Director: David Ayer
Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Cara Delevingne, Viola Davis, Jared Leto, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adele Akinuoye-Agbaje, Karen Fukuhara
Suicide Squad represents the brave next step in the stuttering DC Expanded Universe as, for the first time, it shifts its focus away from DC’s big two characters, Superman and Batman, instead looking to a band of misfit villains-turned-heroes. Redemption is the theme here. Redemption for these characters and redemption for the studio after the less than glowing reception of Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice.
The US government is still coming to terms with the presence of meta-humans in the world after the climactic events of Batman vs Superman. What happens if the next Superman isn’t such a nice guy? Intelligence agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) proposes an initiative called Taskforce X. In exchange for reductions in their sentences, a group of highly dangerous but highly gifted criminals in Belle Reve Penitentiary are engaged to fight America’s most dangerous foes. Continue reading
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Chadwick Boseman, Daniel Bruhl, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd
Eight years and thirteen films into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain America: Civil War suggests that rather than growing stale, the MCU is maturing and starting to really explore the possibilities afforded to it by this interwoven, serialised form of cinematic storytelling.
When a mission in Wakanda goes awry and innocent lives are lost, questions are again asked of the culpability of the Avengers. Coming after even grander scale destruction in New York, Washington DC and Sokovia, this is final straw. “Victory at the expense of innocents is no victory at all,” declares the Wakandan King. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt, reprising his role from the forgotten MCU film, The Incredible Hulk) presents the Avengers with the Sokovian Accord, signed by 117 nations, which seeks to place them under the jurisdiction of the United Nations. Continue reading
Director: Zach Snyder
Starring: Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne
“Who would win a fight between…” has long been a favourite hypothetical of young comic book fans around the world. So for those boys and girls Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice must have sounded like a dream come true. Unfortunately though, if there is one audience this film is not for it is kids. In bringing together the world’s two most iconic superheroes Zach Snyder has made the darkest mainstream blockbuster in recent memory. It is a serious film without an ounce of lightness or humour that seeks to pose ethical and philosophical questions about power, but poor execution leaves it falling short of its lofty goals.
Batman vs Superman is in a number of ways a reactionary film. At an industrial level it is absolutely Warner Brothers and DC’s panicked response to the outrageous success Marvel Studios have had with their interwoven Marvel Cinematic Universe. What was originally supposed to be a straight sequel to 2013’s Man of Steel was seemingly co-opted by the studio to become the launching pad for the DC Expanded Universe. Continue reading
Director: Peyton Reed
Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Peña, Abbie Rider Fortson, Judy Greer
You just can’t bet against Marvel Studios at the moment. Every time they announce a new project based on some obscure comic that raises your eyebrows and makes you think, “Surely this is the one that they makes them stumble,” they find a way to make it work. Boy did it work with James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy last year and it has worked again, albeit not to quite as drastic an extent, with Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man, a light, funny and surprisingly heartfelt superhero movie.
Decades ago, when working with SHIELD, Dr Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) invented the Pym Particle, a formula that alters atomic relative distance, reducing the space between atoms while increasing their strength. Using his discovery he became the original Ant-Man. However, after a terrible accident he gave up the superhero life and, concerned by the potential weaponisation of his technology, vowed to keep his formula secret. But now his former protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who took over his company Pym Technologies and voted him out, is on the verge of unlocking the secret of the Pym Particle, Continue reading
Directors: Don Hall & Chris Williams
Starring: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Daniel Henney, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., Genesis Rodriguez, James Cromwell, Alan Tudyk
Fourteen-year-old Hiro Hamada is a robotics genius who, having lost his parents when he was very young, is wasting his prodigious talent hustling people at underground bot-fights. After an inspiring visit to the laboratory of his equally brilliant brother Tadashi at San Fransokyo Tech, Hiro is determined to gain entry to the university and study under the legendary Prof. Callaghan. But there is an accident at the university expo, with a fire taking the lives of both Tadashi and Callaghan. However, despite losing his brother Hiro is not alone. Tadashi has left behind Baymax, a giant, inflatable, robotic Personal Healthcare Companion he designed, and Baymax becomes Hiro’s carer and friend. When Hiro spots a mysterious man in a Kabuki mask using microbots, the very invention Hiro had been displaying at the expo on that fateful night, he starts to suspect that foul play may have been involved in the fire. After a few strategic upgrades to Baymax, Hiro and Tadashi’s friends set out to get to the bottom of what really happened. Continue reading
Directors: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Eva Green, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dennis Haysbert, Rosario Dawson, Powers Booth, Bruce Willis
Released in 2005, Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City was a critical and popular hit, with its stylised violence and heightened neo-noir aesthetic. Pioneering in its use of green screen technology and digital settings, Sin City was among the first films which actively sought to reflect rather than disguise its graphic novel origins. Almost immediately there was talk of multiple sequels being in the pipeline with a number of big name stars supposedly attached. Yet somehow it has taken nine years for a follow up, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, to hit the screens. Unfortunately, it has not been worth the wait.
