad Trends


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2014’s Blockbuster Season: Good and Bad Trends

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Review – Middle Earth, Middle Third


Director: Peter Jackson 

Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro (screenplay), J. R. R. Tolkien (novel)

Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom


Release date: December 13th, 2013

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Countries: New Zealand, USA

Running time: 161 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The barrel sequence.

Worst part: The dodgy CGI.

Despite the obvious flaws, Peter Jackson’s much-anticipated Hobbit trilogy is an easy target. Criticised for its story-telling issues, its multitude of characters, and the 48 frames-per-second debacle, this series still hasn’t been given a fair chance. Buried under hype, directorial power, and desperate marketing ploys (looking at you, Air New Zealand!), it’s becoming increasingly difficult to judge these instalments as single entities. These movies, innocently, reach out to fan boys and average filmgoers alike. So, like this series’ lead character, why not give something grandiose and enthralling a chance to succeed? The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, though inconsistent, swiftly soars above the already enjoyable original.

Martin Freeman.

To elaborate on these points, all modern blockbusters suffer from overhype and exhaustive pre-and-post-release critical backlash. Audiences are more willing to criticise a big-budget fantasy flick than an independent romantic dramedy. With ‘perfect’ movies impossible to craft, let’s judge movies like The Desolation of Smaug for what they are. With enlightening performances, engaging action sequences, and a straight-faced facade, this fantasy-epic lives up to expectations. Despite Jackson’s overt self-indulgence and excessiveness, his adaptations stand the test of time and honour J.R.R. Tolkien’s influential legacy. However, whilst crafting this prequel trilogy’s unique identity, Jackson inadvisably stretches each instalment until breaking point. Here, the narrative picks up immediately after the events of An Unexpected Journey. With burglar and trustworthy Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) keeping watch over the horizon, his 13 Dwarf companions, led by Thorin (Richard Armitage), scour the landscape for hidden passages and safe places. Despite Gandalf the Grey(Ian McKellen)’s unabashed admiration, Bilbo is unsure of his responsibilities on this all-important journey. After being rescued by Skin-changer Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt), the group heads for Mirkwood to continue their trek toward the Lonely Mountain. With the Dwarves eager to retake their homeland from vicious and greedy dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch), the group comes across the spiders and Elves inhabiting this treacherous forest. Disdained by Elf-king Thranduil (Lee Pace), Thorin must find courage before continuing this quest. Fortunately, Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), and Bard (Luke Evans) seek to aid this commendable band of heroes.

Ian McKellen.

Like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and The Hunger Games: Catching FireThe Desolation of Smaug, despite bridging the first and final instalments, seeks to craft a recognisable identity and several commendable moments. Fortunately, this sequel successfully links this trilogy to the Lord of the Rings saga. Around every corner, references and titbits sit proudly on display. Jackson, blinded by immense talent, is infatuated with his over-long and bombastic creations. Despite my previous statements, I’ll admit that dividing one book into three epic movies is a nonsensical and preposterous idea. This decision’s immense consequences are immanently noticeable. From the compelling prologue onward, the bloated story becomes chaotic. Here, Jackson introduces several potentially intriguing sub-plots and character arcs. Adapting the book’s middle third and appendices to fit into this sprawling middle instalment, Jackson’s toy-box-like mind goes overboard. With several weird, vicious, and engaging characters hurriedly introduced, the first third will leave series newcomers scratching their heads. Don’t get me wrong; Jackson is indeed a transformative and imaginative filmmaker. However, there’s a specific reason why the appendices are wholly separated from Tolkien’s other Middle Earth adventures. Jackson, taking control of the book series’ every intricacy, awkwardly wedges plot-strands, prophecies, and set pieces together throughout The Desolation of Smaug‘s exhaustive 2hr 45min run-time. In addition, Jackson and co. invent characters, obstacles, and plot-threads at their own volition. This method brashly dilutes the original material’s charming and engaging identity. However, despite the narrative knots, the sequel’s boisterous charm, gripping chase-movie structure, and visual splendour distract from several story inconsistencies and directorial foibles. Thanks to an action-packed first third, the original’s pacing and tempo issues are fixed. Following the LOTR trilogy and An Unexpected Journey‘s familiar structures, this repetitive sequel removes suspense and intrigue from this influential franchise.

Richard Armitage & the Dwarves.

With The Desolation of Smaug specifically served as an action-adventure flick and Boxing Day release, these movies identify themselves as LOTR prequels more so than children’s book adaptations. Looking up to the original trilogy’s influential story-telling tropes and immaculate action set pieces, this trilogy’s reach has already exceeded its grasp. Despite the first third’s exciting moments, the movie stops dead during the second act. Here, the exciting chase sequences transition into comedic hijinks, dialogue sequences, and complex exposition. After the group is smuggled into Lake-town, we are introduced to the city’s economic and political structures. Transitioning from action to drama, the political debates and hierarchal systems place pointless conflicts on top of the group’s urgent quest. Thankfully, Jackson’s visual flourishes and attention to detail elevate this convoluted fantasy-adventure. Throwing more orcs, men, and elves into the on-coming war for Middle Earth, this sequel continually ups the ante. Fixing this series’ pressing tonal shifts and pacing flaws, the action set pieces expand this wondrous and enrapturing universe. Following the bear attack, the spider sequence is a visceral and glorious thrill-ride. Jackson, known to inject disgusting creepy-crawlies into extraordinary tales (King Kong), uses zany surprises and jump-scares to push this sequence into overdrive. However, the movie’s stand out set piece is the group’s barrel escape down a dangerous river system. This enlightening sequence throws orcs, dwarves, and elves into an ingenious battle. With distinctive fighting styles defining certain characters, stakes are raised throughout this set piece. In addition, Bilbo and Smaug’s climactic battle of wits gleefully caps off this exhaustive instalment. The creature designs, thanks to visual effects company WETA Digital, are all top notch. Providing sensory thrills and gripping surprises, the spiders, orcs, bears, and wargs are breath-taking and confronting creations.

