Saturday, 25 June 2011

Green Lantern

Millions of years ago, the Guardians of the Universe harnessed the green energy of willpower to create the Green Lantern Corps, an intergalactic police force with one Lantern assigned to all 3600 sectors of the Universe. In the modern day, when Abin Sur, defender of Sector 2814 is mortally wounded, he crash lands on the nearest inhabited planet and sends his power ring to find his replacement. The ring chooses Hal Jordan, a brash and cocky fighter pilot, who becomes the newest Green Lantern. After being brought to the Lanterns' home planet of Oa, he quickly learns his new job comes with mighty power and even mightier responsibility...

We've seen the big heroes on the big screen, now it's time for the little guys to shine. I say little guys, they're still pretty big. Not Superman or Batman big, but they have their own fan base who have been eager to see them in their own feature film. Marvel presented Thor back in April to us, although that was a creation of necessity rather than choice what with the Avengers film coming up next year. DC now give a chance to one of their lower-tier heroes with the Green Lantern, probably the biggest hero yet to receive his own film. Well, now he's got one, and quite frankly, the general consensus has been that maybe he should have stuck to the comic books. Well, don't listen to Rotten Tomatoes all the time, kids, because frankly, I rather enjoyed it!

I will preface this by saying I'm a Green Lantern fan. Going into the film I knew the back story, I knew the characters, I knew what I wanted to see. In all fairness to its detractors, I can understand where the hate and bile is coming from. It really whistles through the history of the Lanterns and Oa and Parallax, the overriding evil entity, and it's a lot to squeeze into a two hour film. There's also the complaint that this is essentially a faux film, roughly 60% of it has been digitally animated. There's also the complaint that the film relies to heavily on the love story between Hal Jordan and Carol Ferris. Well, yes, it is a lot of history to get through, and considering the epic scale of the Lantern Corps history, it gets through it at a steady pace and never really patronises the audience, it merely offers a sound explanation. Also, yes, a lot of it is CGI and effects heavy, but looking back, that really was the only way they could have done it. Creating the planet Oa, creating the alien-looking Lantern Corps, creating Parallax (who isn't a person anymore, he's an ENTITY, an ESSENCE), doing flight, creating all the things Hal can imagine and summon using the ring, even the suit and mask which are technically aren't items of clothing but are parts of him to hide his identity. All of that was meant to be done with props and costumes and sets? The scale would have been immeasurable and unobtainable. Finally, yes, it does focus on the Jordan/Ferris story, much in the same way Batman focuses on the Wayne/Dawes story and Superman focuses on the Kent/Lane story - Jordan needed a damsel in distress to save. Shut the hell up, haters. Rant over.

That's not to say this is the best superhero film ever, not by a long way, but it's entertaining and has plenty of action, and that's exactly what you want/need from a summer superhero blockbuster film. Ryan Reynolds is a perfectly fine Hal Jordan, and adds his Reynolds trademark low-talking sarcasm, and it's fine. Blake Lively is also perfectly fine, if a little wooden at times, as Carol Ferris. However, Peter Sarsgaard is fantastic as Dr Hector Hammond, the film's villain who gets infected with Parallax's yellow fear-driven DNA, and becomes a swollen headed megalomaniac, he really delights in his role and you can see it on screen. Tim Robbins is in this, weirdly, and just isn't good here. This ain't no Shawshank level of performance. Mark Strong does well as Sinestro as well, straightly playing a red guy with a pencil moustache.

The thing which really brings this film down is, at times, it does get a bit boring when the pace gets slowed right down. But it doesn't last long, as it whistles through the plot, given that there's so much to get through in two hours. Another point here, it doesn't feel like it's two hours either, which is always a good sign. The film does get itself in a bit of a mess sometimes because there is SO much history to explain for all those non-geeks who don't know the character, and I feel the blame for that can be placed on the fact that this was written by 4 writers throwing ideas around left, right and centre. Too many cooks. Don't put the blame on Martin Campbell, haters. Just because you were expecting another Goldeneye/Casino Royale. It was never going to be that kind of film, never, and when your too-high expectations weren't met, you all laid into him. He did nothing wrong here, he did exactly what was asked of him, doing what he could with the material he was given.

Overall, Green Lantern will obviously disappoint people, but if you don't think about it too much, it's not that bad. It's not great, but it's not that bad. A bit of prior knowledge about the man and the Corps will help you to not drown in all the information thrown into this, but no matter if you do go in blind. Also, I like how DC have stolen Marvel's trick of including a small post-credits sequence, so don't leave straight away! Proper critics may have panned it, but I've yet to talk to one person who's seen it and absolutely hated it, it's just silly entertaining superhero fodder. I liked it more than X-Men, but then maybe it's just me. Not too shabby for a man who can be defeated by the colour yellow.

