Monday, 30 April 2012

Great Expectations

I was greatly conflicted about my expectations for Marvel/Joss Whedon's "Avengers Assemble", released last Thursday after four years of build-up since "Iron Man"1. Part of me thought it could never live up to the hype, which was inevitably huge, or harness well all six of the team (especially the key four: Thor, Iron Man, Cap America and the Hulk). It could have fallen into the great pit created by "Spider-Man 3", with its multitude of heroes and villains destroying any cohesion in the film. On the other hand, part of me was so excited I kept squealing intermittently on the train journey to Cineworld. Well ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,.... It totally lived up to the hype! "Avengers Assemble" demonstrates the pure, unbridled cinematic talent of Joss Whedon, seen in his first  movie venture "Serenity" and indeed in the very recent "Cabin in the Woods", but which also must be noted in his TV masterpieces with there fantastic ensembles and brilliant combo of humour, horror, emotion and entertainment! See "Buffy" and "Angel" for probably Whedon's finest moments.

What was so great about "Avengers Assemble"? Where to begin?! Ok, lets start with the cast and the Avengers themselves. I, as you all know, am a MASSIVE Thor fan. Loved the film, love Chris Hemsworth (I need a good nickname for that boy...), love the humour and the characters. I definitely was expecting to love his character the most, though with Iron Man as a close second. I was definitely not expecting much from ScarJo and Jeremy Renner, whose characters seem redundant when fighting next to a demi-God, a hulk, a super soldier and a man in a metal suit which flies and is covered in guns! I worried that the film wouldn't acknowledge or be able to work with the clear lack of equilibrium between powers. And with such a big cast of leads, one always fears some will get too much attention and some too little. My worries were unfounded. 

The Avengers + S.H.I.E.L.D agents + Joss W
One of the best things about this film is the abundance of fight scenes and conflict. Before our heroes even get to fighting Loki they have to become a cohesive unity and that - with such diverse personalities at play - naturally leads to some initial conflict. Thor vs Captain America and Iron Man? Genius. And the pièce de résistance of such inner-clashes is that it allows Whedon to acknowledge their differing abilities and varying power: there's no way Black Widow stands a chance one-on-one with the Hulk for example and this is clear in the film. Nevertheless, ScarJo does not seem redundant as I feared. In a battle against Loki there's no question, she - and Renner's Hawkeye - would lose, but in a war their powers do come in handy. Furthermore, all the characters get decent coverage, though you can't help but think Stark (or Robert Downey Jr) will always steal the show somewhat. I loved all the characters, even the infamously boring Bruce Bannar, played by Mark Ruffalo who I am definitely learning to appreciate. No character is without a good script, a decent back story, depth of personality and some funny one-liners. I can't say who was my favourite really... Captain America certainly nabbed a place in my heart with his endearing and in no way annoying dedication to what is right and to a higher purpose. With such large, unruly and eratic characters such as the Hulk, Thor and Iron Man, the Cap is a necessity! No actor let his character down. The casting - which when I first noted it made me go "Who ARE half these people??" - is pure genius.

Creepy right?
As for non-Avengers casting, Samuel L Jackson was of course BORN to play Nick Fury. That man has, like his wallet, "Bad-ass" written all over him. And, like his co-stars, in this film he is allowed to bring more depth and character to his role. He genuinely moved me in multiple scenes. Oh Nick, I have so much love for you and your eye patch. Tom Hiddleston also has the villainous Loki down. I would not trust that boy with a barge pole. He's cruel, he's deranged, but he's a genius, and despite the other heroes' superior physical powers, he has them wrapped around his finger for a  large portion of the film. Hiddleston brings emotion but also pure sinister-ness to this former Ice Giant. Ice being the operative word. I must also mention Agent Coulson, who since the post-credits scene in "Iron Man" has been bringing out heroes together, preparing them for a time when the Earth will need them and need them to work together. He also gets fleshed out in this film with some new and very lovable character traits: His dedication to the Avengers initiative and his fan-boy-crush on Captain America.

Thor and the Captain mid-battle
The battles and the adventure aspects are what we're all really going to see at the end of the day - and hot men in tight suits naturally - and this film brings it and brings it hard! As I said, there are battles against Loki but also some instances of Avenger#1 vs Avenger#2. Each hero has a completely different power and so no fight scene is the same. You have your hammer-wielding God who packs an ENORMOUS punch; your faster-than-a-human-should-ever-be-able-to-run Captain America who was trained as a more traditional soldier; your shiny metal suit which has unlimited gadgets and, of course, flies; and you have your in-no-way-subtle giant green angry dude. The main battle is of course the final battle in which Loki attempts to unleash hell on earth. Though it may be argued that the villains which accompany him are of no real character or particular originality, the amazing force which the Avengers unleash on them certainly is. It's exciting, its of a good length - unlike the fights which end "Iron Man" 1 and 2 and "Captain America" -, and its diverse. Those Avengers sure do know a lot of ways to kill. This film is as colourful in plot, characters and action as a true Marvel film should be. The final fight VERY much resembles the end of "Transformers 3", but you know, if T3 was frikkin' awesome!

