Thursday, 15 August 2013

Review: Kick-Ass 2

One of the unexpected hits of 2010 was the off-beat not-so-superhero flick Kick-Ass, which brought the world a fresh and original take on the unstoppable superhero genre that dominates the modern multiplex cinema culture. Speed forward 3 years and with a new writer and director on board, as well as a whole host of new actors joining the cast ensemble, the adventures of amateur superhero Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the expletive-screaming, limb-removing 11 turned 15 year old Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) go bigger and more ambitious with Kick-Ass 2, as the dynamic duo have to fight off their biggest threat yet: sequel-itus...

There is a lot to enjoy in the follow-up to Kick-Ass, with the same wit and style returning along with the original's key characters, in a story that goes on to progress their stories naturally from the events of the first: Dave Lizewski/Kick-Ass faces the responsibilities of what he has inspired - an army of similarly masked vigilantes, Mindy Macready/Hit-Girl must adjust to living a normal life under the societal conventions of a normal teenage girl (against the conflicting philosophies of her late father in mind), and for Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) the call to avenge his father's death sees him becoming the world's first super-villain - The Motherf%&*^r. The film's structure is built around the journeys of these three returning characters, and as a result sees itself dividing into three separate plot-lines shortly after the film starts.

The world's first Superhero faces-off against the world's first supervillain, in Kick-Ass 2.

Through Dave's story and the introduction of the 'Justice Forever' team - headed by prosthetics laden Jim Carrey's Colonel Stars and Stripes - the film takes an interesting path that evokes the strange inventiveness of the film's predecessor. As too does the storyline of Chris D'Amico, who similarly introduces his own team of masked creations. However it is the tale of Hit-Girl this time - the shining star of the first film - that unfortunately lets down the anticipated sequel. There's no denying Moretz's talents as she returns to the role that made her name, but for a majority of the film we see her famous Hit-Girl character take off the mask to focus on a developing a normal life. Though natural progression, this is a big problem as the foul mouthed, 11 year old killing machine that made the film such a well enjoyed and memorable success is not present for a large portion of the film, whilst she gets tangled up into a bizarre high school teen-girl storyline instead. It was a while into this segment that I came to the unfortunate realisation that I was no longer watching Kick-Ass 2, but Mean Girls instead. If I wanted to see Mean Girls again I would have, but I paid to see another Kick-Ass film instead, and this demotion of Hit-Girl is partially what makes it something of a disappointment.

It is this segment as well that hosts perhaps the most horrifying piece of product placement that I have ever seen in a film. During a scene at a teen girl slumber party, the queen bee of the group informs Moretz's Mindy Macready that she is not a real girl without having Twilight, Channing Tatum and Union J in her life, before playing the music video to Union J's single; 'Carry You.' You'd be forgiven for not knowing who Union J actually are (a One Direction inspired boy band from a recent series of The X Factor), and it's clearly apparent that the US market is unaware too, which makes the randomness of this scene stink of cynicism all the more - as it is ridiculous to suggest that Union J are as influential as Twilight and Channing Tatum on this generation. As the song plays, the camera slowly tracks into it the music video until the film literally becomes an advert to allow the band to exploit the One Direction demographic and encourage audiences to make them just as profitable. All the while, we hear the bodily sounds and an ever increasing heartbeat as the 15 year old girls become audibly aroused at the pretty-boy group, with one exclaiming "I'm soaked!" by the end - totally sexualising a group of underaged 15 year old girls. If handled more tastefully, a scene like this could have worked in the film well as a ironic take on the pettiness of certain teen girls, but with the over-exaggerated audio effects playing over the screen engulfing music video (which well outstays its welcome), it become all the more apparent as to what the scene is actually trying to achieve is higher CD sales and mp3 downloads - in a way that is as morally questionable as it is totally out of place in a graphic 15 rated film that will miss the majority of its target market anyway. It may only be a small moment in the grand scale of things, but it took a franchise that I very much admired to a very disappointing low.

Hit-Girl - not your average teenage girl, in Kick-Ass 2.