Rating: ***

Saturday, 18 June 2011

X-Men: First Class

In 1962, as the world is gripped by the Cold War, Erik Lensherr is hunting down the man who killed his mother and manipulated his magnetic powers. Meanwhile, Charles Xavier, a professor in genetic and mutation, as well as being a telepath himself, is hired by the CIA to help find and stop the very same man: Sebastian Shaw aka Dr. Schmidt. As Charles begins looking for fellow mutants to teach them how to control their abilities and to help stop Shaw, Xavier and Lensherr cross paths and join together as they fight to stop Shaw from initiating the Cuban Missile Crisis, plunging the world into nuclear war...

Since superhero films are a dime a dozen these days, the next logical step towards is the superhero reboot. Batman is actually coming near the end of its reboot cycle, Spider-Man gets the reboot treatment next year along with Superman, and now the film series which launched the new wave of genre films gets rebooted with X-Men: First Class, adapted from the comic series of the same name, detailing the origins of the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Mutants. In recent weeks, this film has been praised and is among the most well-reviewed films of 2011 so far. So what did this young, semi-comic book geek make of it? Well, the original trilogy set the bar high immediately for any superhero films that might proceed, and while this is a really original take on the genre and the material, I was less impressed than everyone else seems to be.

All in all, the film just seems a bit rushed and, after a small bit of research, it turns out it was. The aim for this film was to steer clear of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which this film undeniably shares a lineage with, and to attempt to recapture the tone of Bryan Singer's X-Men and X2. It does this, but it just falls a bit flat, and for the life of me I'm not entirely sure why. There's lots of action, it's a lot smarter and braver than the last couple of X-Men films and has a very Mad Men-esque feel, something furthered by the casting of January Jones as Emma Frost, but it feels like a film which has been pieced together from various sources which, after some more research, turns out it was. Again. This script was an amalgamation of the comic book series and a planned X-Men Origins: Magneto film which is clear due to the amount of screen time Magneto gets above anyone else here. The film seems at pains to homage James Bond and Mad Men and X-Men and even Star Trek with its new, younger cast and nothing really seems to fit cohesively.

That's not to say the casting isn't top notch... at times. James McAvoy makes a really good Professor X, plays him exactly like a young Patrick Stewart. Michael Fassbender also is a commanding screen presence as a young Magneto, a troubled man out for vengeance. Jennifer Lawrence gets a huge amount of screen time as the young Mystique happily, but she doesn't command the same kind of presence her co-stars do. On the other hand, Kevin Bacon plays the bad guy, Sebastian Shaw, fairly well, but there's a constant niggling doubt as to why exactly this important role was given to Kevin Bacon. Really? Kevin Bacon? The Footloose guy? He's done nothing of real significance in years, so why is he here? Also, as I mentioned earlier, January Jones turns up as Emma Frost and to be perfectly honest, I don't like her as an actress, I think she's wooden, I think she's the worst thing about the exquisite Mad Men and she's one of the worst things about this.

What I didn't like about First Class was the number of smarmy, self-knowing, post-modern in-jokes. First Class makes a number of jokes regarding the original X-Men trilogy, as it is perfectly allowed to do being set before those films events, but it just seems out of place and only served to make me groan to be perfectly honest. There's two jokes about Xavier and his current full head of hair. Two. That's two too many. There's also two cameos, one of which doesn't make a whole lot of sense in regards to the film featuring the X-Men as they were when they were younger, and the other having absolutely no purpose whatsoever other than to fill time and to let the scriptwriter *cough* Jane Goldman *cough* feel smug. What also annoys me is when superheroes cross over into real life events and provide an alternate history. Maybe this is just me being overly critical now, but the X-Men solving the Cuban Missile Crisis? I don't like it, stick to beating up bad guys on your own plane of existence, don't mess with history.

Overall, the film looks very stylish but there's too many early cuts at the ends of scenes, indicative to a rushed shooting schedule with no time for re-shoots, and it just pulls down the quality and enjoyment of the film, for me anyway. The casting's hit or miss, the storyline starts off with good intentions but then spirals into ludicracy before remembering what it set out to do near the end, and half the dialogue seem forced because it can't create its own path, this film's events need to directly lead to whatever happened in the original trilogy or else people will start getting angry. I will say this for it though: It has the best use of the word 'fuck' I've heard so far this year.

