Incoming: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #GOTG

First post of 2014. Don’t be surprised now… 

Guardians of the Galaxy!

I know it’s literally just one image, but still: I’m so up for this.

The final film in Marvel’s ‘Phase 2’ (after IRON MAN 3, THOR: THE DARK WORLD, AND CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER), GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is the last piece of the puzzle before we see AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON.

It’s a risky move, but I reckon Marvel can pull it off.

Left to right: Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Peter Quill / Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), and Groot (Vin Diesel).

The official synopsis:

From Marvel, the studio that brought you the global blockbuster franchises of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and The Avengers, comes a new team – the Guardians of the Galaxy. An action-packed, epic space adventure, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe into the cosmos, where brash adventurer Peter Quill finds himself the object of an unrelenting bounty hunt after stealing a mysterious orb coveted by Ronan, a powerful villain with ambitions that threaten the entire universe. To evade the ever-persistent Ronan, Quill is forced into an uneasy truce with a quartet of disparate misfits–Rocket, a gun-toting raccoon, Groot, a tree-like humanoid, the deadly and enigmatic Gamora and the revenge-driven Drax the Destroyer. But when Peter discovers the true power of the orb and the menace it poses to the cosmos, he must do his best to rally his ragtag rivals for a last, desperate stand – with the galaxy’s fate in the balance. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is presented by Marvel Studios. The film releases August 1, 2014, and is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

Still want more?

Educate thyself.

 

PS. Release dates for GOTG (and more) on my Instagram.

Review: Thor: The Dark World

No spoilers here… ‘No, thank you.’  

Thor-2-The-Dark-World-Official-Still-Photo-30-570x379

I saw Thor: The Dark World (TTDW) recently, in 3D, at London’s BFI IMAX and, aside from a few inconsistencies, its looking like the house of M has yet another hit on its hands. As part of the more mythical part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Thor has a bit more freedom when it comes to realising the world(s) that Asgardians both live in and visit and, in this reviewer’s opinion, is a better franchise for it.

But there’s more to it than that.

In a post-Avengers world, it’s obviously prudent to have a good idea of where this story picks up from. With Loki, chief villain from both the first Thor film and last summer’s monster smash, Avengers Assemble, again front and centre in this norse god outing, I would strongly recommend seeing the aforementioned films first.

Oh yeah, that and the fact Loki pretty much snatches the film from right under Thor’s nose and completely makes it his own any and every time he’s on screen. Tom Hiddleston is having so much fun here and, somewhat surprisingly, brings an emotional depth to Loki that we’ve only seen glimpses of before. Damn, he’s good.

LOKI

He’s not the only character who shines in TTDW either. Almost everyone we met the first time around gets to grow in their own way. From Sif’s subtle intentions (and subsequent jealously, equally subtle – nicely done, Jaimie Alexander) around being Thor’s one and only, to Idris Elba getting his badass on as the all-seeing guardian of the Rainbow Road Bridge, Heimdall. Both of Thor’s parents get their own respective arcs too, with Rene Russo flexing both her emotional (and literal) muscles as Queen Frigga, and Sir Anthony Hopkins by her side, as Odin, bringing the gravitas that only the All Father of the nine realms should have.

And the new faces, what of them?

Well, both Christopher Eccleston and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, are barely recognisable as the leaders (first and second in command respectively) of TTDW’s main antagonists, The Dark Elves.

The Dark Elves

The latter even more so when he’s transformed into the nigh-indestructible beast known as Kurse. Easily beaten, these Elves are not – and Kurse is one formidable opponent for the eponymous man/god/alien. Moving back to Eccleston, I had read a fair bit about his character, Malekith, not being fully developed or not being explored enough but I have to disagree. Not all bad guys need to be made human, not all bad guys need to be given the bit of colour that almost gives them justification for their belief system, and ultimately their actions. Some bad guys just want stuff to be DARK AND NASTY. That’s what Malekith wants and that, combined with the way he chases that goal endlessly, makes him a pretty awesome evil doer, in my book anyway.

Where there’s evil, there must be good, and good is in good shape indeed with Chris Hemsworth stepping up to play Thor for the third time. The petulance has gone and we see a wiser, more thoughtful Thor who no longer falls for Loki’s tricks so easily and oft-leads with the upper hand, as opposed to rushing in and fighting from a disadvantage. It’s a healthy change, and Good Character Development is always nice to see. Seeing him finally lock eyes with Jane Foster (a hardly-stretched Natalie Portman) is great, and you can tell that they’re meant to be. Aww.

