Director: Taika Waititi
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo, Karl Urban, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Taika Waititi, Anthony Hopkins
After nine years, sixteen films, and over US$12.5 billion in box office takings, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is undoubtedly one of the most successful blockbuster franchises in history. However, despite this popular and critical success, the Thor films have remained a clear weak point of the MCU. While Chris Hemsworth is relatively charismatic in the titular role, and the series has produced the MCU’s best villain in Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, it is fair to say that neither of the Norse god of thunder’s two solo outings have hit the nail on the head. With Thor: Ragnarok, Marvel Studios have thrown caution to the wind, attempting to remedy this situation with a bold change in direction by handing the reins to celebrated Kiwi director, and 2017 New Zealander of the Year, Taika Waititi. Continue reading
Director: Paul Feig
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Neil Casey
The film at the centre of this year’s most ridiculous “controversy,” Paul Feig’s all-female remake of Ghostbusters, has been released and, surprise surprise, not only has the world continued to turn and everyone’s childhood remained intact, Feig and his quartet of talented comediennes have produced a really fun movie.
Ghostbusters, directed by Ivan Reitman, is a much loved movie and an icon of 1980s culture, so attempting to remake it was always going to be tricky. But unlike a sequel which seeks to recreate the original, trying to capture lightning in a bottle for a second time, a remake has license to reimagine, to do something different. So while this remake shows a great deal of reverence to the original film – including multiple cameos from its cast members – it also understands that this is 2016 and the world, and film comedy, has changed since 1984. So what we get is a Ghostbusters film for today. It is a Paul Feig comedy, cut from the same cloth as Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy, making it a jokier film than the original. Continue reading
Director: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Samuel L Jackson
The 2012 superhero team up movie The Avengers, the culmination of Phase One of Marvel Studios plan for blockbuster world domination, was an enormous success taking $1.5 billion worldwide and becoming the third highest grossing film of all time. So naturally expectation is sky high for their next gathering, Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) is still haunted by the events of New York which concluded The Avengers. Knowing what forces exist in the universe he is acutely aware of the limitations of the Avengers. They can only protect the world from so much. With the help of Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) he has been secretly working at a plan he calls Ultron, which he imagines as “a suit of armour around the world.” After the Avengers reclaim Loki’s sceptre from a Hydra bunker, Stark and Banner try and harness its artificial intelligence and plant it in Ultron. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions, so sure enough this plan backfires. Designed to keep the peace, the sentient Ultron (James Spader) sees allowing the Earth to evolve through the elimination of the human race as key to achieving that peace. Continue reading
Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara
Two men, both brilliant but both completely different. One is flamboyant, brash and impulsive. The other is calculating, methodical and abrasive. They are James Hunt and Niki Lauda, and they are the subject of Ron Howard’s latest film, Rush, which tells the story of their famous rivalry from its origins in lower division racing to its culmination in a head to head battle for the 1976 Formula One World Championship, a season which would for different reasons change both of their lives.
This is not just a movie for Formula One fans. In fact, to call Rush a sports movie feels reductive. The film starts with a voiceover from Lauda. “Twenty-five people start Formula One and each year two die. What kind of person does a job like that?” Rush is a character study. What kind of person willingly takes that kind of risk? The movie presents us with two opposite but co-dependent figures who are, in their different ways, that kind of person.
With two characters as diametrically opposed as Hunt and Lauda a more simplistic film would have sought to establish a clear hero and a villain, a protagonist and an antagonist. Rush gives no such clear cut definitions. Instead both characters are complex personalities and both characters at different times have the audience on their side. Hunt, despite his charm, provides many of the films darker moments. Likewise, Lauda, despite his analytical nature provides most of the films laughs.
With the entire film being built around these two personalities, much falls on the shoulders of Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl and both arguably deliver career best performances. The key to both performances is the actor’s ability – with the help of Peter Morgan’s fine screenplay – to take their character beyond caricature. Having already played a superhero and being blessed with superhuman handsomeness, Hemsworth heightens Hunt’s charm and makes for a believable playboy. But it is the moments where he takes you beneath the surface, beneath the façade, that really show his talent. Likewise, Brühl’s calculating and abrasive Lauda could have been yet another a simplistic, Germanic villain but Brühl gives him depth and as a result his own charm and likeability.
That all being said, Rush still really works as a sports movie. It is the best film ever made about motor sports. The racing scenes are exhilarating. While the actual depiction of the sporting event is where many sports movies fall short, Howard successfully brings life to the contest between these two men (the rest of the drivers are irrelevant), demonstrating the speed, closeness and incredible danger of what they do. Just as importantly, no two of the races feel the same. For each race there is something specific that draws our focus, so the drama never disappears.
Ron Howard has always been a gifted storyteller but over the last decade he seems to have had more misses than hits. He is a filmmaker who at times has been prone to playing it safe, but there is nothing safe about Rush either in its subject or its execution. Rush is a real return to form for him, the best motor racing film ever made, and one of the films of the year.
Rating – ★★★★
Review by Duncan McLean