Rating: **1/2

Friday, 3 June 2011

The Hangover Part II

The wolfpack is back. Two years after their forgotten night in Las Vegas, Stu, Phil, Doug and Alan make their way to Thailand for Stu's upcoming wedding to his fiancée Lauren. Inevitably, what starts out as a quiet toast to the upcoming nuptials turns into a horrendous night for the boys as they end up in Bangkok with no clue what happened or how they got there. However, this time it isn't Doug they've lost, it's Lauren's little brother, child prodigy Teddy. They've got two days to find him amidst the chaos of Bangkok and get back to Stu's wedding. Can they find him before the city takes him?

I have news for you. The Hangover wasn't THAT good. Everyone seems to rave about how funny it was and how original and refreshing it was and how it was the highest earning R-rated comedy of all time. I'm sorry, but for me, it was only alright. It was funny, I'll grant you that, but it wasn't the funniest thing ever, not by a long shot. I dare say I got more laughs from I Love You, Man, released a few months earlier. Inevitably though, we have the sequel now, or rather Part II as it's being billed. So is this any better? Is this one of those rare sequels which is better than its predecessor? No. In fact, in their efforts to try and out-do Part I, they've just ended up making the same film. But in Bangkok.

Believe me, this is The Hangover Part I as set in Bangkok. The Hangover Part I rested on two things: Firstly, it relied on its setting. Las Vegas, Sin City, 'what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas', all of that. The perfect place to have an apocalyptically bad night. Secondly, it relied on Zach Galifinakis and his character being an idiot, linking together the sheer amount of stupidity the boys got up to during their night. Well, The Hangover Part II simply moves the action from Las Vegas to Bangkok without really changing any of the jokes, aside from including a few stereotypes involving ladyboys, drugs and monks. Also, Zach Galifinakis's character is exactly the same and the film relies even more heavily on him this time around as the catalyst for the events before and after the actual hangover. It's the same damn film but just a bit louder and with a few more fucks. In my book, that's just lazy, shoddy film making and more than anything, The Hangover Part II just made me angry.

Zach Galifinakis has this on-stage persona of an idiot who comes out with various non sequiturs at the most inappropriate times. This persona translates directly onto the screen, and Zach ends up doing his usual schtick for an hour and a half, and to be completely honest, I didn't laugh much at it the first time round and I definitely didn't laugh at it the second time round. Bradley Cooper doesn't really act in this, his job is to stand around, shout, swear and look handsome while looking hungover. The unsung hero is Ed Helms, who plays Stu. He's probably the funniest character in these films because of all the misfortunes that befall him. Helms does well when the focus is so clearly placed upon Galifinakis, and by the end he gets the screen time and recognition he deserves. Which brings me to Dr Ken AKA Ken Jeong AKA Leslie Chow. I hate this guy. He's not funny at all, I don't understand his appeal and he's absolutely fucking appalling in this. Again. He has a bigger part in this though, which ruined my viewing of the film. I can't really say much more without spoilers, but the film falls down majorly in the second half because of who appears or reappears.

There are, as expected, a bunch of cameos in this (No Liam Neeson though, oooooh....) and the joke isn't funny anymore. There's even a cameo at the end which is so unsurprising and unoriginal that it won't make you laugh, it'll just make you moan and despair as to why the writers and Tod Philips the director thought it would be funny. It's just so painfully clear that this wasn't done out of love and passion for the project, it wasn't done because they felt they till had a story to tell. This film exists purely for the money. It's arguable any film exists for the money, but this one is just so damn lazy, it has 'paycheck' written all over it. The funniest thing about this film was, much like Part I, the credits, which has a photo album of the night before. That actually made me laugh, whereas there were only two or three times throughout the entire film. For a supposed comedy, that's appalling.

Overall, I understand that people will go out and watch this film and find it funny, find it hilarious. My experience of this film though was ruined as soon as I realised that the film had one joke in it and it was the same one they told in the first film: They can't remember what they did last night. It's unoriginal, it's more crass, it's more offensive, it's more extreme, it's louder, it's more purile and more trashy than the original. The only good thing I can think to say about it is that it was slightly better than Dinner for Schmucks. Awful.

Rating: *1/2

Wednesday, 1 June 2011


Thor, son of Odin, prepares to ascend to the throne of Asgard from his father, above his jealous brother Loki. However, after an attempted invasion by Frost Giants, Thor travels to Jotunheim to even the score, against his father's wishes. Odin, as to punish his son for his insolence and stupidity in bringing war to Asgard, strips Thor of his powers, banishes him to Earth and places a curse of his hammer so that it may only be wielded by those who are worthy. Upon his arrival on Earth, he meets Jane Foster and her team of scientists, who attempt to find out where he came from. However, as Odin falls into 'Odinsleep', Loki seizes the throne and begins to plot Thor's demise. Can Thor reclaim his powers and return to Asgard to stop his brother's evil plot?