If I had to draw negatives it would be only in two ways. First, with Portman finally making it to Asgard, being dressed like the locals, and getting to spend time with Thor – it all feels a little bit a Padme/Star Wars Episode II. And I’m not kidding when I say that is a very bad thing. It only happened a couple of times, but it grated.

The other thing would be tonality.

Let’s get one thing absolutely clear: TTDW is funny. Laugh out loud hilarious even, at some points. But the juxtaposition of that against the backdrop of some truly darker moments sometimes can be quite jarring. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a tough gig trying to maintain lightness amongst the dark – and the original Thor had its fair share of good laughs – but sometimes it felt like TTDW couldn’t make its mind up. Like I said, if I had to draw negatives. Those would be the two that I would choose.

Is it worth seeing in 3D? I don’t think so. But do try and see it an IMAX because honestly, there’s no better cinematic experience than seeing a film like Thor ON THE BIGGEST SCREEN POSSIBLE.

Overall, Thor: The Dark World is an enjoyable ride, and definitely worth seeing at the cinema. So go and do that at your earliest opportunity. 

Thor The Dark World

PS. There are TWO post-credits sequences. One midway through, and one right at the end. One of them is a now-typical Marvel teaser sign post, the other is just for laughs… You’ll love them both.  

PPS. TTDW has the best post-avengers cameo, ever. I’ve not seen it leaked anywhere so when you see the film, be a good geek and don’t ruin it for anyone by yabbing about it afterwards. Skills.

 

Review: The Wolverine

SNIKT: No Spoilers.

The Wolverine

Right, let’s get one thing absolutely clear: the first solo Wolverine film, or to give it its full title: X-Men Origins: Wolverine, was terrible. Arguably, second only to X-Men 3 (or X-Men: The Last Stand, depending on what side of the Atlantic you’re on) as being the worst X-Men film to date and it was not going to take much to do better.

And yet, what with early dicking about on the director front (we’ll come back to this later) and one of Marvel’s most ferocious characters being restrained enough to fit under a 12A rating, I stepped into the cinema with a touch of concern. I’d read a few (but not many) reviews, and early signs were good(ish); with an open mind, I sat down for The Wolverine.

For those that haven’t been paying attention, Wolverine is one of my all time favourite comic book characters. Wolverine #90 (Google it) was the first comic book I ever owned, and ever since he’s been my mainstay and anchor to the Marvel Universe. Fans of the comic books will know that the character has deep links with Japan, both in story and mythology, and so it follows that the land of the rising sun is the back drop for Hugh Jackman’s latest outing as the adamantium-clawed X-Man.

About Mr Jackman…

The Wolverine marks the sixth time the Aussie has played Logan and he has never looked better. Since seeing the film  I’ve been revisiting the earlier X-Men films and it is, quite frankly, incredible how much bigger he is. How much more Logan he is. Swagger, confidence, ‘Bub‘, it’s there. He has never been more Wolverine and this is best take on the character to date. I’ll say it again: he is HUGE, and it works.

The Wolverine

– Wolverine from The Wolverine could eat two Wolverines from X-Men for breakfast –

Back to the film…

Directed by James Mangold, The Wolverine picks up with our eponymous hero dealing with the fallout of the events of X-Men 3 – hiding away from the world, and himself. However, when an old friend from Japan comes calling to repay a favour, things just go from bad to worse.

I mentioned earlier about the directorial ‘issues’ that faced the film. James Mangold is a competent director – I really enjoyed his take on 3:10 to Yuma and Walk the Line is pretty darn good too – but the problem, or what I thought would be a problem, is that he’s no Darren Aronofsky.

Indulge me for a second, a couple of years ago Aronofsky was signed onto direct The Wolverine. I wrote at the time (during my 1400 word love letter to his film-making) something like:

As a character, Logan deals with many, many problems within; memory loss, heartache, blood lust, a constant battle with the feral side of his nature that he keeps locked up and away from the human race, a healing factor that, while keeping long term injury at bay, does not shield him from any pain he might endure…
This is what excites me.

