Review: Captain America: Civil War

As a big comic book fan, and especially Marvel, I’ve been hotly anticipating this film ever since it was announced.  Whilst I knew from the offset that it would only be ‘inspired by’ the comic series, and wouldn’t be a direct adaptation (after all, none of the Marvel films have been completely accurate versions of comic book events – and why should they?  Don’t you want some surprises?), I was still enthused at the idea of the film, especially as the Russo Brothers would be sticking around to direct.  They had already shown, in Winter Soldier, their adeptness in crafting a multi-character film without it being bogged down at any point, so I was excited to see how they handled a film which would bring so many characters, old and new, to the screen.

Obviously there was a bit of trepidation.  Last year’s Age of Ultron highlighted how the ‘perfect Marvel scorecard’ is far from that, and was a bit of a damp squib, seeking to replicate things we have already seen rather than delivering something genuinely spectacular.  But the trailers looked strong, and that Spider-Man reveal made me giddy with joy – at last a version that doesn’t seem to be wearing moulded plastic, and who looks like he swung straight out the pages of the comics.

Anyone moaning about the eyes moving clearly hasn't ever read a comic.

Anyone moaning about the eyes moving clearly hasn’t ever read a comic.

Now, before I continue, I’ve seen a load of reviews which felt the need to compare this film with Batman v Superman, often as an excuse to further bash that film.  Whilst I can see the tenuous links (both comics…both see one hero fight another), it would only be akin to spending half a review for Star Wars Force Awakens comparing it to Star Trek Into Darkness – they have similarities, but are different entities.  So I won’t be doing any of that.  My thoughts on BvS can be read elsewhere on this site, let’s just leave it at that shall we.

For those who have been living under a multitude of rocks, Civil War sees the ideologies of Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Steve Rogers (Captain America) pitted against each other when reactions the destruction The Avengers leave in their wake prompts the nations of the world to introduce the Sokovia Accords, restricting the use of abilities and powers without authorisation.  Cap sees it as a hindrance to the team being able to help, and also worries about the potential abuse of the team on missions for the wrong reasons, whilst Tony believes it is the best solution, seeing himself personally responsible for some of the innocent deaths caused by their antics.  Events occur which bring The Winter Soldier, Buck Barnes, into the news, and this ignites the feud between the pair to higher levels.  As we know from the trailers this leads to a forming of sides between the pair, and the inevitable fight.

However….that isn’t the whole story, and there is a lot more bubbling under the surface in this film that we haven’t been told during the bombardment of marketing.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to drop casual spoilers here (you know my philosophy – if it ain’t in a trailer, it ain’t in my review), all I will say is that the plot is craftily woven around the action spectacle, and will surprise, shock, and manipulate your loyalties to Team Cap or Team Stark throughout.

A genuinely great character. His solo outing can't come soon enough!

A genuinely great character. His solo outing can’t come soon enough!

So, if I can’t delve into the spoilerific story, let’s look at the handling of such a large cast.  Writers Markus and McFeely definitely have a handle on Cap himself, having been the guys behind the previous two films, and as they showed with Winter Soldier they can craft a plot that draws other characters in without any of them feeling shoehorned into proceedings.   There is a natural placement feel to all the old faces who return, and the new faces slide into the plot gracefully, especially Black Panther (played by the excellent Chadwick Boseman) who is introduced and progressed to ‘costumed hero’ quite rapidly, but quite naturally in the circumstances of the film.  No slow origin needed, just straight to it.  Same goes for Spider-Man, after all, does anyone not know who he is?  Whilst the inclusion of Spider-Man seems a slight unnecessary (as I mentioned, this isn’t a direct copy of the comic, so Spidey was never needed), it does fit well and introduces a new take on the character in such a great way that it fits.  Ant-Man being included is perhaps the only element that feels a little forced, but when it comes to iconic moments on screen during the big fight, you can’t help but love that he was brought in.  The Russo Brothers, handling their second Marvel film, had to ensure they played it all well, and made the story flow, and they do an excellent job, delivering a film that even at 2 hours 27 mins feels like it rattled along at a strong pace.  Never a dull moment, there is always something driving the plot forward, and the interspersed moments of hard action are as thrilling as you would expect from the guys who gave us Winter Soldier.  Their manner in controlling so many characters on screen in an effective way – and it is worth pointing out that the characters fight as teams in the big moments, using each other’s abilities to great effect, showing that they aren’t just all having individual fights in the same place – bodes well for their next Marvel project, Infinity War Parts 1 and 2, which will see pretty much everyone from the films to date come together to take on Thanos.