As with the first film, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is made up of interwoven but unconnected episodes. Entering into the shady world of Basin City, we jump from one protagonist to another. In “Just Another Saturday Night,” Marv struggles to remember a violent encounter with a group of frat boys which has, unsurprisingly, ended in carnage. “The Long, Bad Night” sees a cocky young gambler arriving in town to play some poker, with a view to taking down the big fish, Senator Rourke. In “A Dame to Kill For,” private investigator Dwight is manipulated by an old flame, Ava Lord, into committing a murder. While “Nancy’s Last Dance” reintroduces stripper Nancy Callahan, wallowing in grief and despair four years after the suicide of her saviour John Hartigan and determined to have her revenge.
Like its predecessor, the strength of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For lies in its visuals. The aesthetic, featuring high contrast black and white with splashes of colour, is still very striking and the incorporation of 3D only helps to immerse you into this comic book world. That said, striking visuals can only carry a film so far. They have to be in support of an engaging story and characters, and that is where Sin City: A Dame to Kill For falls short. Despite the new narratives and the introduction of new characters the film doesn’t manage to go anywhere new. It feels like a movie made up of deleted scenes from the original. So where the first Sin City felt exciting and fresh, this sequel gets old very quickly. When a movie feels longer than its 100 minute runtime, it is never a good sign.
As funny as it sounds given its aesthetic, Rodriguez and Miller’s film is crying out for some light and shade. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For entirely one note. There is no modulation of tone. Eventually the brutal violence and misogyny blurs together into an indeterminate mess. Bruce Willis’s character, Hartigan, served an important function in the first film. He was its hero and evidence of hope and morality in an immoral world. While Willis appears sporadically in the sequel as a ghost watching over Nancy, no character takes up this function. So we are presented with a world devoid of any sort of hope. Without even a glimmer of hope, we don’t engage as fully with the despair.
Returning to this world after nine years, it is challenging to draw connections between the original film and the sequel. This is partly the result of a number of roles being recast – Josh Brolin replaces Clive Owen, Dennis Haysbert replaces the late Michael Clarke Duncan, Jeremy Piven replaces Michael Madsen – but also the result of some confusing chronology. Some of the episodes obviously follow on from the events of the first film while others are prequels and there is no clear differentiation between them.
Frank Miller imagined Basin City as a man’s world and as a result the representation of women in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is at best questionable, at worst downright misogynistic. Every female character is either a prostitute or a stripper, a femme fatale or a temptress. The filmmakers argue that they present strong female characters, assumedly on the grounds that some of them commit acts of violence rather than just being victims, but even these warrior women are presented as male fantasies for consumption by a male audience. You will lose count of the number of times a female character is introduced into a scene with a leering close up of her backside. The only female character with any real agency in the story is Ava Lord, who is brilliantly portrayed as the classic noir femme fatale by Eva Green (though more frequently nude than a classical Hollywood character would ever have been). But even in this case her power comes from her ability to manipulate men to do things for her rather than her ability to do anything for herself.
Nowhere is the film’s failure to match the nuance and subtlety of classic film noir as evident as in its faux-hard-boiled narration. First person narration, one of the hallmarks of film noir, is stretched to breaking point here. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For descends into a competition between gruff and growly men trying to out-husky-voice each other. The characters seemingly narrating every thought that goes through their head, leaving no room for subtext. Thankfully it eventually passes through being insufferable and just becomes white noise. It also serves as evidence that just because a line might work on the comic book page doesn’t mean it will translate to the screen.
With nothing new to say, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is little more than a pale imitation of its predecessor and were it not for an engaging performance from Eva Green it would hardly have been worth returning to after nine years.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen Sin City: A Dame to Kill For? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.