These themes, these issues if you will, in the hands of Aronofsky are all ripe for his visceral style of film-making. In the very first X-Men film, Rogue asks Logan [about his claws]: “When they come out, does it hurt?” Logan’s response is almost muted through the pain he is so numbed to by now; “Every time.”

That one response. Those simple two words. They – to me at least – signify everything that could be great about an Aronofsky take on this flawed, yet supremely (anti-)heroic comic book character. The pain. The anguish. The day to day struggle with the ‘red mist’…

It was set to be unlike any ‘comic book film’ you had ever seen. And I was busting a gut to see it.

As history now tells us, Aronofsky did six months work on the film, then pulled. Citing not wanting to be apart from his family as his reasons, rumours were afoot that it was in fact ‘creative differences’ that led him to part ways with FOX (reluctant to put an R/18 rating against their golden goose)- and Mangold was brought in in his place.

It was hard to watch a film, knowing what might’ve been BUT – and this is a huge BUT – there are still elements of Aronofsky there. Hugh Jackman was a big champion of Darren’s work (having worked with him previously on The Fountain) and worked solidly with him to deliver a worthy vision for the second Wolverine  film (and genuinely wanted to make it up to the fans post Origins), so it is with thanks to the film’s star that the quality of that original vision remains at the core.

Wolverine in Japane - millerclaremont

Wolverine // Claremont & Miller, 1982

Where were we? That’s right – THE FILM.

The Wolverine is not your traditional comic book film. I wouldn’t even go so far as to say that The Wolverine is an action film. It’s a character study, really, of our hero – what makes him tick, how he works and, ultimately, how he reacts under pressure. We’ve not seen this character in this situation before and, especially so far away from home, it makes for an enjoyable watch.

There are a few missteps, of course there are, but they can be forgiven as The Wolverine really does reward as the Wolverine film we have been all waiting for. Who cares if it’s lacking in mutants? Ghostly apparitions from previous films don’t bother me either. All I can say is, by the time the credits roll, you’ll be left feeling that you’ve actually been shown the level at which all future Wolverine films should be set. It’s just a shame that a) we had to sit through Origins to get here (that aside, the book is one of the best damn things I’ve ever read – so you should get that, like now) and b) we lost out on seeing the Aronofsky take.

Ah well, there’s always next time…

In closing, out of the six X-Men universe films to date, I would put The Wolverine in at a close number two (just under First Class). By that measurement, that means you should go and see it – right away. Right?

Whatley out.

SNIKT

PS. The mid-credits teaser is a doozy, definitely stay for that.

PPS: If you’re new to the X-Men franchise, which my plus one was, I strongly recommend watching the video below. Hell, even if you’re not new to the franchise, it’s still worth a watch. It’s funny, and it’s a decent refresher too.

Review: PACIFIC RIM

Hold on, we’re going in.

Gypsy Danger

First up: here’s my [expletive free] first reaction:

And I’m not kidding. PACIFIC RIM was incredible. Just incredible. It’s everything you could want from a GIANT ROBOTS vs MONSTERS movie and more. Much, much more.

First off, if you only take one thing away from this review make it be this:

SEE PACIFIC RIM AT THE CINEMA. SEE IT BIG. SEE IT LOUD. BUT SEE IT HOW IT IS MEANT TO BE SEEN. 

(you can tell your friends I said that too)

Both the Kaiju (the monsters) and the Jaegers (the robots) are huge. Monstrous even. And they have to be seen in IMAX to fully appreciate the magnitude of it all. But the spectacle of it all isn’t the only thing worth investing your time in, oh no. The story is actually fairly awesome, as is the emotional centre that sits within, underneath all that armour. As much as the trailer(s) would have you believe otherwise, PACIFIC RIM is not 131mins of non-stop gigantic city battles. It really isn’t.

kaiju

There is humanity and story underneath and that itself is brought to life by a trio of decent leading actors. First, Charlie Hunnum, as our number one guy, Raleigh Becket,  holds the film together really well and is not only our way in but also our way through this brave new world that we live in; supporting him we have the bloody fantastic Idris Elba (as Jaeger veteran Stacker Pentecost) and Rinko Kikuchi (as mystic Jaeger research assistant, Mako Mori). All three are great independently, but par excellence when thrown together – and it’s fortunate that that happens often.

The supporting characters are slightly one dimensional and, in places, seemingly only around for light relief. However each has a bearing on the story in some respect (again – I mention story – there is a lot of it here, and some smarts behind the Why? too) and each is given their time to shine… just.