Action and effects are skilfully handled, although we have another instance of ‘creeping de-aging effect’ much like we saw done to Michael Douglas in Ant-Man, which is almost a good effect but then looks bizarrely ‘body-snatcher-esque’, breaking you from the film to stop being creeped out (you’ll know the scene when you see it).  Admittedly it is better than casting a younger actor who looks nothing like the main star in order to do a flashback, but the technology isn’t quite there yet.  The rest is as stunning to watch as Winter Soldier was, with that same texture and colour palette.  The airport smackdown glimpsed in the trailers is a brilliant action thrill, with some defining moments throughout, but it is not the main focus, nor (in my opinion) the best moment on screen.  There are so many stand-out moments (mostly spoilerific…so no clues here) that you would have to be truly cynical to walk away from the film disappointed.

No matter what film, the Iron Man suit still looks awesome!

No matter what film, the Iron Man suit still looks awesome!

A final nod to the musical score by Henry Jackman, which never overpowers the film, but as good scores should sits in the background, rising to a crescendo at key times, and aiding the overall story emotionally.  There are a few moments where it seemed to be inspired by Blade Runner’s theme for some reason (seriously, I heard a slow play of notes that it took me a few minutes to identify, and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t Vangelis inspired), but why not be inspired by greatness?

All in all, Civil War is the big event film that Avengers 2 should have been.  A thrill from start to finish that never outstays its welcome, and proof that Marvel have still got it (and maybe evidence that the reshuffle that took place behind the scenes last year is paying off).  Not copying previous films, not echoing similar beats, it simply delivers.


Retro Review: Man of Steel

So it arrives.  The much heralded return of Superman to the big screen.  Ever since the alleged failure of Superman Returns, and the huge popularity of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, the reboot of the Superman myth has been kicking around.  When Zack Snyder was attached to the project, the majority of people anticipated a disaster.  However, the casual tagging of Nolan’s name onto the film as producer turned many around to the idea.  You see Nolan is apparently the second coming, and he literally craps gold – or so many of his fanboy followers will attest.  This, sadly, means that negative reviews for Man of Steel so far have blamed Snyder, whilst positive ones seem to exclaim that Nolan delivered.  You have to feel sorry for Snyder, but then again he made Sucker Punch, so deserves all he gets.

Anyway, here we have a new origin tale about the destruction of Krypton, and how Kal-El was sent by his father to Earth, where he would act as their protector.  The young boy is raised in Kansas by the Kents, and discovers his alien heritage as a young adult.  This coincides with the arrival of General Zod, a merciless leader of Krypton’s armies who staged a military coup.  You see, Zod is after something that Jor-El sent to Earth, and wants Kal-El to bring it to him.  Cue danger, and action spectacle that packs a super-punch.  Added into the mix are new variations on the support cast of Superman comics and films, with Lois Lane, Perry White, and, erm, Jenny Olsen?

Jenny what now?

Jenny what now?

Okay, so this was never going to be a true comic book adaptation.  Warners wanted to reboot the franchise and make it ”darker” and ”edgier”, believing that the reason ”Returns” failed was due to it being bright, colourful, and fun.  But, you see, Returns didn’t fail – it made profit, but had thrown a chunk of the budget away on the various aborted attempts at the film through the years.  Returns was also quite well received by critics and fans.  But, of course, it wasn’t as much a success as The Dark Knight, and so they decided they wanted a Superman film to match that darkness.  And therein lies the problem with Man of Steel, which I will get to in a bit.

Suffice to say the film is well cast.  The changes to characters (Perry White is now Laurence Fishburn, Olsen has changed sex and become a girl) are fine, and don’t really make a difference.  It is helped by having such a wealth of strong names involved.  Amy Adams is a strong minded Lois Lane, Russell Crowe gets to kick some ass as Jor-El before turning all Yoda later in the film as Kal’s mentor, and Kevin Costner reminds us why he was such a big deal a few decades ago.  Henry Cavill, the one factor I was uncertain of going into the film, does a decent, if not great job.  It is Michael Shannon who steals the film away from everyone as General Zod.  Spitting menace and with a stare that would make a grown man cower, he storms through the scenes with serious intent, and manages to really portray a villain whose reasons for being have a pure validity to them.  If you imagine Magneto in the X-Men series, then you have a similar contrast – he believed his people needed saving, and would destroy any who get in the way.

Action and spectacle wise the film delivers in spades.  Buildings get trashed, cars get flipped, streets gets ripped up.  The last act of the film is one of scene after scene of devastation, with Superman versus Zod’s Kryptonian forces being of such a scale that the whole planet does feel at risk.  Gone are the comic book films of the past where all fights took place in one street…now the fight moves from one end of the city to the other and back again.  Yup, for those who complained that there was not enough action in Superman Returns, there is no way you will say the same here.

Kneel before Zod!

Kneel before Zod!

