Review – Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Directors: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
Starring: Robert Downey Jr. Chris Hemsworth, Josh Brolin, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Chadwick Boseman, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Benedict Wong, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Peter Dinklage, Idris Elba
With the incredible success of Black Panther, which is the year’s top grossing film by some margin and Marvel’s third highest grossing film ever, 2018 was already a winner for Marvel Studios before they had even played their trump card. Avengers: Infinity Wars is, by most any measure, one of the biggest movies in history. The film that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been building to for a decade now, it is a crossover epic 18 films in the making, and promises to be the blockbuster movie event of the year.
When Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who has been missing from Earth since Avengers: Age of Ultron, comes crashing down into Doctor Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) Sanctum Sanctorum he brings with him an ominous warning. The titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) is gathering the infinity stones. These six gems forged in the big bang each control an elemental power and if he gets his hand on all six, and he already has three, he will become all powerful. His ultimate goal? Genocide on an unimaginable scale. Continue reading
Review – Jurassic World (2015)
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Vincent D’Onofrio, Irrfan Khan, Omar Sy, Jake Johnson, Lauren Lapkus, Judy Greer
There is good news and bad news with Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World. The good news is that it is the best Jurassic Park movie since Steven Spielberg’s original, the blockbuster sensation that ushered in a new world of digital effects on its way to becoming the highest grossing film of all time. The bad news is that saying a film is better than The Lost World and Jurassic Park 3 is not saying a lot.
In Jurassic World we see the vision of Jurassic Park realised: a fully functioning theme park and resort island where twenty thousand visitors a day come to see genetically engineered living dinosaurs. It is SeaWorld on steroids. But the park has been open for a while now, and numbers are starting to plateau. As operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) explains. “People aren’t wowed by dinosaurs anymore. Twenty years ago, de-extinction was up there with magic. Now kids look at a stegosaurus like it’s an elephant at the zoo.” So in order to keep the crowds coming, Jurassic World’s team of scientists have moved into a new frontier of genetic innovation. Continue reading
Review – The Lone Ranger (2013)
Director: Gore Verbinski
Starring: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fitchner, Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter, Barry Pepper, James Badge Dale
The Bruckheimer, Verbinski, Depp trio which brought you the Pirates of the Caribbean series is back and this time they are taking us to the Wild West with a remake of the classic serial The Lone Ranger.
The Lone Ranger and his trusty sidekick Tonto date back to a radio serial from the early 1930s and have since appeared in novels, comics, television series and numerous films, both features and shorts. But the young demographic the film is targeted at are a couple of generations removed from those who grew up with the Lone Ranger, so the film really has a clean slate in introducing these much-loved characters to a new audience.
We are taken back to the beginning, with idealistic young lawyer John Reid is caught in an ambush by the horrible Butch Cavendish and his gang, having been deputised a Texas Ranger by his sheriff brother. While the rest of the posse is killed, Reid is brought back from death’s door by a peculiar Comanche named Tonto, who teaches him that sometimes in a corrupt society the only way to serve justice is to operate as an outlaw.
Our story teller is an elderly Tonto, recounting the story of the Lone Ranger – or as he knows him, Kemosabe – to a young boy. That we hear the story from Tonto’s point of view turns him from a sidekick into arguably the central character. This is a move obviously designed to make the most of Johnny Depp’s star presence, which sees him largely playing a variation of Jack Sparrow as an Indian. Tonto is also given his own back-story, which explains his kookiness without merely resting on unfortunate racial stereotypes that would not be as easily accepted now as they were in the 1930s and 1940s. That we first meet the elderly Tonto standing in a Wild West sideshow exhibition display entitled “The Noble Savage” suggests an awareness on the part of the writers of the problematic tradition that characters like Tonto have come out of.
The writers do a good job in staying true to the characters and elements that fans will expect, while making the required adjustments to give it a fresh and contemporary feel. They are also willing to acknowledge that some things just don’t quite work as well for a 2013 audience as it did for a 1933 audience. The picture finishes with a good laugh at the expense of the Lone Ranger’s catchphrase, “Hi ho, Silver! Away!”
While the Western has experienced somewhat of a return to relevance in recent years with films like True Grit and, of course, Django Unchained, The Lone Ranger represents something entirely different. This is a $250m studio blockbuster, making it far and away the most expensive Western ever made, and indicates a level of faith in the genre that hasn’t been present in major studio Hollywood since the 1950s. It is also a return to the matinee style, Wild West adventure, and is definitely the most fun that has been had with the Western for quite a while.
With the producer, director and star of the Pirates of the Caribbean series joining forces again, it is unsurprising that The Lone Ranger has a very similar feel to that incredibly successful franchise. You get that blockbuster-friendly blend of action, adventure and comedy. Every dollar of that estimated $250m budget has ended up on the screen. The Lone Ranger is a big movie with big action. It may not have been based on a ride like Pirates of the Caribbean was, but it still feels like one.