Director: Bryan Singer
Starring: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Peter Dinklage, Nicholas Hoult, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Ellen Page
Five years ago, the X-Men franchise was looking like it might have run its course. X-Men: Last Stand had disappointed and X-Men Origins: Wolverine was widely panned. But Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class breathed new life into the series in 2011, and now Bryan Singer, the director who helped launch the franchise, is back at the helm for the much anticipated, and confusingly titled, X-Men: Days of Future Past.
We begin at the end. It is the year 2023 and we are in the final stages of a war between the mutants and giant robots known as Sentinels. But it is not so much a war as an extermination. Knowing they have nowhere left to hide, a small band of mutants – including among others, Wolverine, Professor X and Magneto, by this point an ally – devise a last ditch plan. Kitty Pryde uses her telepathic powers to send Wolverine’s consciousness back in time. Awaking in his 1973 body, Wolverine must seek out the young Professor X and Magneto, at this point sworn enemies, and with their help change the past in order to prevent this war from ever beginning.
X-Men: Days of Future Past feels like the continuation of a story. It feels like we are picking up where a previous film left off, but we are not. As a result the first half of the movie is chock full of exposition because there is a whole story that we have not seen which needs to be explained to us in order to understand what we are now seeing. We learn how in 1973 Mystique murders scientist Boliver Trask, inventor of the Sentinels, and that act cements the general public’s fear of the mutants and leads to the green-lighting of the Sentinel project. We learn how after being captured, Mystique’s shape-shifting DNA is incorporated into the design of the Sentinels making them highly adaptable and near impossible to defeat. We learn how the machines started out targeting mutants, but soon moved on to targeting mutant-sympathising humans and eventually all humans. We start the film at the culmination of this narrative and then return to the very beginning to try and stop it ever happening, but the result is the feeling that we’ve actually missed out on quite a good story.
X-Men: Days of Future Past continues the strongly allegorical nature of the series, exploring themes of intolerance, prejudice and the fear of the other. In Professor X and Magneto we are shown two different forms of leadership and two different approaches to combatting prejudice. Professor X is the Martin Luther King figure, preaching cooperation, unity and understanding, while Magneto is more Malcolm X, calling for a more militant, fight-the-power response. These important themes are explored effectively, but still in an entertaining package. There are some impressive action sequences and visual effects, and this film contains more fun and humour than we have seen in some of the previous installments in the series. That we experience the 1970s through the eyes of a character from the future means that the sights and sounds of that era – clothes, music, hair styles, lava lamps and waterbeds – can all be played up for comic effect.
X-Men: Days of Future Past does suffer a bit from character overload, with many being very thinly sketched. The X-Men universe contains so many characters and the temptation is always there to introduce new ones each film. In this film, the dual time period means that we have two casts of characters. There are just too many characters here for them all to be meaningfully represented. Of the new characters introduced, the teenage Quicksilver is a highlight. He is responsible for probably the film’s best scene, helping spring Magneto from a maximum security prison, but despite proving himself incredibly useful he is then inexplicably left behind.
The plot of X-Men: Days of Future Past provided an excellent opportunity to wrap up the series, but, unsurprisingly, that option was not taken and the film is clearly setting itself up for a sequel (talk is that X-Men: Apocalypse will be hitting screens in 2016). With this film’s rewriting of the past essentially throwing away the events and chronology of the previous four films in the franchise, it will be interesting to see what they choose to move forward with in the sequel.
There is plenty in X-Men: Days of Future Past to please returning fans of the series, but newcomers will find this a very difficult film to get up to speed with. While it has some quite strong moments, it is very messy in terms of its screenplay and narrative and doesn’t really live up to the high expectations that preceded it.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen X-Men: Days of Future Past? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.
Director: Robert Schwentke
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Bacon, Mary-Louise Parker, Stephanie Szostak, Marisa Miller, James Hong
R.I.P.D. is the ‘new’ movie from Universal which you can’t help but feel like you’ve seen before. While it is, like every second aspiring blockbuster these days, an adaptation of a graphic novel, most viewers will recognise it as some combination of Men in Black and Ghostbusters with a little bit of Ghost tossed in for romantic interest.
The R.I.P.D. is the Rest in Peace Department, a team of elite but deceased law enforcers from throughout history who are charged with tracking down ‘deados,’ individuals who have passed away but have somehow managed to avoid judgement and continue to live on Earth incognito. Nick is a young Boston Policeman who is killed in the line of duty only to be called up to the RIPD while seemingly on his way to a place he didn’t want to go. At R.I.P.D. he is partnered up with Wild West lawman, Marshall Roysephus Pulsipher, who will show him the ropes. But Nick has picked an unfortunate moment to start his new job, because the deados are planning something which could change the world forever.