“I will not die like this, clawing for life…If this is to end in fire, then we will all burn together!” (Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug).

Orlando Bloom.

Despite the endless shots of New Zealand’s mountainous scenery, the CGI vastly overshadows the practical effects. Rushing through the post-production stage, Jackson haphazardly throws several unrefined effects into his finished product. For a multi-million-dollar production, short cuts like this aren’t advisable. The original trilogy’s stirling practical effects are inexplicably replaced with green screens and Playstation-2-level digital creations. Sadly, several locations, action set pieces, and characters appear noticeably artificial. Despite these issues, the comedic hijinks lighten the sickeningly dark tone for brief moments. Slapstick gags and witty one-liners highlight the absurdities embedded in these pressing situations. Our heroes, unlike those of most modern fantasy-epics, are defined by complex and likeable personalities. Despite taking a back seat in this instalment, Bilbo is still a cheekily engaging and determined lead character. Tasked with a specific purpose, Bilbo becomes a wise and courageous individual. Here, his conflict with the ring is pushed to the forefront. Providing dry wit for this fan-favourite character, Freeman grows into this all-encompassing role. Facing off against his Sherlock co-star, Freeman provides a charismatic and idiosyncratic performance. Gleefully, Cumberbatch, as the powerful and intelligent antagonist, steals his scenes. Delivering conquering vocal and physical mannerisms for this fascinating character, he relishes in motion capture technology’s over-whelming potential. Despite Gandalf’s insufficient sub-pot, McKellen delivers another engaging performance and elevates certain scenes. Unfortunately, only two dwarves are given definitive personalities. Despite Armitage’s intriguing portrayal, his character mirrors Aragorn to a fault. However, the elf characters are charismatic. Bloom and Lilly’s screen presences boost significant plot-lines.

With love triangles, action sequences, comedic hijinks, and character arcs filling this instalment’s extensive run-time, The Desolation of Smaug is a significant improvement over the original. With Bilbo stepping aside, the other characters are given valuable room to breathe. Jackson, despite the overt infatuation with his own material, confidently delivers an exhilarating and gripping roller-coaster ride. With The Hobbit: There and Back Again linking both trilogies, a shorter instalment may hold viewer interest.

Verdict: A hearty, enjoyable yet convoluted sequel.

Thor: The Dark World Review – Hammered Home


Director: Alan Taylor

Writer: Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins


Release date: November 8th, 2013

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 112 minutes


Best part: Hemsworth and Hiddleston.

Worst part: The bland villain.

Review: Thor: The Dark World

Verdict: An enjoyably frantic and action-packed superhero sequel.

Best Blockbuster Movie Moments of 2013 (So Far)


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Best Blockbuster Movie Moments of 2013 (So Far)

The Wolverine Review – Claws-out Chaos


Director: James Mangold

Writers: Christopher McQuarrie, Mark Bomback, Scott Frank (screenplay), Chris Claremont, Frank Miller (graphic novel)

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Rila Fukushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tao Okamoto


Release date: July 26th, 2013

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Countries: USA, UK 

Running time: 126 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Hugh Jackman.

Worst part: The cheesy dream sequences.

Every so often, a role comes along that a certain actor was seemingly born to play. When they embody the character’s physical and psychological traits, audiences, critics, and studio executives rejoice. Like Robert Downey jr. with Tony Stark/Iron Man and Johnny Depp with Captain Jack Sparrow, Hugh Jackman continually fits his most influential role like a glove. His portrayal of Logan/Wolverine represents this century’s Superhero film renaissance; illustrating how comic book characters can become cinematic/pop-culture icons. Judging by his new film’s title, The Wolverine, everything is resting on his broad shoulders.

Hugh Jackman.

After the atrocious prequel/cash-grab X-men Origins: Wolverine, Jackman needed to prove that he and Logan/Wolverine can still be deemed fit to rule the big screen. In his sixth outing as the character (with the seventh, X-men: Days of Future Past, hitting our screens next year), Jackman becomes this series’ greatest facet. Tonally separated from the previous X-men movies, The Wolverine begins by showing us just how powerful the titular character can be. Witnessing WWII’s Nagasaki atomic bombing, a Japanese military officer, Yashida, panics as his superiors are performing ‘Harakiri’ (ritual suicide) and the surrounding soldiers/released prisoners are running for their lives. The remaining prisoner, Logan/Wolverine (Jackman), realises that Yashida doesn’t want to die. The film then cuts to the present day, and Logan is a wanderer living in the Canadian wilderness. With a ferocious grizzly bear keeping him company (metaphor!), his recurring nightmares, featuring Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), are destroying his mental and spiritual stability. He is then summoned by a mousey assassin, Yukio (Rila Fukushima), to say goodbye to a dying Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi). Having created a multi-billion dollar company, Yashida has the power to transfer Logan’s healing abilities from Logan to him; giving Logan the gift of mortality. Logan’s hasty refusal is followed by dangerous encounters with familial feuds, gangland warfare, cunning yet silly villainous figures, and Yashida’s gorgeous granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto).

Rila Fukushima.