Kick-Ass 2 certainly aims to go bigger than the original, and through its extended cast and storyline it certainly does. Yet it is widely known that bigger isn't always better, and unfortunately in this case the film struggles to pace itself under the huge weight of the expanded plot and ensemble. With so many new characters (and their alter-egos) being introduced into the franchise, certain characters never get the exposure or development that they need, and particular relationships never get the screen-time necessary to make them feel natural or believable. In the worst case scenario of this, Dave's girlfriend Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca) from the first film - whom is portrayed as the girl of Dave's dreams, and for the attention of whom he strives to gain at any cost - is limited to two brief moments in the film before disappearing entirely after a short spat which we are left to assume causes the end of their relationship. Not that it seems to matter to the emotionless Dave at all, who after pining for her so long seems to forget her in an instant. With so many plot-lines and characters emerging from Kick-Ass 2, the film struggles to gage the right balance in its transition from comic-book to film, which results in the film losing the heart that the original had and benefited from greatly.

It's good to finally see a return to the big screen for Kick-Ass, Hit-Girl, and the franchise's unique and quirky style, but with an overcomplicated plot and too many characters being introduced all at the same time, Kick-Ass 2 struggles to find its feet and reclaim the former glory of the very original first instalment. Through its three intertwining plotlines - including a very unusual Mean Girls inspired segment - Kick-Ass 2 certainly isn't without some enjoyment, especially as it comes to its grand climax, but throughout it is plagued with its own struggle to pace itself as it attempts and fails to best the original. In a rather unmemorable summer of cinema, it's a shame that this follow-up is not able to reclaim or better the enjoyment of the original, as something as original as the first Kick-Ass film feels greatly needed right now. "Try and have a little fun" says Col. Stars and Stripes, "otherwise, what's the point?" - well Jim, I tried, but for a lot of the film I simply was not amused. Oh, and can we all just try to forget that Union J disaster ever happened, please?...


Kick-Ass 2 (certificate 15) is now showing in cinemas across the UK.

Have you seen Kick-Ass 2? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Review: The Frozen Ground

Based on shocking true events, American crime thriller The Frozen Ground follows the police manhunt for Robert Hansen (John Cusack), a man responsible for the raping and murdering of a number of young females in a small and desolate town in Alaska. Led by Sergeant Jack Halcombe (Nicolas Cage), the investigation gains a lot of traction after escaped victim Cindy Paulson (Vanessa Hudgens) provides her witness evidence - but time is ticking fast as Hansen is out to find and finish what he started on the one girl who can prove his guiltiness...

The most remarkable thing about Scott Walker's The Frozen Ground is the wording that fades on and off of the screen in the film's opening moments: 'based on true events.' Cemented by the unbelievable facts presented at the film's conclusion, and the tribute to the victims at the opening of the closing credits, a huge weight is brought to the film with the realisation that the psychotic inhuman mind of Robert Hansen is actually a very real one, and that these unimaginable events did occur. Pair that with the edgy and disturbingly brilliant performance given by Cusack in the role, and it's a strong formula for the stuff of nightmares!

This is however more or less where the film draws the line at unfortunately being anything more than an average police thriller.

John Cusack as the psychotic Robert Hansen in The Frozen Ground.

The Frozen Ground may be a film of great performances - with Cage's down to Earth role providing a satisfying and surprisingly non-meme generating performance, and Hudgens fully shaking off the High School Musical alumni appearance as the strong traumatised escort (the only exception being a small role played by 50 Cent, a man seemingly unable to convey any form of emotion) - but even these aren't enough to cover up the fact that the film is little more than anything you can see in an American crime show such as CSI  or Criminal Minds. This is not to say that this is a totally bad thing, but it does however prevent it from becoming anything more than completely generic and average at best. It also doesn't help that at a running time of an hour and three quarters, the film does drag on at times; and as it, I did find my attention span beginning to grow thin on occasion too. As a result of it feeling like an episode of a TV show, I can't help but feel it might have benefited from a shortened running time, as well as a slightly simplified plot that doesn't leave lose ends, as The Frozen Ground did do at times too.

