Sunday, 26 April 2015

Avengers Age Of Ultron Review

A lot has changed in the world around comic book superhero movies since the first avengers film hit in 2012. Now shared universes are the box office gold every studio wants to mine. The Marvel Cinematic Universe itself is expanding at an exponential rate with numerous tv shows and soon the number of films a year will jump from 2 to 3 with Spiderman expected to appear on screen next year as well. So its natural to wonder after a time away how would the group dynamic of changed in the film? Well the simple answer is no and yes. The magic of the first film is still here though the characters are stronger and more fractured because it’s the stakes are higher.   

The Avengers burst back onto the big screen with a bang wrapped up in an A* tracking shot. The camera spins and looms jumping up and weaving in and out of each member of the team as they dispatch a load of hydra goons in a forest. It’s an incredible sequence in the way it balances the individual little comedic character beats with the large scale action reminding us of the fact Marvel’s best with its characters.

In fact it’s no coincidence that  Marvel have so far only deployed their secret weapon Joss Whedon (Famous for his ensemble character sci fi shows like Firefly and Buffy The Vampire Slayer) for their avengers films which are obviously focused on the large ensemble cast. If you read interviews with Whedon he came back to the franchise because he felt he still had places to go with this cast and that’s what makes the film great the action sequences are captivating the storyline line gripping but what sells this film is the characters. Often it’s easy to say with the solo films like Iron Man 3 and Captain America to ask if everything is so bad why don’t the others turn up and help out and this film shows why. Ultron is a threat strong enough to call them together. He tears them apart from the inside. One thread throughout the film is the question of what the avengers stand for and that isn’t decided by the end but it’s clear Ultron definitely isn’t it/ Ultron is more than some standard bad robot. He’s created by Tony Stark in the hope of creating a force of global protection but he rebels like a bad teenager. James Spader’s motion capture performance as Ultron is one of the best motion capture performances I’ve seen the way the film utilizes his voice and body to create this genuinely captivating character is impeccable.

In terms of the Avengers themselves there’s a change in where the focus fall on the members of the group . Captain America and Thor don’t have much to do because they’ve had their own solo films. But Hawkeye who was basically an extra in the last film is a main character in this one. So much so I’d proudly say he’s one of my favourite avengers now Renner’s shows a new comedic side to Hawkeye that I look forward to seeing more of in future films. Possibly the most emotional arc though is that of the relationship between Hulk and Black Widow it goes beyond the charm of the two to become a very deep relationship impeded by their own personal pasts. There are new avengers as well Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) opens up new angles for the action with the use of slo mo (The quicksilver stuff here is so much stronger than the stuff in Days of Future Past). Quicksilver opens up the team and brings a youthful vibe. Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) is another star in the cast. Scarlet Witch’s powers cause some initial problems for the avengers at the start but soon she proves herself in one of the most uplifting moments of the film. Yet the new member stealing the show is the vision (Paul Bettany) honestly it’s hard to describe how great the vision is on screen. He’s just so wonderfully weird looking and he seems like such a young character, it will be exciting to see him learn and grow on screen.

Avengers Age of Ultron is an entirely captivating film that proves that blockbusters can be just as smart and emotionally moving as normal dramas. This is the film that we’ve been waiting three years for and its worth the wait.  

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Daredevil First Thoughts


I’m undeniably team Marvel. I think the way they have redefined mainstream cinema storytelling over the last few years is amazing. I think they’ve proved that blockbusters can be smart character driven and entertaining. Since Thor in 2011 (A low point for the studio) they haven’t put a foot out of line in terms of the films they’ve released (We are yet to see what the result of the Edgar Wright Ant Man debacle will be) but Daredevil is a real failure.

Everything that’s wrong with Daredevil comes down to the tone that has been decided for the series. What Marvel often get right is the way they keep the tone upbeat but they still leave room for interesting character stuff and a sense of tension. Daredevil seems like an exercise in melodramatic seriousness it’s as if the series has been written by a 14 year old boy who likes “Graphic Novels”. Every scene seems legally required to take place in a dark alley way at the middle of the night. This might be acceptable if the show had any sense of irony but it doesn’t. The show also doesn’t hold back on the violence often inflicted by our protagonist. I can understand moral ambiguity in order to create conflict but Daredevil just  seems like an pain. The show is awfully paced every scene seems really slow and in-between the scenes there are long even more boring flashbacks to Daredevils childhood.