For much of its two-and-a-half hour run-time, The Lone Ranger feels uneven. Verbinski seems to struggle to find a balance between the light-heartedness that comes from a slightly bumbling hero with a quirky sidekick, and some moments that are surprisingly dark and disturbing. But the movie really hits its straps in the last 45 minutes, finishing on a high with an enormous action sequence featuring horses and trains and horses on trains. Add to that the iconic William Tell Overture, and you’ll have a hard time not smiling.
Rating – ★★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean
Review – Iron Man 3 (2013)
Director: Shane Black
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Ben Kinsley, Jon Favreau
Iron Man 3 provides our first look at ‘Phase Two’ of Marvel’s Avengers plan – that is, the movies that come between The Avengers and its sequel – and our first insight into how that process is going to work.
For starters, there is continuity from the events of The Avengers into this next Tony Stark adventure. However, these events have resulted in a logical shift within realism of the ‘Iron Man universe.’ For the first two films in the trilogy, Stark existed in a world that was more or less realistic. Our heroes and villains may have been ultra-rich and incredibly smart, but they were always basically human beings transformed into superheroes and villains through the use of technology. But The Avengers broke this realism by introducing aliens and gods, alternate dimensions and portals. Iron Man 3 acknowledges this shift in reality, giving a prominent narrative place to Tony Stark and other characters coming to terms with what they experienced in New York (“In New York” becomes code for the things that happened in The Avengers). Stark himself is traumatised by the events to the point that he suffers from anxiety attacks.
This shift in reality also allows for a scaling up of the threat in Iron Man 3. Our villain this time is the mysterious terrorist, the Mandarin, played menacingly by Ben Kingsley with a voice that is some combination of Richard Nixon and Heath Ledger’s Joker. The Mandarin is resourced by jaded scientist Aldrich Killian, continuing the tradition from the first two films of it being a battle of the brains. However rather than resourcing him with weapons or super-suits, Killian resources him with an army of genetically modified super soldiers. Therein lays the break in realism which would not have been acceptable without The Avengers.
Of course, not all our questions are answered. The primary one being, when the world comes under threat again, why does Tony Stark have to face this particular challenge on his own? At what point does a catastrophe become significant enough to warrant getting the band back together?
For this third instalment in the Iron Man trilogy, Jon Favreau has handed over directorial duties to Shane Black. Black’s only previous directorial experience was 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a brilliant if under-appreciated film which represented a very important step the comeback of Robert Downey Jr. which ultimately culminated in Iron Man. Black had made his name as a screenwriter of action-comedies, most notably the Lethal Weapon series, making him a pretty good fit for Iron Man 3. And Black does what he does best in this film, ramping up the laughs and the sense of fun in the film without undermining its drama and tension. Black taking over as director has also enabled Jon Favreau’s character, Stark’s body guard Happy Hogan, to take on a much larger role than he did in the first two films.
For a film about a superhero who wears a mechanical suit, Drew Pearce and Shane Black’s screenplay surprisingly sees Tony Stark spending the vast majority of the film, including a number of the action sequences, not suited up. That they felt the freedom to do this is indicative of the fact that over the span of this franchise the writers have successfully achieved what all superhero scribes wish for; they have got the audience invested in Tony Stark as a person, not just as Iron Man. When Christopher Nolan and David Goyer set about writing Batman Begins, one of their primary goals was to get the audience to care about Bruce Wayne as a person so that they weren’t just killing time until he put on the suit. In the case of the Iron Man franchise, you could almost go so far as to argue that audiences have a greater investment in the character of Tony Stark, and the charisma of Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of him, than they do in the figure of Iron Man. Downey Jr. as Tony Stark is the trump card this franchise has to play, so it makes sense that Black set out to give him as much screen time as possible. This is further assisted from within the unfolding narrative of the series, with the constant evolution of the suit now seeing it as a piecemeal set of armour, which enables him to have any combination of his arms, legs and torso suited up without necessarily having to have his face covered.
Amazingly, Iron Man 3 represents Downey Jr.’s fifth appearance as Tony Stark – the Iron Man trilogy, The Avengers and a brief cameo The Incredible Hulk. This is staggering considering that the first Iron Man film was only released in 2008. It took Bruce Willis 25 years to appear five times as John McClane. Stark is now without a doubt the role with which Robert Downey Jr. will be forever associated. The way in which he has brought this character to life could also be arguably his greatest acting achievement, although he is excellent in Chaplin. It does not necessarily go hand in hand that the role for which an actor is remembered is also their best work, so he is quite fortunate there.
Iron Man 3 also contains a very brave plot twist, which I’ve been careful not to give away here. Brave in the sense that it is in equal parts fantastic and disappointing, and has thus far left audiences very divided.
Where Iron Man goes from here is anyone’s guess. We know there is going to be a sequel to The Avengers, there is no way that Marvel will let that not happen, and Iron Man 3 finishes with a Bond-esque “Tony Stark Will Return,” but it also has a sense of wrapping up which makes gives the impression that this may be the last solo Iron Man adventure. If that ends up being the case, Iron Man 3 is a fitting completion to a rollickingly fun trilogy.
Rating – ★★★★
Review by Duncan McLean
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