By no means is The Frozen Ground a bad film, but its inability to become anything different or overly cinematic does leave it feeling like something that you have probably seen before. It's leading cast, especially the performances of Cusack and Hudgens, do help to make The Frozen Ground a bit more interesting, and help to present a story that very much deserves to be told; yet especially in the midst of the summer blockbuster season of big cinematic releases, it might be just well to save some money and wait for this one to hit TV and DVD first instead.


The Frozen Ground (certificate 15) is released in cinemas across the UK on July 19th.

Are you looking forward to seeing The Frozen Ground? Perhaps you already have? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Review: Pacific Rim

Film trailers can be deceptive things, can't they? More often than not they'll make a film look better than it actually is, but occasionally they can even make the film look worse. To watch one of the many trailers released for Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim would be akin to taking a trip down memory lane during the times when loud trailers for loud films like Transformers and Battleship polluted multiplexes and made one fear for a mind-numbing future of cinema. Yet, the actual film is far from the horror that you might expect it to be. Take note Michael Bay, the big blockbuster for 2013 has just landed, and it's a force to be reckoned with...

Pacific Rim opens with two definitions appearing on the screen in a retro-futuristic green font: one for the word 'Jaeger' - the giant robot-like, human controlled battle suits - and the other word, 'Kaiju' - the inter-dimensional beings that travel through a rift in the Pacific Ocean and so often threat the future of the human race. And with that information made known from the get go, we have our set up and the action well and truly begins. Connected to their robot exoskeleton and their co-pilot through a mind link that make all three act as one, it is up to the pilots within the giant Jaeger Rock'em Sock'em Robots to battle off category-3 monsters and their own inner-demons to save Earth from a threat that dates back to pre-historic times.

Jaeger pilots bring a physicality and vulnerability to Pacific Rim's ambitions action scenes.

What sets Pacific Rim aside from other recent genre films from the Michael Bay generation of filmmaking is the focus on the film's characters. In a similar vein to a film like Top Gun, the friendships, relationships and brotherhoods between the Jaeger co-pilots who march into battle together brings a depth to the film and its characters, who when joined together through the mind-link process (which allows the pilots to access the inside of the other's mind and access their personal memories and thoughts) only strengthens this depth through an interesting philosophical idea which is there for anyone who wants to consider it.

As a result of this concept, we do not get a film about giant robots - as large metal beings who cannot suffer and feel no pain - but the vulnerable human pilots at the centre of both the suit, and the film; whose presence and personality adds a drama, engagement and sense of peril to the film's large scale fight sequences. Through the premise of the pilots fighting through the suit also comes a large physical element too, as we witness not just a giant battling 'bot hitting the monstrous creatures from the deep, but the puppet-master human pilots themselves simultaneously doing the same moves too. As a rule of thumb, genuine human fight scenes will always be more effective than CGI, so pair that conceit with the various other physical fighting scenes that the film features, and suddenly a film that was initially doubtable is actually a lot more entertaining than you might expect it to be.

Lead Charlie Hunnam in one of Pacific Rim's CGI-free fight scenes.

Yet I'm going into a lot of analysis here, and there is reason to question whether or not this level of critical interpretation is even necessary. To bring it all down to what really matters, Pacific Rim is simply a lot of fun to watch. Very well-paced and by no means overstaying its welcome, the film is an exciting action romp that does the job of keeping its audience both entertained and feeling like a child again (if they are not one already). There is no two ways about this; this film is a guilty-pleasure summer blockbuster indulgence that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible. The monster movie genre has died away somewhat in recent years, and judging by this and the upcoming Godzilla reboot (by Monsters director Gareth Edwards) this is the start of a fresh, stylish and contemporary yet retro homage to a genre that is currently resurfacing like the monster threats that it features.