One of the stranger elements of Daredevil is the cast. Charlie Cox play Matt Murdock (Dardevil) and he makes a good Murdock, when he’s Murdock he’s an enjoyable screen presence. Deborah Ann Woll plays Karen Page and she probably does the best out of the whole cast because she manages to make the most of a real dud of a part. Karen is young woman who is being helped by Murdock and his friend Foggy (Elden Henson) she is haunt by grief. It’s a damsel in distress role we have seen time and time again. Henson as Foggy is another strange element of the show he is by far the weakest of the main three performers but he is undeniably the most entertaining as the comic relief in a very dour show. When these three performers are in normal conversational scenes together the show is at it’s most watchable but when anything else is onscreen it’s generally terrible (with the exclusion of some very well directed fight sequences that would be better if someone had told the director and cinematographer what light looked like)

Daredevil is more bad than good. I  haven’t watched the whole series yet and if it gets better I’ll redact this but for the meantime I’d suggest for the inevitable second series that the show should try and find it’s more comic booky camp side.

(The whole of Daredevil series 1 is on Netflix now)

Sunday, 12 April 2015

John Wick Review

John Wick

The set up to John Wick might sound a little strange. It follows eponymous retired hit man (Keanu Reeves) coming out of retirement to enact revenge after some Russian gangsters kill the dog given to him by his dead wife. Let me assure you though the movie is so ridiculously entertaining, the story is well told the action so stylized and violent John Wick is one hell of a thrill ride.

When the film starts John  is living in his cold and clinical modern house we get the sense that everything around him is too safe, the white walls of the house could be livened up with a bit of blood soon though he’s called out of his retirement. I said the set up sounds laboured  but the film sells it firstly we get a sense of quite how much the dog means to him and secondly the scene where his dog gets taken from him is done so well that you want John to get revenge on these people.  And boy does he get revenge. The film is a tour de force of immaculate action set pieces. The film is directed by David Leitch and Chad Stahelski they’re former stunt men so that’s where the film finds its strength, the hand to hand combat scenes feel more like dance.  Yet their work on the film extends beyond these action scene they manage to perfectly balance the pacing of the film it’s fast moving but when it allows itself to get some air it’s still good to watch because the film is full of little moments of comedy and ideas about this world which breathe some life into the film for instance there’s a hotel exclusively for hit-men which has a very particular set of rules and a helpful yet sarcastic receptionist.

John Wick is a young persons film about an older man getting back to his past so its especially good that Keanu Reeves who is fifty years old leads the film with the skill he does. He really makes the role of Wick his own making him the relentless badass that it could be said that action cinema has been lacking there’s also a sadness to John Wick though and among all of the action we get a sense of how he is struggling to cope with the loss of his wife. John Wick is a ruthless out of control film that never gives in and never apologizes it feels like an action film for out time and it’s sure to go down in cult history. 

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Fast and Furious 7 Review

Fast and Furious 7 is almost exactly what you might expect it to be yet I feel describing it like that is doing the film a disservice. It is in fact a relentless ride of impeccable action and fantastically over the top sequences that is held up by a cast who bounce off of each other.

Something that has been key to the most recent films in the series has been the action set pieces. Five culminates in the crew driving a large safe around the streets of Rio, Six ends with an incredible take down of a military plane on what might be the world longest run way. Well let me tell you seven tops both of those sequences the first sequence is teased in the trailer. The crew parachute their cars out of a plane to land on a piece of road on a mountain to take down a crew of terrorists who have taken a hacker hostage. This sequence is genuinely great it roars along  and ticks all the boxes in terms of the entertainment that you might want from this series. James Wan handles this sequences with absolute precision whilst the sequences moves quickly you constantly understand what is going on. This is James Wan’s first film in the franchise and I have to admit I found it quite hard to see what made his direction different from that of Justin Lin in the previous entries but he handles the film very well and perfectly fits the style of the films. Whilst the mountain sequence in the film is the best in terms of storytelling I think my favourite  segment of the film has to be the part in Abu Dhabai just for the sheer ridiculousness of the whole thing.

What also makes these films is the crew themselves and whilst the crew is a bit smaller in this film (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson sit most of the film out, Han and Gisele are gone, Mia is also missing for most of the film) the repartee between the cast is still on top form. Tej and Roman still have their comic bickering. In fact I have to say Tyrese Gibson stole the show for me and it was definitely Roman drawing the most laughs out of the audience I was with. Dom (Vin Diesel) still goes on about family every fifth line. Whilst he isn’t in the film much when The Rock shows up he more than steals the show; “I am the cavalry” is a line sure to go down in pop culture history. It’s the fast we know but it’s also the fast we love. There is one element that overhangs the films though and that is the tragic death of Paul Walker. Walker died November 2013 about six months before the film was suppose to come out this left half of his scenes unfilmed. The filmmakers got past this by using a variety of stand-ins and creating a CGI Paul Walker. I have to say never for a moment did I notice what they were doing and technically it was entirely convincing. Yet most importantly they got the emotions just right. I won’t spoil what happens but rest assured Brian isn’t killed off for shock value but ultimately the film celebrates Walker and mourns his loss ultimately underpinning the family message of the franchise.

Fast and Furious 7 more than delivers in terms of entertainment between the large elaborate action pieces and the small character moments but it also perfectly manages to handle the loss that damaged the crew on and off screen.