Remember Logan/Wolverine’s mansion massacre in X-men 2? The Wolverine takes that awe-inspiring set-piece, and stretches it to fit the 2 hour run-time. The Wolverine may, arguably, be the best superhero movie of 2013 (so far, we still have Kick-Ass 2 and Thor: The Dark World to come). Unlike Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel, it isn’t created specifically to follow on from or set up other movies. In fact, this standalone movie is a major step away from what most franchises would do with a sixth instalment. Based on the acclaimed 1982 four-issue Wolverine miniseries by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, the film makes a remarkable effort in detailing what makes this particular mutant tick. Despite the obvious cliches, this self-contained, intimate narrative allows for certain plot points and characters to become nuanced and compelling. Unlike X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Wolverine sheds light specifically on Logan. This story, depicting Logan’s internal struggle, bases itself on ancient and modern Japanese culture. Suffering the ‘Giri/Ninjo’ conflict (loss of balance between duty to himself and to others), Logan’s conflicting emotions, distorted code of honour, and brushes with mortality are heart-thumping and potent aspects. Thankfully, the movie touches on Samurai tradition without leaning heavily on corny comparisons between Samurais and mutants. Similarly to a ‘Ronin’ (Samurai without a master), Logan’s perilous journey unleashes his animalistic side in a fascinating and terrifying fashion. Also, the movie relishes in Logan’s past, present, and future. A tension-filled stand-off in a Canadian bar is reminiscent of the cage match/bar scenes from the original X-Men flick.

Jackman & Svetlana Khodchenkova.

The Wolverine excels during its first two acts. Director James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma) delivers a pulsating and kinetic narrative whilst placing many enthralling and visceral intricacies into each scene. From the aforementioned WWII sequence onward, the cinematography, CGI, and practical effects portray shades of the Adamantium-laced man that previous X-Men movies avoided. The bombing sequence is a tight, tense few seconds of celluloid. Logan’s remarkable actions say much more than the scene’s dialogue. After the flames have passed, and Logan has thrown Yashida down a hole, we see, literally, everything underneath Logan’s tough, hairy exterior. Becoming a charred, godly figure standing over Yashida, Logan’s enrapturing aesthetic qualities, and the accompanying ‘sword offering’ sequence, intricately and efficiently sum up the overall narrative. Fortunately, Mangold’s idea of masculinity (seen also in Copland) is a significant part of The Wolverine. This movie steps into uncharted territory (for this franchise) thanks to its earnestness and influences. Delivering a Clint Eastwood western-esque character study filled with mutants, ninjas, Yakuza, and neon-lit settings, Mangold incorporates such influences as The Outlaw Josey Wales, Chinatown, The Fugitive, and Akira Kurosawa’s film noir/samurai movies (Yojimbo, in particular). Also, the movie’s structure is reminiscent of the Sean Connery-era Bond films (specifically You Only Live Twice). Despite its organic thematic roots, this superhero flick is bolstered by its kinetic set-pieces and distinct visuals. Many sword-fights and hand-to-hand fisticuffs are affecting and tightly composed – becoming Bourne fights with dashes of fantasy violence. Despite the third act’s overt silliness (a robotic samurai suit, really?!), the nail-biting bullet train set-piece more than makes up for the film’s minor flaws.

“Your grandfather called me a ronin, a samurai without a master. He said I was destined to live forever, with no reason to live.” (Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), The Wolverine).

One of many ninja battles.

Despite the action set-pieces and emotionally affecting story, the spotlight is placed firmly on Jackman. He and his character are what draw many cinema-goers to this franchise. The ‘legend’ of Logan/Wolverine is held in high regard here. Labelled a ‘Gaijin’ (non-Japanese), his ineptness, when faced with a vastly different culture, develops the character’s soft side whilst creating several zippy comedic moments. His gruff tone and ferocity deliver the Logan/Wolverine audiences have longed for. Walking like the T1000 and talking like the Man with No Name, Logan/Wolverine is a powerful, and berserker rage-fuelled, force to be reckoned with. His powers are also handled in an intriguing and authentic fashion – illustrated by Logan turning his claws on himself in one intense scene. Fresh off his Oscar-worthy performance in Les Miserables, Jackman is at his magnetic and charismatic best here. With his inhumanly muscular frame and affecting screen presence, Jackman’s performance is startlingly moody and convincing. Yelling at the top of his lungs throughout the movie, Jackman’s commitment to this notorious comic book figure is jaw-dropping. The ethnically diverse cast is also commendable. Fukushima, a model turned actress, is a charming presence as the slinky Yukio. Her powerful fighting skills and expressiveness convey a kick-ass female character. Hiroyuki Sanada, one of Japan’s best actors, is solid as the physically-adept Shingen. Unfortunately, Will Yun Lee’s Harada and Svetlana Khodchenkova’s Viper seem out of place compared to the movie’s sombre tone.

With its zany action set-pieces and an intriguingly personal narrative, The Wolverine is a comic book movie that, thankfully, doesn’t seem forcibly controlled by producers/studio executives. Delivering a gritty performance and defining characteristics, Jackman’s portrayal of Logan/Wolverine illustrates why he is one of Hollywood’s most successful actors.

Verdict: A pulsating, kinetic, and enjoyable superhero movie.

Man of Steel Review – The Caped Commiserator


Director: Zack Snyder

Writer: David S. Goyer

Stars: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe


Release date: June 14th, 2013

Distributor: Warner Bros. Studios

Country: USA

Running time: 143 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The dynamic performances.

Worst part: The overt religious symbolism.

It’s a bird…it’s a plane…it’s….yet another superhero origin story. One by one, famous superheroes are being thrown onto the big screen. Some superhero flicks work, while others spectacularly crash and burn. Marvel’s recent success proves they have mastered the superhero film formula. DC Comics/Warner Bros. most recent effort, Man of Steel, largely succeeds thanks to both scale and inventive storytelling. It essentially becomes the yin to Iron Man 3‘s yang.