However, that is part of the problem.  There is a bit too much action and property damage this time around, and without the levity to break the tension.  Last year, The Avengers did a similar scale of damage, but it had fun whilst doing it.  You laughed, and got caught up in it all.  Here, in Man of Steel, it is all too serious and foreboding, which makes for a long, harrowing, drawn out action fest that leaves a bitter taste when you weigh it all up.  Whilst the big-S flies to the rescue of a few individuals, the level of destruction in which a plethora of others would have been engulfed makes you wonder how heroic is he?  Does he have to personally know your name to give a damn about saving you?  Why is he so flippantly disregarding everyone else?  Way back in Superman 2 (even the Richard Lester version), as soon as Superman realised that humans were in danger during the fight with Zod, he flew off to draw them away from the population.  This time around, he seems quite happy to contribute to the destruction.  Maybe that’s the point, though.  Maybe this is him learning the consequences of his actions.  Regardless, it still feels out of place.

The film also, sadly, lacks heart.  There are moments within, don’t get me wrong, such as the scenes with Kevin Costner’s Jonathan Kent teaching Clark to keep his powers secret, but we never really connect or care too much about anyone.  Even Lois Lane, who is played well enough by Amy Adams, doesn’t seem to have any chemistry with Cavill as Clark/Kal-El.  In the end I think the lack of solid heart comes from that earlier mentioned uncertain factor, Henry Cavill, who lacks the charm and presence to make us really connect with the central character.

The film isn’t a terrible film.  It stands well ahead of Superman IV, and is at times a stronger film than Lester’s version of Superman II.  Snyder has matured as a director, and his ”slo-mo” flourishes have nearly vanished completely.  Forget the Nolan name, this is a Snyder film, and it shows in the action.  But it doesn’t feel right as a Superman film.  Loads of spectacle, with a distinct lack of hope throughout (ironic given the symbol on his chest being Kryptonian for Hope) make it a film that doesn’t sit right.  Throw in the musical score, packed with ominous repetition, and a far cry from the uplifting Williams score, and it just didn’t feel like Superman.

New audiences will likely embrace it, approaching the character without expectation they may find it sit well with their idea of what a DC comic book movie should be like (given the responses to Nolan’s trilogy).  But for fans of the character of the comics, or the previous films, there will be that nagging doubt.  Maybe the second film will pick up and move in a lighter direction?  We can only hope.


Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

After the response to Man of Steel, and the ‘not as strong as hoped for’ box office results, the proposed sequel to that film went through a bit of a change.  When the title reveal was made, and the character of Batman was added, the fans at SDCC went wild.  I, however, grew sceptical.  I wasn’t enamoured with Man of Steel, but held out hope that a sequel would grow the character in a better direction.  Suddenly adding Batman seemed like a stunt, a cynical attempt to get movie goers back on board by adding the one character guaranteed to bring crowds back.  Initially WB stuck to their guns with the story that this was the always planned sequel to Man of Steel, but that story changed pretty soon to say that the official MoS II would come later down the line (until it completely vanished in the updated release schedule last year, highlighting the lack of confidence the studio has in the character, with Batman being named as the ‘lynchpin that will hold the DC Cinematic Universe together’.  However, the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman flipped things a bit.  The online fan community were aghast – he was the man who ruined Daredevil!  Personally, I always felt he was a decent Daredevil and that film was ruined by the director, Mark Steven Johnson (who also gave us Ghost Rider, so there’s the evidence for the prosecution), and was quite vocal in my support for Affleck in the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman.

As the film was further and further into production, Wonder Woman was added to the mix, and story details began to emerge.  Then the trailers arrived, and I was once more underwhelmed.  As suspected, Superman looked to be side-lined in the promotion of the film, with Batman being the focus.  However, it is worth noting that one trailer which focussed purely on Batman more than convinced me that Affleck was going to be perfect in the role, a role that many already think we’ve seen too much of, but which looked set to prove those people wrong.  As the film was about to release, the reviews came….and they weren’t good!

Shields up....this could get messy!

Shields up….this could get messy!

So it was that, as someone who has no love for Man of Steel, I approached this film with trepidation and scepticism.  The positive rants by fans online did nothing to convince me that it would be great, especially as most of them simply said it was awesome because it wasn’t Marvel (I’ve never trucked with this idea that you must like one or the other, so anyone who uses it to argue the merits of a film is instantly showing bias).   Would the film impress me by not being as bad as some will suggest (after all, I’ve never been one to shy away from going against the grain, with films such as Wild Wild West, John Carter, and Lone Ranger sitting proudly in my DVD/Bluray collection), or would it be another let-down like Man of Steel was?

Well, let’s just skim over the plot first before the critique shall we….

