Until the special effects take over in the final act, this is an unusually gritty, grounded superhero thriller, with characters who are so believable that the wacky science almost seems to make sense. This is Marvel's very first franchise, and the filmmakers are unable to resist the pressure to indulge in an overblown finale, and the digital mayhem they give into is oddly unexciting. So as an origin story, this film is more involving than most, but the superhero action itself feels rather limp.
It opens as an exploration of the school friendship between the misunderstood genius Reed (Miles Teller) and junkyard bully Ben (Jamie Bell), whose teleportation science experiment gets them in trouble. But Dr Storm (Reg R. Cathey) sees that their work solves a problem he has encountered in his own experiments, so he brings Reed to New York to join his well-funded, high-tech team. Working with Victor (Toby Kebbell) and Storm's children Sue and Johnny (Kate Mara and Michael B. Jordan), Reed builds a full-size teleporter that succeeds in crossing over to another dimension. And Ben joins the crew for an illicit first voyage that goes spectacularly wrong, leaving Victor on the other side, while Reed, Ben, Sue and Johnny emerge with superpowers caused by altered DNA. The big boss (Tim Blake Nelson) immediately starts training them for military action, but Reed remains determined to make things right.
A strong cast helps all of this play out with remarkable introspection, letting each character develop an organic back-story that brings them together as an uneasy team. The inter-relationships are complex and engaging, veering from rivalry to camaraderie. Teller anchors the film with a layered performance as a smart, troubled guy who struggles to maintain friendships as he focusses on his work. Mara and Johnson add some feisty attitude, but it's Bell and Kebbell who provide the spark of personality that makes this crew so engaging. Then both of them become animated characters (Bell as The Thing and Kebbell as Dr Doom) without even a hint of the actors visible underneath. And the movie never quite recovers its momentum.
Continue reading: Fantastic Four Review
Deliberately unstructured, this likeable romantic comedy holds the audience's interest with its strikingly engaging cast and a slick visual style, but the plot is both contrived and underdeveloped. As the filmmakers try out some wacky slapstick, pointed political moments or a bit of darkly emotional drama, the movie's tone veers so wildly that we don't quite know where to look. And by never managing to crack the surface, the script leaves the actors with little to do but look good.
The story centres on two childhood friends: Rosie (Lily Collins) and Alex (Sam Claflin) grew up on the same street in England, developing romantic longings that they kept hidden. After a drunken teenage kiss, they rebound into the arms of other people: Rosie hooks up with the school hunk Greg (Christian Cooke), while Alex takes wannabe supermodel Bethany (Suki Waterhouse) to the big dance. Then Rosie and Alex's plan to go to university together in Boston is derailed by an unexpected pregnancy. Over the next 12 years they live on opposite sides of the Atlantic, trying to get on with their romantic lives. Alex finds a serious girlfriend (Tamsin Egerton) while Rosie re-connects with Greg and gets support from a pal (Jaime Winstone). But they never stop pining for each other.
Shot and edited in a bouncy rom-com style, it's immediately obvious where this is heading, so screenwriter Juliette Towhidi has to work overtime to throw the audience off the scent, which leaves the movie spinning in circles while we wait for the inevitable to happen. Fortunately, the characters are vivid enough to keep us entertained, as people move in and out of each others' lives providing the laughs and tears for Rosie and Alex, as well as the audience. Even if the characters are predictable and simplistic, Collins and Claflin manage to find moments of real depth along the way. Although it's difficult not to think that one proper conversation between these lifelong best pals would have saved them decades of frustration.
Continue reading: Love, Rosie Review
The 90th film based on the books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, this German-made animated romp adds little to the century-old canon besides some motion-capture action and an eco-friendly message. But it's a watchable adventure with thrilling set-pieces and engaging characters, even if the animation isn't quite up to par and the plot feels thoroughly contrived.