Henry Cavill.

Desperate to get a Justice League movie (the DC Comics version of The Avengers) off the ground, Man of Steel provides DC/Warner Bros. the perfect leap off the blocks. For those who don’t know of Superman’s origin story, the film provides a delicate and intricate interpretation of his most iconic elements. The film starts off with Krypton in complete disarray. Scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) must contend with Krypton’s apocalyptic problems and their newborn son Kal-El. Whilst Jor-El warns the Kryptonian leaders of the planet’s oncoming doom, General Zod (Michael Shannon) leads a military coup against them. Kal-El is sent to Earth and Zod is sent to the Phantom Zone shortly before Krypton’s destruction. Kal-El is then raised as ‘Clark Kent’ (Henry Cavill) by Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane respectively). Kal-El/Clark’s resolve will be tested when Zod comes to Earth to reclaim Krypton’s most treasured elements. Aided by enthusiastic Journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams), Kal-El/Clark must decide whether he wants to be a peaceful citizen or a caped warrior who stands for truth, justice and the American way.

image

This films sits (quality wise) between a game-changing reboot like Batman Begins and a repetitive cash-grab like The Amazing Spider-man. This reboot sets out to make Superman popular with Gen-Y. To a certain extent, it passes with flying colours. Director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) is one of Hollywood’s most polarising figures. His comic book adaptations lean toward the darker shades of superhero lore. With Man of Steel, he has delivered a gritty and pulsating superhero romp. Here, Snyder displays his knack for kinetic storytelling. Overcoming David S. Goyer’s formulaic screenplay, Snyder presents a well-known origin story in an inventive and heartening fashion. Thanks to Christopher Nolan’s touch, Snyder takes the Dark Knight trilogy approach. For the movie’s first half, Man of Steel looks at the internal aspects of DC’s most popular superhero. After the opening set-piece on Krypton, the movie jumps back and forth in time to valuable parts of Kal-El/Clark’s life. This Batman Begins-like storytelling develops both the iconic lead character and this reboot’s dour tone. However, unlike Nolan’s Batman flicks, Snyder injects fantastical elements when required. Despite its structural/narrative similarities to Thor and The Incredible Hulk, this is more like a sci-fi extravaganza than a by-the-numbers superhero flick. However, Snyder drops the ball when it comes to the subtextual aspects. Some shots, including one of Kal-El/Clark sitting in a church in front of a stain glass window depicting Jesus Christ, are more eye-rollingly obvious than convincing.

Michael Shannon.

Man of Steel‘s biggest flaw is that it wants to have its cake and eat it too. Snyder’s unchained direction dabbles in both existential drama and pacy popcorn-chomping action. In fact, between the first and second half, the film switches inorganically from one to the other. Thankfully, Unlike the sorely underrated Superman Returns, Snyder’s movie is not obsessive about Richard Donner/Lester’s  Superman and Superman II. Despite borrowing a few key elements of those movies, this is a fresher and punchier interpretation of Superman than previous efforts from this century (Smallville included). The only thing bigger than the ‘S’ symbol on Superman’s outfit is Man of Steel‘s epic sense of scale (aided by Hans Zimmer’s thundering score). Despite leaving out his saturated visual style and slo-mo/speed-up tricks, Snyder is often let off the leash to deliver many awe-inspiring set-pieces. From Krypton’s obliteration to Metropolis’ destruction, this movie shows an obvious and gleeful lack of subtlety. Although the action-direction is enthralling (thanks to the shaky-cam), the baffling amount of collateral damage calls Superman’s code of honour into question. Never has a major city suffered this much carnage since Independence Day. In fact, the most engaging set-pieces focus on Kal-El/Clark’s moral conflict. The oil rig, tornado, and bus crash sequences say more about power and responsibility than any of Jor-El and Jonathan’s long-winded speeches.

“I let my father die because I trusted him, because he was convinced that I had to wait. That the world was not ready. What do you think?” (Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill), Man of Steel).

Russell Crowe.

Some will say this blockbuster sorely lacks joy, humour, and charm. While others will argue that’s the entire point; to strip any sense of fun out of the story to establish Kal-El/Clark’s internal struggle. I strangely agree with both intensifying viewpoints. Delightfully, the intensifying A-list cast brings levity and heart to this visceral tale. Despite the underdeveloped characterisations, everyone gets an emotional payoff that makes them likeable and/or humanistic. Thankfully, Superman is Man of Steel‘s most engaging character. His Bruce Banner/Logan-esque journey through the American wilderness leads him to embrace his fathers’ opposing ideologies. His transition from rugged, angsty individual to symbol of hope is poignant and entertaining. His first flight is particularly effective – establishing the rush of joy that would undoubtedly come with racing from Africa to the Grand Canyon within seconds. Cavill is charismatic as the courageous and stoic hero. Aided by his bulging muscular frame, Cavill proves he is a young actor to look out for. Adams is at her charming best as the ball-busting and Pulitzer Prize-winning Lane. Despite blatantly crossing the line between investigative reporting and detective work, Adams’ Lane establishes herself as a mentally powerful force of nature. Shannon provides a breakout performance as the vicious yet sympathetic Zod. Thankfully, Zod is established as a thought-provoking antagonist and not Superman’s punching bag. Crow and Costner are also enthralling as the clashing father figures.

Despite its issues, Man of Steel is an enjoyable and gripping superhero flick. By putting a unique spin on the Superman mythos, Snyder has developed a pacy, visually-arresting, and heartening look at a well-known cultural icon. Bravely, this interpretation depicts Superman as being much more than just the world’s strongest boy scout.