You'd be forgiven for having a total lack of interest for Pacific Rim after witnessing the trailers that cry out to the audience that made Michael Bay's Transformers films into a billion dollar franchise. Yet the end result is in fact a highly entertaining adrenaline ride that knows exactly what it needs to do to be a fulfilling summer blockbuster, and achieves it. Of course it has its moments of CGI fighting and destruction - it would be a rubbish monster movie if it didn't - but Pacific Rim proves that despite some particular examples of recent years, this is not always a bad thing. At the film's centre are the people inside the giant metal suits and their stories that drive the narrative and bring drama and engagement to these big blockbuster set pieces, which are as enjoyable as they are ambitious. Indulgently stylish and absolutely epic in every sense of the word, Pacific Rim is every bit as good as you'd hope it is, and not at all as bad as you feared it might be.


Pacific Rim (certificate 12A) is released in cinemas across the UK on July 12th.

Are you looking forward to seeing Pacific Rim? Perhaps you already have? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Friday, 5 July 2013

Review: Monsters University

In 2001, Pixar Animation Studios opened up the bedroom door into the monstrous world of Mike and Sulley, the lovable duo for whom scaring the children of the human world is just the usual 9 to 5, in the instant-classic, animated film Monsters, Inc. Now, 12 years on, the unstoppable Billy Crystal and John Goodman voiced double act are headed back to school to discover where it all began, in prequel Monsters University.

Set well in advance of the original film, Pixar's first prequel sees Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan's university days in the School of Scaring at the prestigious Monsters University. The youthful dreams of two ambitious scaring majors are the same, yet their ethos of getting there couldn't be more different, and when the pair meet for the first time these inseparable friends rather surprisingly bring out the worst in one another as their differences cause them to clash. As a fierce rivalry instantly emerges with severe consequences that threaten their prospective futures in scaring, the duo must learn to work together with one another to succeed in the annual Scare Games - competing as part of the underdog fraternity, Oozma Kappa.

Things get off to a rough start between future friends Mike and Sulley in Monsters University.

The difficulty in creating a prequel is quite obviously that going into the film, you already know how it is going to end - and just by reading the above synopsis I'm sure you can gage a good idea of how Monsters University will pan out. Therefore, it is to the credit and creativity of the filmmakers at Pixar that they are able to pull off a prequel that despite this inevitable hurdle is actually able to play the time-setting to its advantage and throw some unexpected curve balls at you along the way too, as Mike's story takes front and centre this time around. It's of course all about the journey rather than the destination, and the film's message of dreams and ambitions going awry, and finding the silver lining in that moment of revelation which resonates with the film is a bold and ambitious one, and has a strong emotional pay-off to it. It won't have you crying into your 3D glasses like the opening of Up or the climax of Toy Story 3, but these engaging and relatable characters, regardless of how monstrous they may appear, have a pure human soul that we can all relate to on some level. Everyone will have had their dreams shattered at some point in their life - where lifelong plans are scuppered in an instant - for those people, this is their film; when the traditional 'work hard and you'll achieve' moral just won't cut it anymore because it just won't happen, the message that something even better come when you accept yourself for who you are is truthful and powerful.

Yet Monsters University is not a film designed to tug at the heart strings. If the conclusion to the original film has taught us anything, it is that laughter is the most powerful form of emotion of all, and for people sitting down to watch Monsters University, prepare yourself for what it quite possibly the funniest film in Pixar's 14 film history. Whilst all of the studio's other films have had a noticeable focus on the humour, from the very first frame right to the end of the credits, Monsters University focuses on the laughter department more so than any other Pixar film to date, and absolutely delivers at each and every opportunity; with it's fantastic dialogue and well-timed slapstick set pieces coming from the comedic mind of fresh-blood director Dan Scanlon.

Mike stands up to the fearsome Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) in Monsters University.

As the film opens onto the very first shot, we are instantly reminded of the richly creative world that we are returning to - and Monstropolis has never looked better. Expanding the world to venture into the university environment feels like a very natural move, as we stay in the brilliant concept of the 'everyday' working life that made the concept of the original so wonderfully unique: if the first saw the monsters going to the factory for the 9 to 5, then it makes sense to focus on another career-based institution such as the schooling system. With that concept instantly comes a fresh twist on a recognisable world, and whilst the usual college movie antics are obviously toned down a bit for the family market - there are no monsters doing Jäger shots, although most of them do walk around naked - it still has the natural feeling of a university environment, and all of the recognisable individual types that you would come to expect from it too. It's the world's first family college movie, and it's every bit as funny as you want it to be.