After the events of the first film, and the destruction of Metropolis caused by the fight between Zod and Kal, Superman has become a controversial figure.  Some praise him as a hero, others fear what he is capable of.  One who fears him is Bruce Wayne, aka Batman (for those who have just crawled out from under a rock – hi there, it’s 2016 and we have computers now).  You see, Bruce was there, in Metropolis, on that day of destruction, and he saw personal loss in amongst the devastation.  Over the two years since he has continued his fight against crime in Gotham, whilst also investigating as much as he can about Superman, who he has chilling dreams about on a regular basis.  At the same time, Alexander ‘Lex’ Luthor (played by Jesse Eisenberg) is doing some research of his own, specifically on the crashed Kryptonian ship, and the body of General Zod.  He’s also managed to get his hands on some Kryptonite, and sets about his plans to bring Batman and Superman into conflict.  Anyone who has seen the trailers will know where this will all lead.

Okay, I'm ready! Let it rip....

Okay, I’m ready! Let it rip….

Let me start off by saying that there are some really spectacular set-pieces in the film.  Well shot action, and some fantastic imagery.  Bruce’s dark dream about a world where Superman leads an almost Nazi-styled army is a gorgeous piece of film, as are the first glimpses we get of Batman in costume – quick glimpses as he evades a cop in a small room.  With an agility that we’ve not seen on film to date, this is genuinely a Batman that reflects the style and motion of the comic book character, and when we get to see him in full action later in the film it is impossible to not be impressed.  The long anticipated smackdown between Superman and Batman is another great moment, with some brutal damage being done to both parties, and a Batmobile chase sequence is yet another great set-piece.

However, all of these are just set-pieces, sadly with no substance to hold them together in any coherent manner.  In addition, many of them end with some astonishgly corny exchange of dialogue which just leaves you cringing in embarrassment.  This skill Zack Snyder has with crafting standout moments but not managing to slot them together has been seen before in Sucker Punch, another film with some great sequences, but which is just an unbridled mess of a film overall (laughably so).  Dawn of Justice feels like at least two story ideas mashed together in a desperate attempt to race towards the Justice League movie, and yet feels far too long a film as a result as neither story is allowed to grow.  Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is forced into the proceedings for no particular reason other than to show off the character in the hope it will get people to watch her solo film (in production now), and the other mooted cameos are so painfully forced in via one of the most contrived methods that you genuinely feel embarrassed for all involved.

Lex Luthor is completely underwhelming as a villain.  Eisenberg does a decent job of putting a new spin on the character (who is not necessarily the ‘Lex’ we all know, with a throwaway line commenting that Lexcorp was named after his father), but feels so out of place in the story, becoming more of an expositional character, there to simply move the story along without any actual natural progression (hey, how do we get to the next action piece?  I know, Lex does something random….Go!).   Gadot is bland as Diana/Wonder Woman.  Whether this is due to her not really having much to do, Zack Snyder not really caring much, or her being terrible remains to be seen when her solo outing arrives.  Cavill, once again, fails to convey any kind of presence on screen as Superman, and whilst his chemistry with Amy Adams’ Lois is slightly better than the previous film, it still feels a little forced.

Now for the cool this Batwing design.

Now for the cool stuff…like this Batwing design.

But, Affleck is jaw droppingly amazing, and if any one person can walk away from this wreckage it is him.  It is almost worth watching the film again just to see his scenes once more.  Giving his everything to the character, as mentioned earlier he plays a different Batman than we’ve seen on screen in the past, and I would happily watch more…in a better film.  His presence is one of the only things that kept me watching – well, him and Jeremy Irons as Alfred.  When a solo Batman outing arrives, I’m all over that like bees on honey!   I can understand WB choosing to utilise this Batman as the cornerstone of the upcoming DC films, linking each together – it’s just a shame that Superman had to become a secondary character in what was originally his own sequel in order to do it.

All of this, and no mention of the final segment of the film, one which the surprise of was spoiled by a trailer reveal (which if you haven’t seen any marketing for the film and still want a surprise, then skip to the next paragraph quick).  Yes, the tacked on team up against the CGI blemish that is supposed to be Doomsday is one of the most dreadful endgames of a film in a while.  The whole thing is an utter mess of half-finished effects work, with Doomsday looking as realistic as The Abomination did in Incredible Hulk – that level of CGI realism!  There is one well played moment in the action, which sees Superman drifting in orbit, drained of power after being struck by a nuclear weapon (a moment practically lifted from the pages of the comics), but that’s about it.  The rest of the fight is woefully directed and poorly edited, making the final heroic actions strangely comical when they should be harrowingly serious.

Throw in another dreary, booming, overpowering Zimmer score which consists primarily of loud oboes and drums, and the sloppy editing throughout, and we have a film which has some loyal comic book moments, but slap dashed together in an incoherent mess.  I’ve read in places that some people couldn’t follow the story and thought it was confusing.  I don’t agree with this, I followed it fine, but it is sloppily written, and messily constructed.  I’m still excited to see other films in the upcoming DC slate, but any which keep Zack Snyder on as director just have no further appeal to me.  What could have been two great films is instead another example of Snyder’s skill at moments, but failure at features.

On a lighter note....

