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Entries in Marvel (4)

Wednesday
Apr252018

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Josh Brolin, Chadwick Boseman, Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans, Chris Pratt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dave Bautista, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Karen Gillan, Peter Dinklage, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow and Vin Diesel.
Writers: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
Directors: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo.

WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SOME PLOT SPOILERS

Rating: 3/5

The intergalactic threat to end all intergalactic threats (we’ll see…) is the catalyst to bring together Marvel’s divided superhero collective for the fight of their lives in Avengers: Infinity War. At least, that is what the pre-publicity marketing spin would have the slavering MCU fanbase believe; in fact, it is not really that at all.

What it is, alternatively, is one of the loudest, longest first acts in cinema history; 150 minutes of story set-up. The ‘bridging episode’ arc is a tough narrative one to pull off; a strong, self-contained story must exist, ensuring audience investment in the moment, but the storyteller must always be mindful of the open-ended ‘cliffhanger’ finale. When done well, it plays like The Empire Strikes Back or The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers, whereas Infinity War exhibits just how hard it can be to serve two masters.

Surprisingly, the key protagonist emerges in the form of ‘villain’ Thanos, played with mo-cap mastery by Josh Brolin; in addition to a nice line in malevolent menace, the actor gets to sink his purple teeth into a handful of dramatic moments that link him to that chestnut theme of the MCU, patriarchal legacy. Driven by the belief that overpopulation is destroying the star systems, Thanos is myopically driven in his search for the ‘Infinity Stones’, pretty jewels that represent the galactic essentials of Mind, Soul, Time, Power, Space, and Reality. To possess the full set of six will grant Thanos the power to perform horrendous acts of genocide in the name of saving the galaxy from its inhabitants. Environmental advocates who argue that humans are a virus on this planet, that our thoughtless use of natural resources will lead to the death of Earth and all who live here, may side with Thanos ideologically, although his methods are unforgivably mass-murdery.

So the Avengers have to reconnect to see off Thanos and his flavoursome henchmen (led by an enjoyably campy Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as the psychotic sycophant, Ebony Maw). Expectedly, fans will cheer when they are re-introduced to Steve Rogers/Captain America (a sullen, oddly detached Chris Evans) as he emerges from the shadows; as Bruce Banner (a twitchy Mark Rufalo) struggles with his green-hued alter-ego; and, as the pompous Dr Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and smart-arse Tony Stark/Iron Man (a visibly aged Robert Downey Jr) wage a quip war. Meshing with the traditional Avengers line-up are the Guardians of the Galaxy crew, the good people of Wakanda, led by T’Challa/Blank Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and teen hero Spiderman (Tom Holland).

However, the tantalizing mass melding of franchise heroes occurs in the cast list only; the key Avengers are divided, even more so the Guardians (the decision to turn Vin Diesel's Groot into a surly teen sapling proves a dire miscalculation); several favourites are relegated to bit parts (notably ScarJo’s Black Widow), while some don’t make an appearance at all. The promise of a mass Marvel army onscreen never comes near to fruition.

Working from Christopher Markus’ and Stephen McFeely’s workmanlike script, brothers Anthony and Joe Russo direct with a suitably vast eye for spectacle and melodrama, colouring in landscapes against which massive effects-laden conflicts can take place. Once the film gets past an opening salvo of meet-cute reconnections, the smash ‘em/bash ‘em mayhem unfolds, both on Earth and in the far corners of the galaxy. The next two hours represent the gamble with fan expectation which is the strong suit of Avengers: Infinity War - our heroes essentially have the s**t kicked out of them for 2½ hours, ahead of a downbeat denouement.

It is a bold undertaking, to readjust what is expected of the MCU/Avengers formula, and there are moments when the sheer scale and momentum match the narrative ambition needed to pull off a 'Part 1'. Given the fate of the universe is at stake, however, those otherwise unexpected moments of murder most foul, self sacrifice and bitter betrayal amount to very little. A lot goes unanswered in Avengers: Infinity War and no amount of blockbuster grandeur can fill the void left.

Monday
Oct272014

BIG HERO 6

Voice Cast: Scott Adsit, Ryan Potter, Daniel Henney, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr, Genesis Rodriguez, James Cromwell, Alan Tudyk, Maya Rudolph and Stan Lee.
Writers: Robert L Baird, Daniel Gerson, and Jordan Roberts; based n the Marvel comic by Duncan Rouleau and Steven T Seagle.
Directors: Don Hall and Chris Williams.

Rating: 3/5

Wondrous feats of new generation effects technology service some old school tropes in Big Hero 6, the latest exercise in brand expansion from the Disney/Marvel monolith. An all-but-forgotten property from the comic giant’s distant past is resuscitated by Mouse House magicians, who apply dazzling digital wizardry to bolster a narrative that borrows from just about every family hit of the last half decade.