Naturally, with the original film being so well loved by people all over the world, the question is often asked as to whether University is an equal or worthwhile follow-up to Inc. Of course we don't need a follow-up, especially not with the original being the classic, fully-closed story that it is, but instinctively there is the concern that returning to the franchise unnecessarily can sour the memory of a well loved film (just ask the adults who grew up with the original Star Wars films as a child) - but when do we ever need a film? What the prequel element of Monsters University allows the filmmakers to do is to return to some familiar faces, and at the same time have some fun with your memory of them by twisting your expectations, or just by simply having fun with their youthful appearances. There are so many little nods and winks towards the original, allowing the film to actually improve your appreciation and understanding of the monster world and its inhabitants in many ways - you'll certainly never look at Steve Buscemi's Radall the same way again. However it is naturally the friendship between Mike and Sulley that benefits the most from the prequel, as watching the inseparable pair becoming the unbeatable team that we know them to be by setting aside their differences - and in fact using them to their own advantage - really makes you understand and appreciate their story from the original film on another level. Regardless of how it compares to the original, as a stand-alone film, it is nothing short of a complete joy to see the pair back on the big screen together in a film that focuses on further exploring these characters - the original film's two greatest assets.

How will underdog fraternity Oozma Kappa fare in the Scare Games of Monsters University?

So to answer the question on everyone's lips: it's tough to say if Monsters University is as good as the original, as it is very different film, and they both have strengths in different areas. What it does do is absolutely stand-up alongside it; perhaps some of the originality has worn off (as you'd expect from returning to a franchise, you've seen this world before), and it may not have a set-piece as extraordinary and unforgettable as the door chase sequence of the first (although what film does!?), it's a laugh out loud hilarious film that will have audiences members of all ages roaring with laughter from start to finish, with an engaging and heart-warming story that packs a bold and valuable message at the same time.

If nothing else, Monsters University is a testament to the lasting brilliance of the original film and to Pixar's ability to create great characters and stories that people of all ages will adore and invest in emotionally for generations to come. With humour and heart in abundance, this may not be another Pixar tearjerker, but it might just be their funniest film to date. 12 years after Monsters, Inc. first wowed audiences, the world may not have been crying out for another instalment, but it got one - and rest assured the world will sure be glad it got it! Welcome back Mike and Sulley, it's a pleasure to see you both again my old friends. Now I guess the 12 year wait to Monsters Retirement Centre starts right here...


Monsters University (certificate U) is released in cinemas across the UK on July 12th.

Are you looking forward to enrolling into Monsters University? Perhaps you already have? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Mini-Review: This Is The End

Released in cinemas across the UK tomorrow, Hollywood apocalypse comedy This Is The End sees a group of current comedy A-listers and actors (including but not limited to James Franco, Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill) playing fictionalised versions of themselves (or so they say...) at the end of days.

James Franco, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Jay Baruchel, Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill ("from Moneyball" - not pictured) lead the A-List celebrity cast of This Is The End.

It's easy to go into a film like this with low expectations, as so often these types of films from the school of Judd Apatow-style comedy filmmaking fail to deliver on their promise of humour, but despite a few flat moments here and there, This Is The End actually prevails in bringing the laughs throughout a number of very funny and memorable set pieces. The story is simple but fun, all building up to a big and satisfying finale that will leave you on a high note and leaving with an unexpected smile. With the self-referential celebrity ensemble twist bringing a lot of the gags to the table, it is to the merit of the cast that they have the good humour to mock their own careers and personas as they do throughout, as this helps to lift a lot of fairly uneventful moments to consistently enjoyable entertainment; be it the James Franco's unrequited bromance with Seth Rogen, a low budget sequel trailer that the group shoot to pass time, or the confessionals shot on Franco's stolen 127 Hours camera prop. Cameos come thick and fast throughout as the celebrity nature of the characters allows a lot of their famous friends to pop-up, with the likes of Harry Potter alumni Emma Watson and Scott Pilgrim star Michael Cera changing the way you'll likely look at them forever.