Verdict: A dark, dense, and relentless origin story/summer blockbuster.

Iron Man 3 Review – Stark Contrast


Director: Shane Black

Writers: Drew Pearce, Shane Black

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Ben Kingsley


Release date: April 25th, 2013

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country USA

Running time: 130 minutes


4/5

Best part: Black’s direction.

Worst part: The underdeveloped supporting characters.

Ever since 2008’s Iron Man, Tony Stark has become a pop-culture icon and beloved Marvel Universe character. In The Avengers, Captain America orders Stark to list his special qualities. Stark simply looks him in the eye and, with a straight face, replies “Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.”. His tone and dry wit have now pulled him through four hit blockbusters. The latest, Iron Man 3, is a thrill-ride in every sense.

Robert Downey, Jr. & Don Cheadle.

It’s a fun and enlightening superhero flick that focuses on the series’ core ingredients. This instalment is also vastly different to the previous two Iron Man Flicks. Set after the near-apocalyptic events of The Avengers, Iron Man 3 picks up with Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) recoiling from memories of magic, monsters, and aliens. His trip through the wormhole, during the Avenger’s New York battle, has left him with post-traumatic stress disorder. However, anxiety attacks and insomnia are the least of his problems. Stark must now contend with The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), Leader of a terrorist group known as the ‘Ten Rings’. He sets off horrific explosions within the US and publicly boasts about it. Also gumming up the works is Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM) founder and ultra-smart-ass Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). Stark, Killian, and fellow scientist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) have a history. In 1999, Stark rejected Killian’s ground-breaking ideas. This was a bad move! After his house is destroyed, Stark must find the motives behind the Mandarin’s attacks whilst keeping his girlfriend, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and best friend, Lt. Col. James Rhodes a.k.a. The Iron Patriot (Don Cheadle), out of harm’s way.

Guy Pearce.

Iron Man 3 may lack the focus and charm of the original, but it’s still much better than 2010’s Iron Man 2. Whereas Iron Man 2 suffered from story, character, and pacing issues, Iron Man 3 smartly balances drama, action, and character. Despite the glitz and glamour that comes with casting Robert Downey jr. in a lead role, the biggest star of this instalment is Shane Black (writer of Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout, director of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). As you can tell, his filmography is both commendable and extensive. This is Downey jr. and Black’s first collaboration since Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The amusing and grimy film noir is similar to Iron Man 3 in many ways. These two men clearly work well together. They provide a wink-and-nudge style of humour that many big-budget flicks desperately need. Black commands this movie the same way that Joss Whedon took control of The Avengers. Black has a strong love for both smart storytelling/screen-writing and the original material. His film will appeal to both film-goers and comic book aficionados. His writing/directorial style has many idiosyncrasies. Much like his previous efforts, Iron Man 3 has a Christmassy theme, tough heroes, spectacular action set-pieces, a buddy-cop style team up, and slimy villains.

Ben Kingsley.

Ben Kingsley.

Iron Man 3, despite its convoluted story and multitude of characters, moves at a good pace. It pumps up the volume when it needs to whilst taking time to focus on Stark’s human side. The first third moves quickly. It establishes how every character fits into this expansive universe and what they represent (war on terror, patriotism etc.). After the first spectacular action set piece, in which Stark’s luxurious Malibu house is obliterated, the film suddenly slows down. All three acts are separate from each other in both subject matter and tone. The second third is a charming buddy-cop/detective flick. Stark’s new friendship with a young boy, Harley (Ty Simpkins), is both refreshing and hilarious. Stark, whilst talking down to the young boy, realises that he is a hypocrite. He also admits that he is an extremely vulnerable individual. It’s fun to see Downey Jr. play another detective character; applying Stark’s knowledge to this dangerous mission. The film’s special effects and gadgets are stellar. The action sequences are fresh and vibrant. Mixing fun choreography with inventive cinematography, each set-piece is both memorable and thrilling. His new suit, made up of multiple, inter-locking parts, is both a neat invention and the subject of many comedic moments. The mix of dramatic and cartoonish elements is important to this exciting and visceral experience.

“That’s the thing about smart guys: we cover our asses!” (Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), Iron Man 3).

Gwyneth Patrow.

Gwyneth Paltrow.

Black needed to create some interesting characters for this instalment. Unlike Iron Man 2, the characters here are well developed, necessary and empathetic. Stark is as entertaining as ever. Instead of being arrogant and/or selfish, he is an entrepreneur with a thirst for vengeance and thrills. His relationship with Potts brings him back down to Earth and gives us a reason to care about him. We like Iron Man, but we love the man underneath the suit. Downey Jr. is at his charismatic best here. Much like his performance in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, he uses charm and sensitivity to bring his character to life. Don Cheadle fits more comfortably into his role than he did in Iron Man 2. Stark and Rhodes’ friendship works similarly to the buddy-cop partnerships seen in Black’s previous works. I wish they had more time together on-screen. Paltrow is effective as Stark’s better half and the film’s strongest female character. Pearce is slimy yet sympathetic as a man looking for revenge. Kingsley is magnetic as the menacing lead villain. The twists and turns involving his character are some of the film’s best moments. Unfortunately, Hall is sorely underused as Stark’s old flame. Her character has charm, but no real reason to be in this film.

Stepping out of The Avengers‘ gigantic shadow, Iron Man 3 is nothing short of awesome. Many people will be bothered by its emphasis on drama over action. However, the story, characters, humour, and visuals collaborate to create an enjoyable blockbuster. Marvel’s Phase 2 is off to a cracking start.