The odd-couple pairing for a buddy cop movie doesn’t get more odd than a 21st century Boston cop and a 19th century Wild West Marshall, but the success of buddy cop comedies invariably comes down to chemistry and Reynolds and Bridges don’t seem to have it. Rather than playing the quick-talking, wise-cracking role Will Smith took opposite the stony-faced Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black, Ryan Reynolds finds himself largely playing the straight man in this movie, with much of the (attempted) comedy coming from Bridges. The Academy Award winner – I feel it is appropriate to remind you at this point that Bridges does have an Oscar – appears to be enjoying himself playing for laughs as Roy, doing a hammier version of his Rooster Cogburn from True Grit with a drawl that is equally difficult to understand.
Familiarity isn’t necessarily a problem. One of the keys to the success of a blockbuster movie is striking the right balance of the familiar and the different. Audiences want to have a reasonable idea of what they’re getting themselves into. They want to recognise things – that is why people have favourite genres and favourite actors – and then they want to be surprised by the little ways in which this one is different. R.I.P.D. falls way too far on the familiar side of the ledger though. Everything from the premise and the characters to the storyline and the outcome feels generic and rehashed. While it can rustle up a few laughs and has its share of 3D CGI spectacle, it is largely pretty boring. You are always two steps ahead of this movie. You know what is going to happen because you’ve seen it all before.
Rating – ★★
Review by Duncan McLean
Director: Jeff Wadlow
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jim Carrey, Morris Chestnut
In 2010, amidst a flurry of superhero comic book adaptations, Kick-Ass managed to capture the public’s attention by creating a little controversy. An adaptation of the comic book series by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr, this story of an average high school student who wonders why no one has ever tried to be a superhero before and decides to give it a go not only featured quite graphic violence, but a foul-mouthed vigilante played by a then 11-year-old Chloë Grace Moretz. Three years later Kick-Ass and Hit Girl are back in a film which provides more of the same.
Like a number of superhero sequels before it, Kick-Ass 2 is primarily a film about escalation. After his mob boss father was killed by Kick-Ass at the end of the first film, Chris D’Amico is bent on revenge. Abandoning his superhero persona, the Red Mist, in favour of a new name that isn’t fit for print he decides to become the world’s first super villain, assembling a squad of costume clad henchmen to help him take down Kick-Ass. At the same time, the emergence of Kick-Ass has inspired numerous others of varying degrees of skill and sanity to don costumes and join him as vigilante crime fighters.
It is in its approach to these characters that Kick-Ass 2 is quite interesting. Where other superhero stories ask what prompts someone to become a superhero, the Kick-Ass films ask a slightly different question of their characters. What type of person chooses to put on a costume and fight crime? The film then presents us with two groups. The first are the incredibly naïve but well intentioned, who are ill-equipped for what they are endeavouring to do and are ultimately a danger to themselves. The second group are the psychotic, who have no appreciation for appropriate action, just a black and white concept of justice, and are ultimately a danger to everyone.
After being a scene stealing support character in the original, Chloe Gracë Moretz’s Hit Girl becomes the co-lead character in this sequel and once again she provides the movie’s x-factor. Now 15 years old, Mindy Macready promises her new guardian that she will turn her back on crime fighting. Her subplot, which delivers many of the films laughs, delves into an idea that will be common knowledge to many teenagers, that the social world of high school can be every bit as savage as anything you might come across in a dark alley in the bad part of town.
While Kick-Ass 2 lacks some of the shock value of the original, it is still a very violent film, though it is notable that martial arts and hand-to-hand combat seems to have replaced the gun violence that was so prominent in the original. Kick-Ass 2 was also not without controversy in the lead-up to its release. Jim Carrey, who had joined the cast as vigilante Colonel Stars and Stripes, announced on Twitter in June that he would not be taking part in any promotion for the film as he had experienced a change in heart in light of recent events – most notably the Sandy Hook high school shooting which occurred only a few weeks after he filmed his scenes – and could no longer “support that level of violence.” The course language has also been dialed up. Obviously a 15-year-old has to go further to confront you with language than an 11-year-old does.
Fans of the first film will still find plenty to like about this sequel – the action sequences are well done and there are more than a handful of laughs – but ultimately despite being every bit as violent and profane as the first it is neither as shocking or as clever.
Rating – ★★★
Review by Duncan McLean
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