On a lighter note….

2015 – A Lookback on the Past Year (part one)

Another year has passed us by, and it seems every movie critic and website is posting top/bottom 10 lists. Now, I’ve stated before (back at HERE  for example) I don’t truck with that ‘top list’ mentality. So, like last year, I’m going to go for a general look back at the year in films in some kind of loose groupings – some serious, some silly.

2015 promised much, but delivered little. The so called “amazing year of film” turned out to be a tad average overall, but in amongst it all there were some gems that stood out. Let’s kick off with my pick for:

Film of the Year


Now, let me clear something up. I know I don’t do top lists, but some folk have asked me how I can therefore have a ‘film of the year’ (which they, understandably, think means ‘best film of the year’). Well, let me clarify – my ‘film of the year’ always goes to the film which struck me, and impacted on me the most. It may not be better than other films, but something in the film resonated with me, and thus it is classed as a film which I believe everyone should see. There were a host of really strong contenders for this spot this year, especially from The Martian, Steve Jobs, and from Birdman, but Whiplash is just such a powerful tour de force that it is the film that, to me, defines 2015.

Not my tempo!

“Okay, after me, one two three… Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum!”

At the base level, Whiplash is a film about a drummer and his battle of wills with his tutor. On paper, that basic description sounds like one of the most boring concepts ever, but the skill with which the film draws you in, and makes you care very early on is staggering. The performances by Miles Teller (who shall resurface later in this article for totally different reasons) and the ever stellar JK Simmons crackle with electric intensity, aided by a well written script, and some dark humour. Whether or not this film is ‘your tempo’ it is hard to deny that all the elements involved are well realised.

Bridman would be a close second choice for the stylistic manner in which the film was presented. A fake single-take element to make the film feel like a stage play about a film about a stage play (if you have seen it, you will know what I mean) makes for a remarkable viewing experience, and Michael Keaton is on fine form in the lead role.

The ‘What the hell went wrong’ Award

Okay, let’s get the Miles Teller mention out the way early on. How on earth did Fantastic Four go so wrong (and I’d like to point out that I’m not going to go the childish route that some folk have gone and mock the Fant4stic logo, claiming it isn’t something Marvel would have done, becasue…well…look at the pic of one of the issues of the comics from a few years back).


Wow! Look at how Marvel would never do anything so silly with the title of the comic!

I know it is cool to mock the previous FF films (by Tim Story), but I’ve got a soft spot for them. Whilst both films are flawed, they have the tone of the comics right, with a cosmic whimsy and family dynamic that works. The first film suffered by being an origin story with multiple characters, whilst the second suffered by not having a strong payoff in the final act (I don’t have a problem with ‘Galactus-cloud’ but more in the way the world devourer didn’t feel much of a threat overall). However when Josh Trank was attached to the reboot, I was excited. Having seen what he could do with a small budget on Chronicle, I was optimistic to see what he would make of the FF, which I must make clear that I have adored in comics since I was a wee little boy (it was the first Marvel comic bought for me as a kid, and what introduced me to my love of superheroes). The cast were announced, and there were some damn good names in there. Yes, they were ‘young’ but I understood this was a film inspired by Mark Miller’s Ultimate Fantastic Four series (which the initial trailers confirmed), so was happy to see decent actors attached (I’m not going to even bother tackling the race issue – it wasn’t an issue). When the film came out, Trank was quick to disown it on Twitter.

The film started off promising, with the first 20 minutes being a decent introduction to the characters, especially the friendship between Ben and Reed. The cast show their strengths early on, and Miles Teller and Jamie Bell convince as long time friends. But then they get their powers, the film flips ahead in time, and it all goes so…erm…studio controlled. You can genuinely see the point at which the studio lost the faith in the director, and made copious changes. Stories of on set struggles, and re-shoots without Trank add fuel to the fire, and the end result is a film which rapidly descends into a garbled mess by the final act – one which, I may add, seems tacked on and doesn’t seem to match any of the trailers or promo materials.

Making the FF a ‘dark film’ in the vein of Fox’s X-Men franchise was a serious mis-step. The FF have adventures in space, and in the microverse, as well as through time. They should never be ‘dark’ in nature. After the film came out, Fox were insistent that they were still making sequels, but everything has gone quiet on that front now.

Bubbling under in this category would be Terminator Genysis, but let’s be honest, that was always going to suck.
star-wars-force-awakens-official-posterBest Blockbuster of the Year

What else could it be, other than Star Wars: The Force Awakens? If I need to explain further, then you seriously can’t have seen the film yet (and so I won’t post any spoilers). Fair enough, a lot of the blockbusters have been major disappointments this year, so it didn’t have much competition, but what this film did have was a decade and a half of disappointment to erase the memory of, and prove that there is life in the franchise yet. Whilst the marketing played around the buzz of the old cast returning (and the secrecy of the story), the true surprise was not only that the film was good, but that the old cast weren’t really needed as the new faces were so immensely enjoyable to watch. Yes, the film is pretty much a retread of the original film (in the same manner that Singer’s Superman Returns followed the beats of Donner’s film), isn’t that what we needed to kick-start the franchise? A reminder of what made it so much fun in the first place, and proof that it can still work now.