Co-directors Don Hall (Winnie the Pooh, 2011) and Chris Williams (Bolt, 2008) are tasked with creating an Avengers-style super-hero pic within the thematic parameters of the Disney canon. In their favour is raffish boy-whiz protagonist, Hiro (Ryan Potter), a spunky, spiky-haired tween with a head for state-of-the-art robotics and a rebellious attitude that threatens to derail his future. Raised without parents, it becomes the role of his big brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) to guide his sibling’s future, introducing him to ‘The Nerd Room’ – a free-thinking, high-tech workspace where Tadashi creates mechanical wonders alongside lab buddies Go-Go (Jamie Chung), Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr) and Fred (the ubiquitous T.J. Miller).

Tadashi’s special project is a medical droid named Baymax (Scott Adsit), a based-in-fact ‘bot whose joints and limbs are protected by soft-to-the-touch inflatable nylon. Soon, Baymax is in the sole care of Hiro and both are hurtled into a mystery that involves corporate espionage, a hurriedly constructed revenge plot and the mass destruction of a shimmering cityscape (again). Littlies may find a confrontation set in the baddies lair a tad confronting, although parents will appreciate the dexterity and craftsmanship as all creative elements meld into the film’s best sequence.

The action takes place in San Fransokyo, a richly textured, beautifully rendered world that melds the architecture and ambience of the northern Californian city with the neon aesthetic and ancient Asian influence of Japan’s capital (it is never clear whether this is a future world or an alternate reality). Disney Animation, applying in-house technology developed for the project, have created a truly artistic palette of detail and colour that is at times breathtaking to behold.

And yet Big Hero 6 manages to dull its impact by overplaying the influence of superior works. Both visually and narratively, The Incredibles, How To Train Your Dragon, ET The Extra-terrestrial, Iron Man and ParaNorman are invoked; surging microbot weaponry looks to have been derived from the same software used for The Green Lantern or Spiderman 3; as stated, the broad daylight demolition of a metropolis recalls Marvel tentpoles The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy (and seems like overkill in a kids flick). Big Hero 6 has dreams beyond the corporate landscape from which it has emerged, yet remains bound to the template set by its creators.

The ace in the hole is Baymax, who scores big laughs and generates warmth and good will that ultimately proves more crucial to the film than it should have to be. The core relationship between Hiro and his synthetic surrogate guardian pans out warmly and should play well with all audience quadrants, as it was clearly intended. Suffice to say, toy sales will soar over Christmas.

Friday
Jul252014

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

Stars: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro and Laura Haddock; featuring the voices of Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper.
Writers: James Gunn and Nicole Perlman; based on the comic book by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning.
Director: James Gunn. 

Rating: 4/5 

It never soars to the wildly subversive comic-book craziness that he conjured in 2010’s cult gem Super, but director James Gunn’s vividly idiosyncratic spin on Marvel’s renegade misfits, Guardians of the Galaxy, certainly represents a bracingly fizzy cinematic blast to the increasingly formulaic 'summer superhero' format.

Given the entire budgets of his past efforts amount to a week of craft services on a tentpole franchise starter of this scale, Gunn doesn’t forego his trademark eccentricity and engagingly off-kilter grasp of character to over-indulge his expanded canvas. Instead, he backs his established strengths while also revealing an artist's eye for colour and scale, ensuring his first mega-budgeted work is a beautiful looking film. The space-scapes and interplanetary worlds he creates and the menagerie of alien types that people them are truly wondrous at times.

In sublime creative synch with fellow scripter Nicole Perlman, Gunn bravely kicks off his blockbuster debut with a surprisingly downbeat prologue, introducing our hero, Peter Quill, as a boy experiencing the death of his cancer-riddled mother in the early 1980s. As he runs crying into the foggy night, an alien spacecraft nabs him, setting in motion a life spent drifting amongst the stars, forging a meagre living as a collector of tradable junk.

This adult Quill, aka self-proclaimed ‘Starlord’, is played with raffish charm by Chris Pratt, perfectly embodying the archetypal ‘reluctant hero’. Caring for very little except the mix-tape of classic rock tunes his mother made for him (in what is surely the best use of ‘classic rock’ oldies since The Big Chill), Quill is suddenly thrust into importance when he finds an elaborate orb that contains an ‘Infinity Stone’, an all-powerful energy source that can lay waste entire planets and that every villainous dictator in the galaxy wants.

Gunn’s first act deftly establishes the galactic landscape and the character conflict, although there were some mutterings at the screening attended by Screen-Space that this early section was too convoluted, the political evil-doings that define the conflict dragged down the first half. Not so for this reviewer, as the detail pays off in character empathy and tangible tension as the film progresses.