Verdict: A witty and entertaining third instalment.

The Amazing Spider-Man Review – Rollicking Reboot


Director: Marc Webb

Writers: James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves

Stars: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen


Release date: July 3rd, 2012

Distributor: Sony Pictures Entertainment 

Country: USA

Running time: 136 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The kinetic action sequences.

Worst part: The repetitive story.

Reboot or remake? Many will be asking this question when watching the latest Spider-man film. This beloved comic book character has now been rebooted after three commercially successful adaptations. The Amazing Spider-man may be similar to what we have already witnessed, but it matches the first two Spider-man films in quality through likeability and thrills.

Andrew Garfield & Emma Stone.

Andrew Garfield & Emma Stone.

Despite the origin story of our friendly neighbourhood Spider-man being a commonly referenced part of popular culture (see Kick-Ass for a detailed example), this interpretation is a darker look at these important events. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is an intelligent but quiet teenager living the typical high school lifestyle. His curiosity for science leads him to search for the answers to his father’s research and parent’s disappearance. The signs point to renowned Oscorp. scientist Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). His research, and alluring protégé and classmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), draw Parker into a potentially dangerous web. From then on it’s the well-known elements of Spidey’s origin – bit by a genetically modified spider, uncle Ben(Martin Sheen)’s death, and the evolution of this nerdy nobody into the masked superhero known as Spider-man. Apart from spinning webs anytime and catching thieves just like flies, Spider-man must also stop Connor’s radical genetic change into a reptilian beast from threatening the safety of New York City.

Rhys Ifans.

Rhys Ifans.

If there’s one broken strand in this well-developed web, it’s that The Amazing Spider-Man feels essentially like a remake of the revered 2002 Sam Raimi directed original. Despite its darker tone and unique nuances, the film’s story and characters hit the same notes as the original, without enough to clearly differentiate between the two. The one definitive difference however is the search for Parker’s parents. Despite their mysterious disappearance an intriguing aim for his search for answers, the film forgets about his parent’s involvement within the first act. The Amazing Spider-Man instead focuses on elements we are accustomed to such as the love story and hero/villain conflict. Despite being hard not to compare it to the 2002 interpretation of Spider-man’s origin story, the film benefits from its clever direction and witty screenplay. With a fitting last name for this popular series, Marc Webb ((500) Days of Summer) has successfully transitioned from directing films of largely different genres. Elements of his unique directorial style are comfortably added to this interpretation. After creating a likeable yet realistically flawed screen couple out of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer, Webb knows how to create engaging yet awkward angst out of these beloved comic book characters.

Martin Sheen & Sally Field.

Martin Sheen & Sally Field.

Gwen Stacy and Peter Parker communicate alarmingly like teenagers in the halls of any high school, with Webb clearly aware of the relatable and personal problems inflicting that demographic. These beloved characters are aided by the charismatic and likeable cast. Garfield and Stone (currently a real life couple) create powerful chemistry faster than you can say “bugboy”. Brought together through cute interactions, Garfield and Stone create empathetic lead characters and a lovely partnership. Garfield’s performance as the sympathetic Peter Parker is palpable and proves he can lead a superhero franchise after his supporting role in The Social Network. With the determination of Aaron Johnson’s character in Kick-Ass and the agility of Sebastian Foulcan in Casino Royale, Parker is a witty and effective presence here. Ifans, known primarily for playing the hilarious roommate in Notting Hill, is engaging as the focused yet morally driven antagonist as his sympathetic side is brought to the surface. The Lizard is easily the best cinematic Spider-man villain since Doc Ock. The intricate and disgusting creature design of the Lizard creates a menacing presence for Spider-man to face. Also providing fun performances are comedian Dennis Leary as Gwen’s father Captain George Stacy and Sheen as Uncle Ben.

“You should see the other guy! The other guy, in this instance, being a giant mutant lizard.” (Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield), The Amazing Spider-Man).

Garfield's Spider-Man.

Garfield’s Spider-Man.

Webb’s visual style is also a breathtaking insight into the origins of a superhero. With the current popularity of superhero cinema and with similar themes explored in the recent surprise hit Chronicle, Webb still manages to create a noticeable visual flair for every action scene and montage throughout. The cinematography is gorgeous; capturing every frame of Spider-man’s super strength and agility. The camera loops and whirls through every wall and crevasse in New York City as spider-man’s parkour and acrobatic wall crawling and web swinging skills are documented with the vertigo inducing thrills needed in a special effect-driven Spider-man flick. Webb’s editing style, synonymous with the non- linear story telling of his previous film, succeeds in creating an energetic rush within each action set piece. Moments of genetic change in Peter Parker edited together with stylish choreography illustrate an adventurous superhero figure. His subconscious is even brought into light; changing to adapt to spider genetics when placed in a bad situation such as the subway fight sequence.

The Amazing Spider-Man, for all intents and purposes, is a message to other Marvel superhero properties. Despite the derivative narrative, Sony has taken this mega-successful property and run with it! Well, wall-crawling works better in this case.

Verdict: Spider-man swings back into action in this charming and visceral thrill-ride.

The Avengers Review – Superhero Smorgasboard


Director: Joss Whedon

Writer: Joss Whedon

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo


Release date: May 4th, 2012 

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 142 minutes


 

5/5

Best part: The pithy comedic moments.

Worst part: The MacGuffin.

Marvel’s cinematic universe for the past four years has been building up to the superhero flick to end them all. With many characters getting their own blockbusters such as Iron man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America, their interweaving story-lines have finally woven into the ultimate team on a mission film. The Avengers defies extreme expectations and concerns to become one hell of an intense roller coaster ride.