Since the film came out, Lucas has been whining and moaning about it wherever he can (his most recent moan is that he was kept out of the creative process, and that the film is not original at all – clearly he thinks his Hero’s Journey tale inspired by old Flash Gordon serials was somehow ‘original’). Who cares what he thinks? After all, he wasn’t even responsible for the best of the original trilogy (and he also disliked that film too).

Bubbling under is Mad Max: Fury Road, which leads me to…
The ‘Holy Crap that was Awesome’ Award

Look, Fury Road may be just one long chase scene, and one which sums up as ‘Max Furiosa goes to one place, runs off to another, then goes back the way he she came’ but, wow, what a ride. Two hours of glorious carnage with a plethora of practical effects (and a smattering of CGI, but well positioned), and a cast that, in among the carnage, you get to care about. If you haven’t yet enjoyed the thrill of the film, just stop reading here and go watch it, then come back and be happy that you just sat through two hours of fun.

This was the underdog blockbuster that showed up the big-boys of the Summer. Max may have been a minor character in his own film, but the world in which he rides was fleshed out so well that you didn’t care.

Look, for this character alone, the film kicks ass!

Look, for this character alone, the film kicks ass!

On the flipside…

Biggest Disappointment of 2015

Age of Ultron had a lot to live up to, but we had no reason to doubt that it would be anything other than great. Marvel’s train has been rolling for a few years now, and each time they go for something, people get skeptical, only to be proven wrong when the film arrives. Here we have a great villain from the comic, and the team all re-unite with Joss as director again. But the end result felt too much like it was forced out just to get everyone back together, and unlike the first film was less of an end-act to the ‘phase’ of movies, and more of an extended trailer of the next phase. The menace of Ultron in the trailers was lost

as he became a snark-throwing bland villain. The action set pieces felt too familiar, and the spark was just lost somewhere along the way. It is telling that Ant-Man (which was basically just a rehash of Iron Man) was considered the best Marvel film by many this year – not that Ant-Man isn’t good, quite the opposite, but the point is that something with a new character was better than something with characters we are told we have come to love.

"I've got no hold me down..."

“I’ve got no script…to hold me down…”

Still, it doesn’t stop the excitement for Phase 3 and Black Panther and Doctor Strange, along with Civil War. The Marvel engine may have stumbled a bit, but it hasn’t derailed yet.

The ‘Did I watch the same film as everyone else’ Award

Jurassic World isn’t a bad film, but it seems that everyone saw a different film than me as many herald it as one of the best films of the year! Personally I’d rank it just alongside Jurassic Park 3 as ‘entertaining fodder’ and nothing more. The biggest issue I have with the film is that it relies on your memories of the original film in order to enjoy it. Throughout the film is nods and references the first film, in an attempt to cover up the lacklustre script. “Yeah, but so does Force Awakens, and you liked that!” I hear some of you cry. The difference is, Force Awakens had characters you care about. Here’s a simple test – quickly name 4 new characters from Jurassic World. Okay, make it three. Okay, just tell me the name of one of the kids. Nope? Right, now name 4 new characters from the new Star Wars film. Oh, you reeled off 5 names right off the bat! How come? Oh yeah, because they were well realised characters that you cared about – heck we knew the names of them before the film landed and already cared.

"Hey can we expand that Pratt guy's role out more now he's a big name?  Maybe force a love story in there with Bryce?  Who cares if they have no chemistry?"

“Hey can we expand that Pratt guy’s role out more now he’s a big name? Maybe force a love story in there with Bryce? Who cares if they have no chemistry?”

Jurassic World is just a mess of action sequences thrown together, but actually fails to utilise the peril that it promised. Here we have a fully functioning theme park, packed with guests (despite the film trying to tell us that it is struggling), yet the peril only affects a handful of people until toward the end when one sequence sees random folk being attacked…only for minutes later everyone to be sat at the docks waiting for boats, with no sign of anyone in distress at having seen their loved one killed! Heck, one minor character gets attacked, dropped, and eaten in a manner which you feel is supposed to make you cheer (like audiences did at the accountant on the toilet in the original), despite the only bad thing this character did was try to babysit two annoying brats of kids! Yeah, someone who was assigned to watch over kids is considered a character to ‘hate-kill’.

Nope, Jurassic World isn’t a great film. It’s not as bad as Terminator Genysis (no, seriously, that film was garbage), but it ain’t the amazing return of the franchise many claim it to be.