The Guardians coalesce organically, their individual agendas and dark personalities entirely believable. It is to script’s credit that such empathy is found in this ragtag bunch of losers, given they include an entirely CGI-crafted giant tree/biped hybrid called Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel); a fiery-tempered Raccoon-like experiment gone wrong named Rocket (Bradley Cooper, in a great voice-over performance); Drax, a mountain of man-muscle out for vengeance (MMA legend Dave Bautista); and, the green-skinned warrior-woman Gamora (the supremely physical and superbly photogenic Zoe Saldana). Their nemesis are just as richly observed, key amongst them Michael Rooker’s Yondu (one of the original Guardians in the early print editions, though no such reference is made here), Lee Pace’s Ronan the Accuser and Karen Gillan’s Nebula, whose lithe figure and striking blue skin tone is set to dominate the cosplay universe in the years ahead.  

Lumbering this jaunty, funny, irreverent work with the Marvel label should ensure a solid opening weekend, but truth be told the film’s weakest elements are those that bind it to the template the comic giant demands of its adaptations. Gunn works wonders with a thrilling effects-heavy finale, but the carnage too closely resembles the final frames of The Avengers, Captain America: Winter Soldier and some parts of the Thor movies; it is one of the few moments in Gunn’s otherwise wonderfully original vision when audiences may utter, “Yeah, seen that before.” The studio’s demands that franchise starters have sequel-ready plot devices also dictate that characters are established here (amongst them, Benicio Del Toro’s The Collector and Josh Brolin’s barely glimpsed Thanos) to clearly serve and only fully develop in later instalments.

The counter to such claims is that those concessions are a small price to pay to allow James Gunn and his creative team access to Guardians of the Galaxy lore. It seems an ideal melding of filmmaker and material, with low-budget genre graduate Gunn (watch for a cameo by mentor and Troma Studios founder, Lloyd Kaufman) bringing all his cool-kid confidence, pop-culture savvy and fan-boy enthusiasm to his debut in the big league.  

Friday
Apr262013

IRON MAN 3

Stars: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, Jon Favreau, Ben Kingsley, Rebecca Hall, Don Cheadle, William Sadler, Miguel Ferrer, James Badge Dale, Stephanie Szostak and Ty Simpkins.
Writers: Drew Pearce and Shane Black.
Director: Shane Black.

Rating: 2.5/5

Though the top brass at Marvel Studios and their new Disney cohorts are positioning the third Iron Man instalment as a four-quadrant ‘Avengers’-size blockbuster, writer/director Shane Black’s underwhelming take on Tony Stark’s heroic alter-ego is very much a fanboy’s-own adventure.

Despite a central character steeped in cutting-edge technology, Iron Man 3 creaks through an overly familiar structure and blah tropes that hurtle the series back into the world of 80s action flicks. Brought on board to punch up leading man Robert Downey Jr’s smart-mouth dialogue between scenes of generic mayhem, Black achieves a modicum of success with some well-played one-liners. If Iron Man 3 outdoes the first two instalments in any significant way, it is with a welcome and surprising shot of non-Downey inspired humour in the form of Ben Kingsley’s Bin Laden-esque bad guy, The Mandarin.

But there are too many moments that recall Black’s past works (most famously, Lethal Weapon, Last Action Hero and The Last Boy Scout, as well as punching-up tough-guy talk on Predator, The Hunt for Red October and Battle Los Angeles, too name just a few). Those familiar with his over-played beats will recognise such clichéd tools as the smart-mouthed kid sidekick (here, played well by Ty Simpkins), the hero’s fractured mental state (in one of several nods to the events in The Avengers, Stark has PTSD-like anxiety attacks), a cartoonish villain prone to monologue-ing (an OTT Guy Pearce) and the necessity for our protagonist to hit rock bottom (here, represented by snowy, small-town America) before ascending once again to full hero status.  

Where Black falls noticeably short is in his depiction of the franchise’s key relationship between Stark and Pepper Potts (a game but under-served Gwyneth Paltrow). Keeping the pair separate for much of the film robs the mechanical vision of much needed humanity. Oddly, Black keeps the principal characters in different corners for long stretches – Favreau’s Happy Hogan is taken out of the action early-on; Don Cheadles’ own iron-suited soldier, War Machine, is off in Pakistan seeking out insurgents. Even Stark is separated from his suit for much of the films mid-section (not unlike the recent third instalment of The Dark Knight Rises, during which Bruce Wayne spent a long time sans suit and which resembles Iron Man 3 in its portrayal of a troubled tech-heavy hero).

Action set-pieces are top-tier, though exhibit no particular auteuristic vision (unlike, say, those of Black’s longtime collaborator, John McTiernan, in his heyday). A helicopter attack on Stark’s home (previewed heavily in the trailer) represents desktop effects work par excellence; a drama aboard Air Force One allows for some old-fashioned stunt work and green-screening; the hero-villain standoff finale has a been-there-done-that blandness. The scenes, like the rest of Shane Black’s perfunctory, fatigued film, will suffice for the fans who have to have their regular cinematic superhero fix, but will leave others generally unmoved.