The Good:

  • ALL OF THE GIANT THINGS (I may have mentioned this already)
  • The lead characters are, as mentioned, all really well fleshed out.
  • The title sequence: when it hits, it blows you away how much prologue you’ve just been given.
  • The CGI is second to none; you will believe these robot,s and these monsters, exist.
  • On a related note: this isn’t Transformers. The fight scenes are clear, there are rarely any cutaways and basically, you get to see EVERYTHING.

The Bad:

  • The story might be pretty good but the script, in places, is shockingly bad. If you’ve seen any of the trailers then you know that CANCELLING THE APOCALYPSE is possibly the singular most ridiculous line you’ve heard all year (well, outside of ‘UNLEASH THE WORLD ENGINE’ anyway). While they are few and far between, there are some humdingers in there and they CLUNK when they hit.
  • I mentioned one-dimensional characters earlier, there are a few – given the effort that goes into making so much of this world believable (especially the monster-ravaged China Town), it’s frustrating to experience so many unbelievable characters – and the acting isn’t super either.
  • There’s a bit, that I can’t talk about because it’s a bit spoilery, but when it happens you will, like me, scream at the screen: ‘WHAT?! WE HAD THAT THE WHOLE TIME?!’ – you wait, you’ll see.

The good news is, the bad is so far out-weighed by the awesome you can forgive PACIFIC RIM its shortcomings. It is an astonishing film and it is, without doubt, the best giant robots vs monsters film you will have ever seen.

I’m going to close off with something I read recently over by Tyler Cowen (on a blog post about how China is reshaping Hollywood):

You will note that in Pacific Rim they do not kiss, respect and loyalty to family are major motives in the plot, and there is nothing approaching a nude scene, except when the female lead sneakingly admires the torso of the male lead.

In a summer of mega-superheroes and leading men who always get the girl, PACIFIC RIM is a respectful giant of a movie, that stands up not only against the blockbusters of its ilk, but also against the better natures of some of the more lower budget efforts floating around too.

 

Review: OBLIVION

It’s been a while…

Tom-Cruise-Oblivion-wallpapers-2

I first wrote about Oblivion back in December of 2012. I was excited about the premise, and I made five predictions on why it would be awesome. So, was I right?

Prediction 1: Tom Cruise does good sci-fi.
Yes, he does.

Prediction 2: It’s ‘WALL-E with guns’.
It is, and it isn’t. But as I said before: that’s no bad thing. This film borrows from many great sci-fi flicks actually, and the end result is better for it.

Prediction 3: It’s directed by Joseph Kosinski, so it’s bound to be good.
Kosinski’s last film was Tron: Legacy (which I loved) and there are echoes of that futuristic world scattered throughout. Again, this is no bad thing. The elder Kevin Flynn would live well in this universe, and he would approve of the decisions ultimately made there. Kosinski has a great eye and everything from the light used in the flying craft (see image above) to the base stations where our protagonist lives, has the touch of a talented sci-fi director. Good work sir.

Prediction 4: This future is imagined properly.
The year is 2070, the Earth is a barren wasteland, and yet the small areas we see are fully-fleshed out. To go into more detail would give away key plot parts of the film. Let’s just say that you believe that the Earth could end up this way; the vision of the Moon in this future is incredibly realised.

Prediction 5. I am a geek, so I’m definitely going to like it.
Right and wrong. I didn’t like this film because I’m a geek. I didn’t like this film because I’m a massive Tom Cruise fan (there, I said it). I liked this film because, as much as I was annoyed about the Morgan Freeman reveal shown in some (most/all) of the trailers, it still had so much left to show me. It just kept going, and going, and going, and going…

In closing, I really enjoyed Oblivion. Tom Cruise is great as Jack Harper and Andrea Riseborough is great (if not, better) as his tech-partner Victoria. Olga Kurylenko is OK, and the rest just serve to keep the plot moving forward.

For the nay-sayers out there you’ll be pleased to know there isn’t much TOM CRUISE RUNNING and there isn’t much TOM CRUISE BEING TOM CRUISE either. Oblivion is a well shot, well-directed, and well-thought through piece of sci-fi and definitely worth seeing big and loud.

The end.

 

Also in cinemas: TRANCE [terrible film, don’t bother].