Phew – that’s a fair bit covered already, and I still feel I have more to cover. So, consider this ‘Part One’ of my lookback on 2015, and watch out for ‘Part Two’ soon (where I will look at animations, comedies, pleasant surprises, and the films I am ashamed to have missed).

Review: In The Heart of the Sea

All I could think after watching this adaptation of the fictionalised account of the true story that didn’t really inspire the book of Moby Dick (despite the claims of the film), but was possibly used for part of the research (not in the manner presented though) was that they would have been better off adapting Moby Dick for the big screen again as it would have made for a better tale.

The film has a decent pedigree, with a strong cast such as Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, and Ben Whishaw amongst others, and a usually solid director in the form of Ron Howard. The tale itself is of the ship named Essex, a whaling vessel that was lost at sea in 1820. The tale of the sinking was officially reported as having run aground, but survivors of the wreck tell a different story. The film bookends the main story by having Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) visiting one survivor, Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), to obtain his story in order to give him the inspiration to write his next novel, Moby Dick. The tale recounted to the writer is one of determination and obsession in hunting whales, which leads the Essex out to disaster when a giant white whale sinks the ship. The survivors are left stranded at sea, and must make terrible decisions in order to survive.


However, despite the pedigree, the film just fails to make any impact. Yes, the cast are well placed, and Howard’s direction is as visually striking as you would expect from the director, but the story is weak, and doesn’t have the grandeur that it thinks it has. The historical accuracy issues aside (and embellishment of scenes for dramatical effect), there just isn’t enough depth to the characters, nor any real tension, to make this anything more than an average experience. It’s a shame that so many aspect that would have added to the film are dropped rapidly, such as the initial antagonistic relationship between Hemsworth’s First Mate, and Benjamin Walker’s Captain which just fizzles out early into the voyage. As do any signs of potential unrest in the crew, which are thrown aside as a passing reference, as opposed to actually making us believe the crew may be ready to mutiny. Yes, I get that some of that would have meant embellishing the tale more, but given the film has already taken many liberties, why not at least take some to give the tale a bit of bite? As commented in the opening paragraph, Melville’s tale of drive, determination, and obsessive revenge would have made a better adaptation for the big screen, whilst this feels more like a History Channel movie of the week.

In the Heart of the Sea isn’t a bad film, it just isn’t one likely to make any waves at the box office, and is unlikely to have any lasting impact on audiences who view it. Oh, and it in no way, shape or form needed a 3D release!

Review – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… or more precisely over three and a half decades ago in a cinema in another town, a film came along which had a huge impact on the mind of a young 4 year old. The experience of that film made a lasting impression, introducing him to the majesty of films, the joy of space set adventure, and the galaxy of Star Wars. Decades later, the love affair with the franchise has wavered a slight bit. Yes, the love for the originals (untainted versions) is still as strong as ever, and the expanded universe of books and comics (and the occasional video game) has maintained the thrill, but a trilogy of prequels came and tainted any excitement for future instalments. So it was that, even after an impressive trailer campaign, I entered the screening of the new film, The Force Awakens, with a degree of trepidation. I’d been stung too many times, so wasn’t going to get too excited.

As the end credits played, I was that 4 year old kid once more, wanting to see the wonders on screen again, and desperately wanting to collect the toys and models that tie into the film!

Especially this little guy!

Especially this little guy!  Guaranteed to be on many Christmas lists this year!

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the first of a new trilogy in the ‘core’ series (there will be other films set within the Star Wars universe, but they will be spin-offs, not forming the basis of the core tale), and it comes in the wake of the sale of the franchise to Disney. Sadly, this does mean no 20th Century Fox fanfare before the opening titles, but that’s only a minor disappointment. Director JJ Abrams, who in recent times has re-invigorated the Star Trek franchise (which he was criticised for making it feel too much like Star Wars), as a long term fan of the series, was a strong choice for the job. As the pieces were pulled together, excitement in the fan community began to build. Old cast were returning, whilst a new batch of fresh faces were being unveiled for the new chapter in the tale. Most importantly of all, throughout the whole trailer campaign nobody could really work out what the story was going to be about, and I’m not about to spoil it here. All I will say is that the opening scroll is a much better read than stuff about ‘trade negotiation’ and ‘political disputes’.

So, if I’m not going to talk about the plot, let’s look at the players. Obviously the return of Han, Leia, Chewbacca, and Luke will please old fans, and they all play key parts in the film, but this is not really their film. No, it belongs to the new faces, mainly Daisy Ridley as Rey, a scavenger from a backwater planet, John Boyega as Finn, a redeemed Storm Trooper, and Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, the dark force warrior. Oh, and of course BB-8, a small droid that carries an important message. Ridley and Boyega are instantly likeable in their parts, making for the kind of team up that we saw between, say, Han and Leia in the original trilogy, whilst Driver is furiously menacing as the villain of the piece, although his inability to control his emotions adds a depth of character to the part that wasn’t really seen in the role of Vader until the back end of the second film. The film serves as a way to hand over the reins to the new cast, who pick them up with ease, showing good promise for future entries into the saga.


