After the formulaic thrills of The Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron, Marvel's Avengers were in danger of getting stuck in a rut, but a smart script for this surprisingly focussed thriller kicks everything into a new direction. What's surprising is that the screenwriters have managed to incorporate a wide range of characters without the film ever feeling overcrowded. Each person has a journey to travel, so the actors get a chance to invest plenty of personality into the action.
After the events of Ultron, there's a political debate about the need to oversee the Avengers' missions. Iron Man Tony (Robert Downey Jr.) thinks a special UN council is a good idea, but Captain America Steve (Chris Evans) thinks that will limit the team's ability to help people. Then Steve's best pal Bucky (Sebastian Stan) is framed for a bombing, and Black Panther T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is drawn into the fray. The Avengers are forced to take sides, with those supporting Bucky becoming outlaws. Tony recruits Spider-Man Peter (Tom Holland) to his team, while Steve drafts in Ant-Man Scott (Paul Rudd). And as they all face off against each other, none of them realise that this entire situation is being manipulated by a vengeful man named Zemo (Daniel Bruhl).
Watching this film requires the audience to suspend disbelief that these super-powered friends could be pushed to try to kill each other. That never quite makes sense, and indeed the script acknowledges this fact when one person goes down and everyone reacts emotionally. But the high-powered cast is so good at creating these intensely driven superheroes that it's not difficult to go with it.
Continue reading: Captain America: Civil War Review
This is the Marvel movie that divides the fans from the casual filmgoers, as the movies become more like a TV series in which the world is saved from disaster every week. While it's shot and acted to an unusually high standard, the script treats the characters like pawns to throw at each other rather than real human beings. So while it's hugely entertaining, there isn't a hint of actual tension or suspense.
Now settling into life in the 21st century, super-powered soldier Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and his cohort Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) are horrified when the mysterious, seemingly indestructible Winter Soldier launches an attack on Shield Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) on the streets of Washington DC. Suspected of being on the wrong side, Steve and Natasha set out to find out what's up, drafting in angry veteran Sam (Anthony Mackie) and his whizzy flying-wings accessory. Meanwhile, Shield boss Pierce (Robert Redford) is carrying on with launching a wildly heavy-handed security system for America.
Marvel show-runner Kevin Feige works hard to make these movies fit loosely into the overarching mythology while standing on their own. But this is the ninth time these superheroes have had to save the world since 2008's Iron Man, and it's getting a bit tired. This chapter introduces a perviously unseen darkness in the evil agency Hydra, but the real innovation here is the use of gritty Bourne-style direction for the lucid action sequences.
Continue reading: Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review
Marvel can't help itself: these movies have to get bigger and crazier. And this one leaves us wondering where they can possibly go next, as it spirals into a madly funny-scary thriller that threatens the existence of the whole universe. But it also feels like a story children would make up as they go along. Still, the sparky characters and wildly cataclysmic approach are hugely entertaining.
The action picks up right after the Battle of New York (see 2012's The Avengers), and scientist Jane (Portman) is miffed that Thor (Hemsworth) didn't call when he was back on Earth. She has just started dating a nebbish Londoner (O'Dowd) when her assistant Darcy (Dennings) stumbles into a spatial anomaly that draws Jane right into the middle of a 5,000-year-old struggle between Thor's home-realm Asgard and the dark elf Malekith (Eccleston), who wants to use a swirling goo called the Aether to plunge all of existence into blackness just as the universe aligns itself. As this convergence approaches, Thor defies his father Odin (Hopkins) and turns to his disgraced, malicious brother Loki (Hiddleston) for help.
The film is overcrowded with small but pivotal characters, including stern but helpful gatekeeper Heimdall (Elba), mad-doctor Erik (Skarsgard) and Odin's wise wife Frigga (Russo). All of them help distract us from the movie's wildly shifting tone as it darts from sardonic comedy to Lord of the Rings-style battles to silly romance to dark emotion. But the best thing is the tense, unpredictable relationship between Thor and Loki, an enjoyable mixture of sibling rivalry and brotherly love that's well-played by Hemsworth and especially Hiddleston. None of the other characters really has a chance to develop around them. But at least the actors have fun with their roles, including a number of hilarious cameos along the way (there are also two post-credit stings).
Continue reading: Thor: The Dark World Review
Spirited and very funny, this movie should actually be rather disturbing since it's a true story about torture and murder. But director Michael Bay is so slick with the action and comedy elements that he lulls audiences to sleep, entertaining us with events that really should send chills down our spines. So the movie feels rather tasteless when you begin to think about it.
Wahlberg stars as Daniel, an obsessive bodybuilder in 1990s Miami who works as a personal trainer at a local gym. But he's becoming increasingly annoyed by the fact that his clients are much wealthier than he is. So he convinces his steroid-addicted colleague Adrian (Mackie) to help him kidnap a customer (Shalhoub) and steal his fortune. Realising that they need some help, they enlist born-again ex-con Paul (Johnson) in their plan. But none of them is very smart, and the kidnapping goes badly wrong from the start. Still, they manage to steal quite a lot before a tenacious private detective (Harris) notices something isn't right.
For a story that deals with such intensely serious themes, this is an oddly broad comedy. Bay never even tries to find dark irony here; he just focusses on how stupid these criminals are, convinced that they are as cool as the characters from their favourite movies and eerily unbothered by the fact that they are inflicting pain and even death on people for their own greedy ends. The actors inhabit the roles with a disarming naivete, so we can't help but laugh at their idiotic actions. Wahlberg plays Daniel as a muscle-head so focussed on getting what he wants that he doesn't notice the carnage in his wake; Mackie at least gives Adrian a sense of self-doubt, plus some comical romance (with scene-stealer Wilson); and Johnson has a tricky role as a religious guy with a weakness for drugs and women.
Continue reading: Pain & Gain Review
Michael Bay’s going back to what he does best with his latest movie Pain & Gain. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson (‘The Rock’) and Anthony Mackie, the movie finds the director finally unleashed from the world of Transformers and back into a world of action movies and dark humour.
Pain and Gain tells the tale of a ‘gym rat’ who finds himself discontented with his life and plots to steal from a corrupt businessman, with the help of two fellow weight-lifting buddies.The trailer looks pretty neat, a fine blend of action and a sharp comic strip. Oh and Mark Wahlberg, looking distinctly beefy in his role as Daniel Lugo, the frustrated fitness freak. Pain & Gain is based on the story of the Sun Gym Gang - three guys who “robbed and extorted their way around southern Florida in the mid-90s", according to Empire online and the script appears to have been deftly handles by the Chronicles Of Narnia’s Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. The story was originally reported on by the Miami New Times journalist Pete Collins, back in 1999. Now, their tale gets the big budget Hollywood treatment, courtesy of Bay.
It's been a year since Lucy (Georgie Henley), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), Peter (William Moseley), and Susan (Anna Popplewell) Pevensie have been to the magical land that they once ruled as kings and queens. However, 13 centuries have passed in Narnia, and a race of humans known as Telmarines have overrun the kingdom. They have systematically killed off almost all the creatures, and rule by blood and violence. Within the court, Miraz (Sergio Castellitto), brother of the late King Caspian IX, has taken over and threatened the life of the true, titular heir (Ben Barnes). With the help of the returning foursome, Prince Caspian will rally the remaining Narnians, leading them to victory over their evil oppressors.
Continue reading: The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian Review
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