Sunday, 17 May 2015

PITCH PERFECT 2



Three years on from Pitch Perfect, Beca (Anne Kendrick) is now in her final year of college and is the leader of the Barden Bellas, who are 3-time national a cappella champions. Pitch Perfect 2 follows the Bellas after they are disgraced at celebrations for the President's birthday (easily one of the funniest scenes in the film) and as they try to win back their reputation and their right to compete nationally by competing in the World Championship. 

Pitch Perfect (1) is incredibly popular, probably more so than anyone expected when it first came out. I believe this popularity stems from its quirky, off-the-wall character.  It is funny and sweet and something a bit different. Although Pitch Perfect 2 is also funny and sweet, it seems to me more mainstream and less original than its predecessor. For that reason, for me at least, it isn't as good or as memorable as Pitch Perfect.  The romance between newcomer, Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), and Benji (Ben Platt) seems unnecessary and clich├ęd and, to be honest, I don’t think Steinfeld really adds anything to this film. 

On top of this, there are a number of moments in the new film where the writer is clearly trying to replicate some of the better scenes in the first. At times I felt like the film was relying too much on the popularity of its predecessor. The basement a capella-off is clearly a throwback to the swimming pool scene in Pitch Perfect. I'm not saying I didn't enjoy David Cross's appearance and the Bellas' spar off against Das Sound Machine and the Green Bay Packers! I just feel like this film wasn't giving us much new. 

That said, Pitch Perfect 2 does bring back all of the brilliant characters who made Pitch Perfect so great and it has maintained much of the charm of the first film. Anna Kendrick is one of my favourite people ever and is undeniably wonderful in both films. However, it's really Rebel Wilson who steals the show in these films, brining comedic-brilliance to every scene she is in. I will never get sick of Bumper and Fat Amy's sort-of romance. One piece of constructive criticism on the cast: I do wish they'd made more use of the Treblemakers!

Pitch Perfect 2 also has some great tunes and theatrics. Beca produces some more of her awesome mash ups for the Bellas to perform and the Bellas' new a capella-nemeses, Das Sound Machine, are a great addition to the cast and incredibly entertaining to watch. Who knew you could do an a capella rendition of a Muse song?!  

Pitch Perfect 2, when considered on its own, is a fun film which I really enjoyed. It's just a shame I don't feel a great need to watch it again, as I did with the first one.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron





Avengers: Age of Ultron finds us approximately 3 years after the events of Avengers Assemble. Whilst the first film brought our heroes together for the first time, in Age of Ultron the Avengers are now a close-nit unit, led by (the wonderful) Captain America. The film follows the fall of SHIELD and the Avengers are trying to mop up what is left of Hydra and recover Loki's sceptre which is in the hands of Hydra thug, Baron Strucker. Meanwhile, after the near-demise of New York (and the planet) in Avengers Assemble, Tony Stark is trying to design a robot army who can defend the planet so that the Avengers no longer have to. When Stark messes with artificial intelligence, Ultron is born, a psychopathic robot with a hatred of mankind and, in particular, the Avengers.

As with Avengers Assemble, the thing that makes Age of Ultron a great superhero film is the fantastic ensemble cast (matched by few). Joss Whedon has once again done what most directors could not and managed to fit 6 big personalities into one film without overloading it and falling into the trap that Spider-Man 3 (oh dear, oh dear) fell into. The 6 characters are each so different and complement each other so well. I particularly enjoyed the Stark/Rogers/Thor banter in this new instalment. As Agent Hill says, "testosterone".

The new members of the cast can also hold their weight amongst these big personalities. We are introduced to "the twins", Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver who, in the comic universe, are the children of X-Men's Magneto) played by to Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Olsen and Johnson deliver strong performances (in particular Olsen) and interesting new characters. And in terms of our new bad guy, I believe Joss Whedon wanted James Spader for Ultron from the beginning, and you can certainly see why. Although of course Ultron's body is CGI, Spader has amazing presence in this film; his voice oozes menace.

The other element of this film which is particularly notable is the script. You know a Whedon script when you hear one. As with Assemble, Age of Ultron is quick and funny and also at times intelligent and moving.   

Of course, what we all really go to see any superhero film for, Avengers included (other than, of course, Chris Hemsworth's face), is the action scenes. Age of Ultron is possibly even more action-packed than assemble. It offers many and varied battle scenes and amazing special effects. I think we were all eagerly anticipating the battle between the Hulk and Iron Man in his "Hulkbuster" suit and it did not disappoint! But for me the best action sequence is a scene at the very beginning of the film when the heroes are battling in Russian forests as they seek out Strucker and Loki's sceptre.  There is a brilliant continuous sequence which moves between each of the Avengers and which harks back to one of the best scenes in Avengers Assemble, a long continous scene in the battle of New York.

Having praised the film so highly, I must admit that for me it did not quite reach the standard set by Avengers Assemble. The best and funniest moments in the script could not match such wonderful moments in Assemble as "puny God". I'm not sure either that Ultron can really match the genius that is Tom Hiddleston's Loki, but to be fair, that bar is set very high! Avengers Assemble is one of, if not the, best superhero films ever made (as far as I'm concerned) and I find it hard to believe that it could ever be matched. Age of Ultron and Captain America: Winter Soldier came close. Perhaps Civil War is up to the challenge…