Action set-pieces are plentiful, albeit imbued with a fair bit of familiarity. In fact the film, as a whole, follows the beats of the original film much in the same way that Superman Returns did with Donner’s original film. JJ, along with long-term writer Lawrence Kasdan, fill the run time with echoes of the 1977 film, but not in a manner that is detrimental to the story, but in a way that redefines the franchise for a new generation, making it clear that this is a sequel to the original trilogy, and not the prequels. Even the lightsabre fights resonate more with the style seen in Empire or Jedi, and not the acrobatic, superhuman antics of Phantom, Clones and Sith.

It is safe to say that this is, perhaps, the third best film in the franchise to date, right after Empire and Star Wars, and sets up the story for the next chapter well. If there is any flaw it is that the fan-service within, whilst looking great, does mean that it never really defines itself as a film in its own right. However, with this re-introduction out the way, we can look forward to a glorious new future for the franchise, and for the first time in over a decade I am excited to see where the films take me next.

Review: Steve Jobs

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One of the true shames about this film is that many people will choose not to see it for all the wrong reasons. There are those who turn their nose up at it as they don’t see why another film about Steve Jobs has been made (after the Ashton Kutcher film of 2013). Then there are those who vocally oppose Apple products so much that they refuse to accept there is any merit in a film about the founder of the company. This second group, to me, are a curious bunch – did they also feel Downfall wasn’t worth seeing because Adolf Hitler was a bad person? Already in the US, this film has had a poor opening and been pulled from a substantial number of screens, despite critical praise for the director (Danny Boyle), the writer (Aaron Sorkin), and the lead actor (Michael Fassbender), as well as the support cast of Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels and Seth Rogan among others. Audiences, it seems, are not that bothered with a film aiming to get under the skin of one of the icons of the past few decades.

The film is inspired by the biography by Walter Isaacson, but in true Sorkin style takes a fresh approach, focussing on three key moments in time, and the relationships Jobs had with a small group of people at each point. The film is segmented into 3 chunks of around 40 minutes each, playing almost real-time behind the scenes activity at the launches of the Apple Mac in 1984, the NeXT computer in 1988, and the iMac in 1998. In the time before stepping out on stage to each of these launches, Jobs interacts with his confidant and marketing executive Joanna Hoffman (Winslet), the co-founder of Apple Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogan), the CEO of Apple John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), his former girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), and his daughter Lisa, as well as John Oritz, a GQ journalist who interviews him through the film, and a handful of others. Through his interactions with these people we see both the cold, distant Jobs, focussed purely on his product and company, but with the occasional glimmer of the humanity he buried deep, whilst gaining some understanding over the course of the film as to why he kept such a distance from those around him.

With a script by Sorkin, a writer who doesn’t just hand over his words and walk away, instead sticking around and being an integral part of the film-making process, you can expect swift and fluid dialogue exchanges from the offset, and also plenty of ‘walk-and-talk’ moments (a trope which Sorkin popularised in shows such as Sports Night and West Wing), making dialogue heavy scenes more dynamic, and adding a sense of urgency to every conversation. The result is a conversation heavy film which never seems drawn out, never slows down, and keeps you engaged throughout, and has a light sprinkling of wit to raise a few smiles at points.

But Sorkin is only one piece of the recipe for this film, and Danny Boyle’s direction is solid throughout, with touches of flair that make you remember how much of a visual style director he is. The three periods in time have slightly different looks, from a slightly grainy early 80s, through to the smooth focus of the late 90s segment, and sharp use of backlit images (from Bob Dylan lyrics, to NASA footage) lend striking impact to scenes. In addition the performances he gets out of all the cast ensure that at no point do you write off Jobs as heartless, and the way in which he touched the lives of those around him (who, it has to be said, stayed loyal to him despite his flaws) is reflected well in every scene.

Finally, a mention must be made of Fassbender who delivers yet another fantastic performance, with a commanding presence as a man obsessed with how others seem to betray him, who fails to see that his icy demeanour is have far worse an impact on close friends and colleagues such as Wozniak, and his daughter, Lisa. Jobs was an enigma to many, but Fassbender seems to have deciphered what made him tick and channels everything into the role. He may not look much like Jobs, but he swiftly becomes the man entirely.

Steve Jobs was a complex man, and this film (and indeed any film about his life) can only scratch the surface of what drove him, but Srokin, Boyle and the cast do a sterling job of tapping into the persona of a modern day legend, sparking a desire to find out more about his life, his drive, and his impact on the world – because even if you are not an Apple fan (which I am not), you cannot deny the legacy he left behind after his passing, and the impression he made on the tech world.