Avengers assemble!

Avengers assemble!

As we saw in 2011’s superhero flick Thor, Loki(Tom Hiddleston)’s deceptive and disastrous ways have only just begun. With Earth the setting for his assault, the fabled Tesseract device is all that’s needed. His violent theft of the device has forced scarred SHIELD director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to bring together an elite and superhuman group to stop Loki’s wrath upon mankind. Tempers flair, reputations are preceded and alliances are engineered from scratch as this team of vastly different superheroes must protect the Earth from anyone threatening its destruction.

Tom Hiddleston.

Tom Hiddleston.

Luckily for the average film-goer, the Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America films don’t need to be seen to enjoy this high octane sensual experience. Writer/director Joss Whedon has created a hilarious, action packed and emotionally gripping superhero adventure fitting for a climax to this series. His penchant for strong character development, clashing egos, arse kicking women and witty dialogue are all on show in The Avengers, not very surprising coming from the creator of mega-hit genre TV shows such as Buffy and Firefly. Much like his underrated sci-fi actioner Serenity, the characters come first as he gleefully toys with the concept at hand. Focusing for the first half on bringing these wildly differing and engaging characters together is The Avengers’s strongest power as every POW! and BAM! is met with a satirical one liner and unexpectedly hilarious  moment of physical comedy. These characters serve as the building blocks for something extraordinary in the first half as fighting each other must be put aside to fight the forces of evil. The chemistry developed slowly and uneasily between this cast of famed superheroes from varying ages and galaxies creates a fascinating origin story of arguably the greatest team in superhero lore. Every character pulls their weight, and no one steals the show, as we see every character earning the right to be accepted into the Avengers Initiative.

“The Avengers. That’s what we call ourselves; we’re sort of like a team. “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” type thing.” (Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), The Avengers).

Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Evans & Robert Downey, Jr.

Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Evans & Robert Downey, Jr.

The witty Whedon-esque dialogue is of course met with brilliant performances from this A- list cast and the creation of burdened yet likeable characters. Powerfully making his presence known in both Iron Man films, Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark is a delight. His quick delivery of comedic lines and upbeat presence on screen lets everyone know why Iron Man is a fan favourite. While Captain America (Chris Evans) makes his presence known; placing his differing views, emotional torment, and leadership anxieties in full view. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye don’t disappoint when called upon to anchor the film’s emotional core. While credit goes to Mark Ruffalo as the big, green, mean machine turned pleasant scientist Bruce Banner. Given the unfortunate task of replacing Edward Norton from the previous film, Ruffalo delivers an enjoyable yet intensifying interpretation of Banner, constantly toying with the monster inside him. When these superheroes aren’t using their unique abilities and witty personalities on each other in several of the film’s most intense moments, they’re destroying New York while tussling with Loki and his army of alien minions. Despite several inventive and beautiful action set pieces throughout, including Captain America and Iron Man working together to save the Helicarrier, the final third kicks into overdrive. It’s here when we see this team working side by side in the line of duty. Its hilarious, stylish and breathtaking all at the same time as we see the powers of our favourite heroes in full effect. Whedon creates an immersive representation of the forces of good. Single shot set pieces zooming around the city depict each member of the team risking everything to come to the aid of one another, while impressively destroying hordes of evil doers.

One things for sure, this cracking foray into the origins of the ultimate crime fighting unit is a paradise for comic book aficionados, action fans and everyone in between. Whedon, the impeccable cast of comic book favourites and consistent level of laughs come together to create one of the best superhero films ever assembled.

Verdict: An enlightening and powerful superhero flick. 

Battleship Review – Battle: Pacific Ocean


Director: Peter Berg

Writers: Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber

Stars: Taylor Kitsch, Brooklyn Decker, Liam Neeson, Rhianna


Release date: May 18th, 2012

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 131 minutes


 

2/5

 Best part: The first action sequence.

Wort part: The jingoistic flair.

Starting off by saying Hollywood is out of ideas is obvious when applying that statement to Battleship. With a ridiculous concept in creating a special effects extravaganza based on the popular yet plotless board game of the same name, It makes you wonder what Hollywood may decide to adapt next. This film provides some visual stimulus but little beyond that to satisfy either film aficionados or even fans of the classic board game itself.

Taylor Kitsch & Tadanobu Asano.

Taylor Kitsch & Tadanobu Asano.

We begin our descent into nostalgia and mind numbing stupidity with renegade and good for nothing slacker Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) and his brother Stone (Alexander Skarsgard); celebrating a birthday, family ties and Naval prowess. When Hopper tries to impress Samantha (Brooklyn Decker) and ends up breaking the law, he is forced by Stone to join him in the Navy. We then join them in full uniform and unlimited egotism as the annual Naval war games between the USA and Japan get under way in Hawaii. Due to scientists sending a signal to a planet much like ours in another galaxy, a strange cluster of objects fall out of the sky and into the Pacific Ocean. Disrupting the fleets in action, this alien group reigns war upon them and threatens the imminent destruction of mankind. Its now up to misfit Hopper and a sole Naval fleet to set aside differences and save the world from an overwhelming enemy.

Rhianna.

Rhianna.