This Is The End of Hermione's good-girl image...

Consistently funny and mindlessly entertaining, throw away any initial expectations that you may have towards this type of film as This Is The End more than delivers throughout. It won't blow your mind or change your life, but nor does it set out. What you see is what you get with This Is The End; a satisfying and highly enjoyable Hollywood comedy that will do exactly what it sets out to achieve - entertain.


This Is The End (certificate 15) is released in cinemas across the UK on June 28th.

Are you looking forward to seeing This Is The End? Perhaps you already have? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Review: Man of Steel

Anyone over the age of 18 (and a few naughty fake I.D. holders under 18) will have probably experienced this at some point in their lives: the feeling that accompanies stepping out of a nightclub at 3am in the morning. It's a feeling that oh so many of us will have experienced from the later years of our youth: returning to the outside world having just experienced a barrage of flashing lights, images and fleeting moments, through a constant and unrelenting series of loud noises and bass-heavy tunes that have left your poor ears hearing everything as a distant muffled echo. As the distorted memories from what was probably a rather empty and difficult to follow evening of events begins to settle, it is at this point that we find ourselves asking that all important question: was that actually an experience that I enjoyed, and was it all really worth it? Sure you may have had a few moments of fun with some familiar faces along the way, but it's ultimately a question that is more often than not followed by a crushing feeling of disappointment and regret.

Stepping out of Man of Steel was like stepping out of that proverbial nightclub.

After the huge critical and financial successful of the most recent Warner Bros./DC Comics film collaboration - Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy - Man of Steel follows closely in the footsteps of the recent Bat-franchise by giving Clark Kent, alias Superman (Henry Cavill), a Batman Begins style origin story set on a dark and more contemporary version of Earth. Yet with 'Supes' being born into his superpowers and getting used to them through childhood, the film features very little in the way of the character learning and adjusting to his new-found superhuman abilities that you might expect from most superhero origin films. Instead we have a tale of self-discovery: it's not about who Clark Kent was and what he's now become, it is about discovering who he has always been all along, and why. It is these parts of Man of Steel that are the most interesting and engaging to watch. Simple moments with Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Clark's adopted Earth parents are subtle, touching and emotionally endearing, and apparitions of Russell Crowe as his biological Kryptonian father help to further Kent's understanding of who he is and how he must choose to live his life. Presented here through a non-linear Nolan-esque telling of a story that fans will already know more or less through the original Christopher Reeve film series, the film's narrative feels fresh and engaging, and the film as a whole benefits greatly for it.

Subtlety is key: simple scenes between Clark and his adopted parents justify Man of Steel.

Yet to some extent, the focus on characters that makes Man of Steel so interesting also forms part of the film's undoing - namely in the relationship between Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Although Amy Adams does a great job of re-imagining the iconic Superman love interest, news reporter Lois Lane, and Henry Cavill absolutely has the visual presence of a perfect Superman, it is the rushed character development of the film's screenplay that truly lets down what could have been the beginnings of an appealing relationship. Instead of saving any time to allow the relationship to slowly blossom in a natural way, the screenplay chooses to thrust the two characters together rapidly; seemingly because they have to, rather than because it is the appropriate time to do so. As a result, any early signs of the fantastic chemistry and banterous dialogue that occur between the two (especially during an interrogation scene) are cut short by the need to forward the plot as quickly as possible in order to get to the big budget action sequences - and when the film presents an on-screen kiss towards its climax, the moment does not feel at all natural or necessary, but instead rushed into the film just for the sake of having it there. With an inevitable plan for more films to come (with MOS2 already in the works), there really is no reason why Zack Snyder and co. could not have slowed down such major character developments like this for potential follow-ups.