It opens by going back millions of years to the dinosaurs being wiped out by a mystical meteor that sinks into the middle of Africa and sends out moody vibes. In the present day, investigating archaeologists are killed in a helicopter crash, but their 4-year-old son JJ Greystoke (voiced by Garner) survives and is raised by a kindly gorilla mother. Renaming himself Tarzan, the "ape with no hair", the teenaged Tarzan (now Zetterholm) has his first run-in with humans, meeting Jane (Locke), daughter of his father's former colleague Jim (Bubb). But it's a few years later before Tarzan (now Lutz) runs into Jane again, and she's now in danger because company boss Clayton (St. John) is manipulating her into participating in his evil plan.
Tarzan fans will enjoy the continual references to years of books, movies and comics, including an unusually sexy "me Tarzan, you Jane" subplot that has a surprising spark of chemistry. And the gorillas are beautifully rendered as strong characters with a fascinating culture all their own (thankfully they don't speak). Even so, everything feels oddly simplistic, mainly because the plot demands that we feel some sympathy for this simmering meteor, which needs to be undisturbed for a reason that never quite makes sense.
Continue reading: Tarzan Review
Like an ancient Roman version of 2012, this disaster epic is a pure guilty pleasure, sparking plenty of laughter along with the massive effects-based carnage. It also helps that the screen is packed with muscle men in skimpy skirts. The actors dive in with gusto, adding plenty of personality to the ridiculous dialogue, while director Paul W.S. Anderson shamelessly ramps up the action mayhem.
It begins in AD 79 Britain, where Roman Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) is on the rampage, slaughtering the entire Celtic community of young Milo (Kit Harington), who is taken to Londinium to become a gladiator. When he rises to fame, he's transferred to Pompeii, where he immediately catches the eye of young noblewoman Cassia (Emily Browning), much to the scowly disapproval of her politically active parents (Carrie-Anne Moss and Jared Harris). An outsider among the local slaves, Milo is befriended by tough guy fellow gladiator Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). And when Corvus comes to town to claim Cassia as his bride, Milo decides to take a dangerous stand for both revenge and the girl. Meanwhile, Mount Vesuvius is rumbling, getting ready to unleash plenty of movie-style havoc.
It's impossible to watch this without thinking of the cheesy, similarly styled TV series Rome or Spartacus, with their corny melodramas, excessive violence and bare flesh. Even though this is on a much bigger scale with seriously enormous 3D special effects, it's just as cheesy. And equally entertaining as well. Harington is terrific as the hunky hero, building much stronger chemistry with the honourable Akinnuoye-Agbaje than the distressed Browning. And seasoned veterans like Harris, Moss and Sutherland clearly have a great time chomping madly on the scenery as Pompeii burns.
Continue reading: Pompeii Review
Fans of Cassandra Clare's book series won't mind that this film is overcrowded and chaotic, but the uninitiated will be worn out by what feels like a superficial mash-up of leather-clad stereotypes. Director Zwart (who remade The Karate Kid) certainly creates a lively sense of energy, zipping through each scene as if he's trying to cram every moment in the book into two hours. But as a result, nothing grabs hold.
Our hero is Clary (Collins), a New York teen whose mother (Headey) never told her that she was a Shadowhunter, a half-angel whose job is to protect humanity from demons. But just as she meets goth dreamboat Shadowhunter Jace (Campbell Bower), her mom is kidnapped. So she and her best pal Simon (Sheehan), who has a secret crush on her, travel with Jace into the city's underworld of angels, demons, werewolves and vampires. At the secret Shadowhunter headquarters, she meets leader Hodge (Harris) as well as siblings Alec and Isabelle (Zegers and West). And everyone warns her about the villainous Valentine (Meyers), who has some sort of nefarious master plan involving Clary and her magical cup.
The film is structured as a series of quests, as Clary learns about her supernatural abilities by visiting the City of Bones under a cemetery, breaking into a church to collect a stash of demon-fighting weapons, consulting with a variety of magical creatures, and so on. But these individual sequences never quite connect together into a story with any momentum. It's simply impossible to get involved in these events without being able to identify with the characters, none of whom are properly developed. Obviously, readers of the books won't have this problem, but such a fragmented film is unlikely to draw new fans to the franchise.
Continue reading: The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones Review
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