I say to everyone, see this film. No exceptions. It will grab you and not let you go til the end. It had me laughing out loud consistently, it had me on the edge of my seat and it had me in tears at a couple of points which I will leave you to discover for yourself. There is no genre or atmosphere Whedon can't master - as "CITW" also demonstrated very well. As I said, this film is a super hero movie, but as Marvel have been learning to do quite well since beginning this adventure with "Iron Man", it encompasses character, strong plot, humour, darkness, and pure, unhinged adventure. Oh, to watch it again straight away! Trust me, it will happen this week. The Avengers assembled and they assembled well!

P.s. I very much enjoyed Empire's online review of this film, I agree with pretty much all of its points. Check it out if you desire better-written, well-articulated praise of AA, though, I will say that I would add another star to its four-star judgement.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Scary Movie

I do apologise for the long absence of new posts in this blog. It is the middle of my revision and exam period now and so I have not had much opportunity to go to the cinema, nor to review those films which I have managed to see. Nonetheless, I shall attempt to write a brief and belated review of "The Cabin in the Woods", a fantastic horror film which I was lucky enough to catch two weekends ago.

"The Cabin in the Woods" is a Joss Whedon film which was actually filmed in 2009 and initially due for release in 2010, but due to lack of funding and financial problems its release was delayed until this April, when it finally and thankfuly came out. It is difficult to discuss this film without giving away too much. Many even argue that the trailer is too revealing because *spoilers*....

this film has a big twist, some of which is clear within the advert. Then again, that part which is clear in the trailer is actually revealed pretty much within the first scene of the film and the main revelation comes gradually during the film and neither I nor the trailer will let you in on that secret. However, if you want to go into the cinema completely in the dark, no pun intended, which I think may be a very fun way to watch this film, look away now!

*sigh* Chris Hemsworth looking grumpy
The story is that of five twenty-something college students deciding to take a trip to a cabin in the woods - shocker - owned by the cousin of lead male Curt, aka my current man-crush Chris Hemsworth. Naturally, we're all yelling at the screen "Don't go in there, y'all gonna get eaten/slaughtered/stabbed/shanked/vaporised" or some other horrible ending.

Now, this is where Joss Whedon does something clever, for that is only half of the story. Another set of characters are introduced, dwelling in what appears to be some sort of underground army base or compound, and they're running the entire show in the cabin. This is all I'll tell you about the plot, anymore would be too much I assure you.

Many have argued that this film is not scary. To be honest, I was jumping and covering my eyes left right and center, but as I've mentioned before, I'm not very good with horror. However, even if you do want to argue that it's not scary, I will counter-argue that this film is not really part of the horror genre. At its core, this is a sci-fi film, and all Whedon fans know that this is something Joss does very well: Mix sci-fi with monsters. We've all seen "Buffy"! TCITW, which appears to be another of the many typical teens-in-the-woods-getting-naked-then-slaughtered movies is actually a satire of this genre, posing the question, "why do we enjoy sending teens out into the woods to bet brutally mutilated for our own entertainment?" This film is gory, but it's also funny and thought-provoking.

The cast all play their parts well as you can usually expect when a director hasn't gone for the most famous names he can scrabble together. Though we all know and love Chris now, this film was actually pre-Thor. And many Joss Whedon fans will recognise "Dollhouse"'s Fran Kranz skulking on the left there, as the films resident stoner and wise-guy, and "Angel" and "Dollhouse"'s Amy Acker as one of the science nerds behind the whole cabin project.

The film's pace is incredibly quick and not one moment is wasted on boring details we don't need. You won't be able to predict the multiple twists and turns and your attention will be captivated throughout as every 5 minutes leads to another revelation about the underlying plot. The ending is one of the best, most thrilling I have seen in a long time. Unfortunately, I can't reveal any of the gory details, but the film picks up a ridiculous pace and lets just say Whedon lets his imagination run wild with a multitude of horror film parodies. The finale will have you gripping your seats as you wait with baited breath to see how it will all pan out.

I also had the pleasure of re-watching "Captain America: The First Avenger" last Friday, in preparation for "Avengers Assemble". Generally, I find this film very entertaining and think director Joe Johnston made a brilliant choice casting Chris Evans in the lead, but it did not reach its full potential. It should have been the best of the pre-Avengers films, but instead it falls behind "Iron Man 1" and "Thor" due to its mediocre and rushed ending.

On Saturday night I then re-watched Scorsese's brilliant "Shutter Island". It has a fantastic performance from Leo DiCaprio, who always delivers these days, and I would recommend it to all fans of Leo, Martin Scorsese, thrillers, mysteries, films in general and pretty much anyone when it came down to it. A brilliantly suspenseful and moving film, which will frighten you and make you cry. 

 I must warn you not to expect another post for a while, as exams will probably get in the way, though I do completely intend to watch "Avengers Assemble" this Saturday and if I'm lucky will have time to do a quick review, which I imagine will go something along the lines of...
"Oh my God it was so good. I loved Thor SO MUCH and RobertDowneyJrandLokiandalltheothrzitwaswelxcitingcn'twaitforasequal.OMGOMGOMG!" Or you, some such squeal-like wails.