With every passing year, the likelihood of the next big cinema release being a superhero film becomes increasingly likely. It all started with X-Men back in 2000, and as that franchise took off, more and more characters in the Marvel and DC Universes were optioned and turned into potential franchises. There's been the good (The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2, Iron Man), the bad (Spider-Man 3, Hulk, Elektra) and the downright ugly (Daredevil, Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk). Finally, here in 2011, Thor is given his chance to shine as we come towards the Avengers film everyone's been waiting for next year. So what exactly can Thor offer that we haven't seen before a hundered times before? Well, how about something a little Shakespearian?

Yes. A Shakespearian superhero film. Well, it might not have been in anyone else's hands, but Kenneth Branagh brings all the experience of making Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing and various other big screen adaptations of the bard's work into a Marvel franchise film, and for whatever reason, it fits in perfectly with the scenes set in Asgard. The Norse gods' dialogue and behaviourisms, the grandiose setting... It works! Then, when Thor comes to Earth and the action happens there between the fish-out-of-water Norse god and the exasperated human scientists, the dialogue becomes far more down to Earth (pun intended) and is even funny at times. The contrast between the two realms is very well observed and differentiated, and Branagh's done very well. For the most part. What annoyed me about this film (though it didn't ruin my viewing experience) is Branagh's insistence on differentiating between the two realms by having rather fine classical camera set-ups and shots while on Asgard, but using an absolute f*** load of Dutch tilts. I'm guessing it's done to make the shots on Earth look more like a comic book since there's nothing particularly interesting about the backdrop in comparison to Asgard, but the film overkills on the Dutch tilts and comes dangerously close to resembling Battlefield Earth. Close, but not quite: Thor, at least, has a coherent plot and dialogue.

As far as the acting performances go, Chris Hemsworth never really needed to be a great deliverer of dialogue to play Thor, he just needed to be hench. And he is, he looks like a Norse god with the long blonde hair and the height and the henchness, so that's him pretty much covered. Tom Hiddleston as Loki is convincingly evil enough to be Thor's polar opposite, it's no Heath Ledger Joker villain, but the role didn't demand something like that, it needed subtlety and a quiet, resentful evil and it comes across well on screen. Anthony Hopkins is a legend who doesn't need a hack like me praising or criticising him, so I'll just say he was good. Natalie Portman doesn't put in an Oscar-worthy performance but plays the exasperated scientist well enough to carry the film through to its conclusion. Stellan Skarsgård is a pretty cool piece of casting for Portman's colleague, and does his thing pretty well, plus it's nice to see Kat Dennings in a major motion picture after she seemed to disappear after Nick and Norah. Also, Edris Elba is a boss, absolutely ice cool and has a hell of an on-screen presence.

I'd like to be able to call this Marvel's Superman: A man born with these godlike powers, sent to Earth by his family, able to fly. It's not Superman though. Nowhere near. Thor is a nice enough superhero film ,but it seems like the only reason they've made this film is so that he can make his appearance in the Avengers film. That's probably also the reason why Jeremy Renner shows up in a Clint Barton AKA Hawkeye cameo, complete with crossbow. It's also the reason why, in the no-longer-a-surprise Marvel standard post-credits scene, Samuel L. Jackson AKA Nick Fury turns up to talk to Stellan Skarsgård (plus Loki) in something which seems more like a set-up to a Thor sequel rather than a link to another upcoming Marvel film franchise (ala how Iron Man 2's post-credit set-up Thor). It's weird but sometimes change is good. Other than that, the origin story is rushed through and the film jumps straight into its main plot, which is refreshingly different. Instead of Thor becoming Thor, Thor is immediately Thor and jumps into his battle with Loki over the 100 minutes. I say thank god that despite seeming destined to be 'just another comic book adaptation', this was actually different, especially different for a Marvel film.

In conclusion, Thor is nicely done and refreshingly different and may just have reinvigorated my enthusiasm for the genre after ploughing through so many run-of-the-mill superhero films in the last couple of years. It looks goddamn beautiful, especially the scenes in Asgard which have wonderfully created. If only Branagh could have laid off the Dutch tilts, it would have been a really easy film to watch, but then maybe I'm over-analysing things. It sets up the Thor character nicely for the Avengers film and leaves the door wide, wide open for a potential sequel. It's not fantastic, but it's nicely done and it impressed me. I feel bad for The Green Lantern now, it doesn't look too good anyway but now it has to follow this? Uh-oh.

Rating: ***1/2