Alongside these issues in the screenplay is Man of Steel's complete lack of humour throughout. It's clear that Snyder is trying hard to avoid the camp humour style of the Marvel Avengers universe with its heightened gritty realism, yet even the comparable Dark Knight Trilogy which the film is trying to match is able to have some laughs at itself throughout. With just a few moments of very subtle humour featuring in a film about a man in a skin-tight blue costume with a bright red cape flapping at the rear, fighting a group of people wearing blackened Buzz Lightyear suits, it is clear that the film is taking itself far too seriously. I'm not looking for the comedy of the year, but a few more laughs and lighthearted moments certainly would have made Man of Steel a far more enjoyable film to watch, and may have even allowed for a greater engagement and likeability towards the film's character ensemble. But perhaps establishing characters and their emotional developments doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things, for as soon as the film reaches its final forty minutes the concept of characters gets thrown straight out of the window: both figuratively and - unfortunately, far too often - literally.

When the lead in a humourless film wears this, you know it needs to lighten up a bit...

As soon as the film's lead villain, the kryptonian General Zod (Michael Shannon), touches down on Earth with his dastardly team who threaten the safety of the planet in order to track down the Man of Steel himself, the film turns from the intriguing Nolan-style Hollywood art film character-drama into a Zack Snyder/Michael Bay CGI action wet dream. I'd be lying if I said I could totally follow what happened for the final forty minutes of Man of Steel, but it's almost incomprehensible: an endless series of explosions, noise, large scale destruction, and people flying through buildings. It all suddenly becomes very difficult to follow, and even more difficult to care. Constant, repetitive, nonsensical action between seemingly invisible characters (who appear to be unable to feel any form of pain or suffering at all) naturally drags on far too long, proving nothing more than the fact that people punching each other for forty minutes does in fact get boring; very, very quickly. And it seems that no-one else can be hurt either, as even the majority of the millions of Metropolis city inhabitants appear to flee collapsing buildings and exploding vehicles without even as much as a scratch - it's comparable to a darker adult version of The Avengers' final battle in New York, just with less interesting characters, and a lot less enjoyment. It's at this point where Man of Steel becomes its own worst enemy - what starts off as a promising film ultimately becomes everything you fear it could possibly be; a headache-educing hollow Hollywood corporate box-office machine.

Supremely stylish but unsatisfyingly empty, Man of Steel kicks off what could have been a promising Super-franchise, but a lack of humour and a seemingly endless finale of loud and unrelenting CGI destruction ultimately leaves a sense of disappointment that unfortunately looms over any positivity that you may initially have towards the film; leaving you to walk out of the cinema with an distasteful memory of 40 minutes of boredom and confusion. Not without merit, Man of Steel is by no means as good as it should have been with the name of The Dark Knight's Christopher Nolan attached to it. As the set-up to many inevitable sequels to come - and the on/off Justice League film that's still on everybody's lips - we can only hope that the already confirmed follow-up will be the film that we deserve, but it's almost certainly not the one we need right now.


Man of Steel (certificate 12A) is now showing in cinemas across the UK.

Have you seen Man of Steel? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

Confession time: I am not a Trekker! There, I said it - I haven't seen any of the television series', and as far the films go I have only seen the very enjoyable 2009 reboot Star Trek (bet they took a while thinking that name up...), and as of last night, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (the fan heralded 'best Star Trek film ever'). Wait; what!? I know what you're thinking, I bet you were expecting me to say Star Trek Into Darkness there - the latest film and sequel to the 2009 blockbuster - but I didn't see that last night, in fact I actually saw it on Thursday, opening day in the UK. So, as I'm sure you can imagine, this new film must be something fantastic to convince me to dip my toes further into Trekker territory through watching one of the original films just one day later, mustn't it?...