Battleship is a prime example of the slapdash effort both directors and screenwriters put into blockbusters such as this each year. With the Transformers sequels and Battle: Los Angeles also suffering from major script and directorial failings, providing nothing more than a cash grab for a general audience is becoming more noticeable with each one of these cliche sci-fi action flicks. Peter Berg (The Kingdom, Hancock), who should be able to provide a convincing level of flair as acclaimed director Michael Mann’s protege, leaves behind entertaining characters and clever moments of comedy seen particularly in Welcome to the Jungle in order to achieve the conventional. This film may stand as one of the most generic blockbusters in recent memory. Even when looking down the cast list we see the who’s who of popular culture, several trying to make a name for themselves in one way or another. First off, Kitsch, fresh from the recent fantasy adventure epic John Carter, provides his usual emotionless delivery for another bland lead character role. While pop-star Rhianna, essentially playing Vasquez from Aliens, is unable to hold off her Caribbean accent when spouting several of the film’s many unnecessary one liners. Also suffering is an unconvincing Brooklyn Decker as Hopper’s girlfriend and soon to be fiancee. While phoning it in is Liam Neeson as Admiral Shane, who seems wasted in a role involving little more than a glorified cameo.

“We are going to die. You’re going to die, I’m going to die, we’re all going to die… just not today.” (Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), Battleship).

 One of many Naval battles.

One of many Naval battles.

In their defence however, the dialogue throughout is solely based on endless references to Sun Tsu’s The Art of War, corny speeches proclaiming America’s ability to do anything and eye-rollingly tedious one liners. Battleship‘s moments of comedy fall flat and border on offensive; particularly when providing a one sided view of the Japanese. While the jingoistic view of American accomplishment is irritatingly pumped into this film, along with the unsubtle commercialisation of the Navy and Marine Corps. Loving shots of naval vessels and obvious metaphors for peace created by the US try too hard to convey a flag waving subtext. The noisy, special effect driven action sequences may look beautiful, but fail to provide any real creativity. Buildings fall down, people are needlessly killed in large quantities, free ways are crushed by Transformer-esque alien burrowers and battleships fire endlessly at alien spacecraft while being fired upon themselves. This repetitive and monotonous level of destruction does however start off promising. The first battleship sequence, one of few elements resembling anything from the board game, is choreographed, paced and photographed to create a thrilling 10 minute fight to the death against overwhelming and unknown odds. The aliens themselves, despite possessing some of the weirdest spiky beards in memory, are one dimensional at best. Their Halo-like jumpsuits along with conventional grey, slimy designs provide an uninteresting enemy for our heroes to bravely face.

With Hollywood scrambling for ideas, we’ve reached the point where Battleship is the biggest blockbuster on the menu. Sinking the director, cast, and Universal Pictures, this bomb destroys all the ships on the board!

Verdict: A mind-numbing and excessive blockbuster. 

Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows Review – A Clueless Mystery


Director: Guy Ritchie

Writers: Michele Mulroney, Kieran Mulroney (screenplay), Arthur Conan Doyle (novels)

Stars: Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jarred Harris


Release date: December 16th, 2011

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Countries: USA, UK

Running time: 129 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: Downey, Jr. and Law’s chemistry.

Worst part: The convoluted plot.

The massive success of 2009’s Sherlock Holmes brought an energetic mix of convincing detective story, boisterous action adventure and witty buddy comedy. This perfect mix sadly doesn’t cross over into the sequel; Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

Robert Downey, Jr. & Jude Law.

Having said that their are still several elements that make this instalment an adequately entertaining thrill ride. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows starts with a bang as tensions mount between France and Germany over the threat of annihilation. Bombings in both countries lead Holmes to the investigate the infamous and psychopathic Professor James Moriarty (Jarred Harris). With Watson (Jude Law) forced to his side once again, Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) must stop Moriarty from continuing his assault on Europe and promises of global destruction. With a successful first film under his belt, director Guy Ritchie (Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch) directs with an increasing level of excess.

Noomi Rapace.

Failing to capture the charm of the original, Richie over uses his visual style to the point of irritation. With every twist and turn in this steampunk crime story, every few moments is cluttered with inconsistent editing techniques, over-used slo-mo/speed up and constant zooming camera movements. Holmes’ detection of one clue after another soon becomes tiresome as we are forced to watch one confusing effect after another in quick succession. Where Richie’s techniques do work however is in several of the action sequences. Particularly in the beginning as Holmes, in an old Chinese man costume, is confronted, by several thugs. the quick cuts and swerving camera movements create the look of an 18th century Bourne film. The slo-mo also works in small doses in these scenes. The very artistic and climactic chase through the woods at the dodge of cannon and gun fire is fascinating to watch. Like many sequels, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows struggles trying to find its point; leading to it becoming instantly forgettable.

Jarred Harris.

The story itself is largely incomprehensible and grinds to a deafening halt in the second act. In sticking too close to the comedy and character relationships for the most part, there is a noticeable loss of purpose and urgency in their journey. The relationships thankfully work as well as they did in the original. Downey Jr. and Law still work very effectively together as Holmes and Watson. Playing it a little too comedic at points, Downey jr.’s consistent charisma creates an ever enlightening interpretation of Holmes. Jarred Harris as Moriarty, Noomi Rapace as Sim, a card reader thrown into their travels, and Stephen Fry as Sherlock’s Brother Mycroft all deliver dynamic performances, yet suffer at the hands of their small and to some extent thankless roles. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows benefits greatly from a stellar cast, well filmed Kung Fu fights and chases, explosions aplenty and convincing performances. However its problems in pacing, gimmicky visual style and story inconsistency sadly keep it from matching the explosive innovation and quick wit of the original.

Obviously, thanks to his recent professional and personal turnarounds, Downey, Jr. can make anything on Earth seem even remotely exciting. In fact, despite the momentous problems festering in this drab sequel, he, Law, and everyone else involved, at the very least, make an effort to piece this mystifying puzzle together. Third time’s a charm, I guess!

Verdict: An underwhelming and convoluted sequel.