Set after the events of 2009s franchise rebooting prequel-come-sequel (it's a long story...), Into Darkness opens on a distant planet as we find the intrepid crew of the U.S.S Enterprise mid-mission - thrusting the audience straight into the middle of the action in a way that felt reminiscent of the opening sequence on Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back. Of course, as you can probably imagine, it doesn't take long before things very quickly go out of control, forcing the infamous Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), and his expert team boasting the unforgettable Spock (Zachary Quinto), Uhura (Zoe Salanda), Bones McCoy (Karl Urban, the chin of Dredd himself), and Scotty (Simon Pegg) to make some rash decisions to get out alive - not without consequences of course. As the team head back home to the Starfleet headquarters, news comes in that the London branch has been the victim of a large terrorist attack, helmed by the mysterious John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) who has a large vendetta against the intergalactic Peace Corps that he seeks to settle.

Zachary Quinto's Spock amidst a volcanic visual spectacle.

Instantly, the first thing to be said about Into Darkness as the film opens to shots of an alien world - filled with a forest of red trees, ancient temples and an erupting volcano - is that the impressive visual aesthetic of the franchise has been retained from its predecessor. Once again, the slick stylistic flair (and trademark Abrams lens-flare) of the Star Trek universe is brought to life beautifully, bringing an engaging depth and majestic wonder to the worlds that are explored, including a futuristic version of Earth. The CGI effects are truly second to none, but of course that is all secondary to the plot; give me a film with rubbish visual effects any day as long as it has a captivating storyline, over one without. Fortunately, Into Darkness features the best of both.

Based on the television series created in the 60s, Star Trek Into Darkness stays true enough to its source material's characters and ethos whilst infusing a modern spin through its updated visuals, which in doing so creates a loving old fashioned science-fiction story for a new generation. Perhaps more impressive is that fact that it does so without feeling at all outdated, as fantasies of space-exploration are still alive and strong today as they were during the decade that first put man on the moon. More than that, the film simply nurtures the human lust for adventure, and nothing quite delivers that like Into Darkness' enthralling action sequences. Fast paced and on a large scale, the film features a number of scenes that are as exciting and satisfying as they are ambitious. However it is the character-driven storyline that really allows the audience to engage in an alien universe, through its richly-written human characters that bring a genuine emotional heart to the film as well.

Cumberbatch's villain role takes centre stage amongst Into Darkness' returning cast.

Pitting the crew of the U.S.S Enterprise up against their toughest adversary yet, Into Darkness tests relationships between the characters to the limits. The love-to-hate friendship between Spock and Kirk gets a natural evolution which continues on from the first film, as the two become closer to a fully understanding one another. And if times weren't tough enough for poor ol' Mr. Spock, he also has to deal with love interest Uhura who, quite understandably, isn't too happy about some of his selfless actions in the film's opening. The rest of the cast's diverse ensemble also gets their moment in the spotlight, but it is Benedict Cumberbatch who naturally steals the show with his villainous portrayal of a vengeful adversary who alone poses an intimidating physical and intellectual threat. Cumberbatch effortlessly creates a screen presence that creates a constantly shifting power struggle amongst characters, as he gives the sinister smirk of a man two steps ahead. Balancing a wide range of impressive action sequences with an engaging character-driven storyline, Abrams' direction - from production through post-production - pieces together a well-paced, fast-flowing film that, despite a few scenes of exposition-heavy dialogue that slow the pace for just a fraction too long, is difficult not to enjoy.

With stunning visuals, superb action, and a great story, even the occasional lags of heavy exposition dialogue cannot stop Star Trek Into Darkness setting audiences to stun. Whether you are a lifelong Trekker, or an absolute newcomer to the franchise, perhaps the film's greatest strength is that it will entertain both sides: respecting its fans and converting the new. Of course, with director J.J. Abrams now turning his direction to the ways of the force, and with my earlier comparison to Empire Strikes Back I think that it's fair to say that if Into Darkness does anything it is to prove that he well and truly is the man for the Star Wars job; even if it does put the future of his Trektacular reboot on the ice (I only hope that it is not for long). Mr. Abrams: 'may the force be with you' as you undoubtedly 'live long and prosper'...


Star Trek Into Darkness (certificate 12A) is now showing in cinemas across the UK.

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