TBT – Attack of the Clones (2002)

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I know that it’s a very subjective thing but I think we mostly all agree that, when it comes to Star Wars films, the second ever film in the franchise is the best. I know over the years I’ve changed my mind on the matter many times and can still switch whenever I’m a bit hungry or my mood changes slightly. However, The Empire Strikes Back, ended up being a far better film than A New Hope and it was certainly not surpassed by Return of the Jedi. If you were to ask me, Empire is up there with a limited number of sequels that were better than the original film. This fact may have given fans a glimmer of hope after the disappointing prequel The Phantom Menace by suggesting that lightening could strike twice. We all madly hoped that Attack of the Clones would show us how great Star Wars could be with lashings of CGI and plenty of stupid characters to keep the kids entertained. Unfortunately, it did the opposite and managed to make the first film look like fucking Shakespeare. Just as we can pretty much all agree that the original sequel is the best film in the franchise, I think we all know that the worst is the prequel sequel. So, in honour of this great day, I decided to re-watch it and rip it to shreds.

As you may remember, back in 2015 I wrote a blog post in which I defended the prequels and offered several examples that I believe were genuinely good about them. There are a fair few good things about Revenge of the Sith and some aspects of The Phantom Menace that really worked well. The only things I could think of for Attack of the Clones? The Jedi battle on Geonosis and Obi Wan’s face. Now Ewan McGregor’s face has got me to watch many questionable films over the years and definitely will do again. His casting was the best thing about the prequel films and has caused me to re-watch specific scenes in all of the prequels way too many times. He’s bloody beautiful and super talented despite the god awful lines he’s continually forced to spout. Still, there is only so much that his good looks can cover up.

For the most part, Attack of the Clones is just a long and slow continuation of Anakin’s story where very little happens until the final half hour or so. The tale picks up 10 years after the end of Phantom and Anakin is still Obi Wan’s padawan. He is cocky and still unable to control his emotions. Even if you weren’t aware of the future events in his story, it’s super obvious that he shouldn’t have been allowed into the Jedi order and I spend most of the film wondering why people didn’t realise the outcome sooner. I mean he just comes across as a fucking creep the entire time and looks as though he could kill at any minute. It’s insane that Yoda let him just wander around the galaxy freely carrying a weapon.

Unlike it’s counterpart for the original films, The Empire Strikes Back, there is no dramatic and exciting opening to this film. Instead of a great battle on Hoth, we have an introduction to space politics and a really boring assassination plot. A plot which only serves the purpose of messily putting  Anakin and Padme together to allow them to fall in love. Which is basically all this film cares about. It pushes the romance angle way more than it should, especially because it’s two stars have absolutely no chemistry. Hayden Christensen is incredibly wooden and unemotional throughout his 2 Star Wars films but when he is attempting to woo Natalie Portman there is just nothing there. It doesn’t help that the lines are the worst kind of cliches imaginable but you can’t really tell from the on-screen talent that these two characters are falling in love. It just kind of sneaks up on you and doesn’t make sense. Remember how, the more you think about it, the love story in Beauty and the Beast is super questionable and weird. This one makes that look like fucking relationship goals. It’s just not good.

Thankfully, there is Obi Wan’s side-plot to keep people interested but even that veers off into dull territory from time to time. We see some new worlds and meet some interesting new characters but it isn’t until way down the line that the excitement really kicks in. He goes on a rather tame Space tour and follows bounty hunter Jango Fett to Geonosis. It’s not much to write home about. Until he, and in a painfully laboured way, Anakin and Padme get captured by Separatists and forced to fight in a massive death arena. It is here that the fucking awesome Jedi battle I mentioned as the main positive takes place. It’s a great sequence that really, for the first time in the franchise, shows us the real scope of the Jedi Order. We see why they are considered the Space Police of the whole Galaxy and understand why they were remembered as great warriors.

Still, that’s only 1 scene. We have to wade through an immense amount of shit to get there. We all wanted to love Attack of the Clones and, if it’s sequel brother was anything to go by, it should have been great. Instead it featured and some really boring narrative points and some of the worst writing in cinematic history. The lead couple never really gels enough to sell the only part of the film that George Lucas gives a fuck about and there just isn’t enough of Obi Wan’s face. This film, even more than Phantom, is just a mess of CGI backdrops and awful cartoon characters for the kids. There are moments when I start to feel embarrassed for the people involved in making it. I mean the scene between Obi Wan and Dex the Diner owner is just pure children’s cartoon. Then there’s the moment that could fit in any B movie or soap opera when the director attempts to trick us into thinking Padme is about to be melted. Or, finally, the laughable moment when Christopher Lee’s Count Dooku is speeding along on a CGI space scooter. Who the fuck signed off on that visual? Lee looks super uncomfortable and the end result looks so shitty.

Ultimately though, the problem with Attack of the Clones is that nobody really gave a shit about it. It was just a placeholder. It didn’t matter to the story and was just the inevitable 3rd movie to let the whole double trilogy thing come to life. Phantom was about introducing us to Anakin and explaining how he became a Jedi. Revenge would show us the moment Anakin became Darth Vader. Attack? Nobody really knew what that needed to be about so it was just about nothing really. It was let down by lack of plot and sense of direction. It’s aimless so there is nothing it can do to make up for any shortfalls. If it weren’t for a couple of great moments and some decent acting from the likes of Ewan McGregor, Christopher Lee and Samuel L Jackson then it would have completely crumbled. Also, CGI Yoda is the fucking bomb!

Tuesday’s Reviews – The Hateful Eight (2015)

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I’ve had a complicated relationship with Quentin Tarantino. I spent years too afraid to admit that I didn’t think Pulp Fiction was the greatest film ever made or that Kill Bill was only okay. It’s not the violence that I have a problem with but rather that people sensationalise the films because of the violence. They’re so over-the-top and cartoonish that it’s kind of refreshing, I guess, but it’s not big nor is it clever. The one thing I will give him continued credit for is his excellent use of the English language. That man knows how to create a sentence and knows the best people to cast. In the hands of someone like Christoph Waltz a Tarantino script becomes something spectacular. In fact it’s only in the last few years that I’ve started to relax about Tarantino. Inglorious Basterds is by no means his best but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Django Unchained is probably my favourite to date so I was really looking forward to the film that started out as it’s sequel.
The Hateful Eight had a stressful journey to its release but, finally, it made it to almost every cinema. It builds itself up to be something quite spectacular what with its all-star cast, incredible score from Ennio Morricone, and the Ultra Panavision 70 landscapes from the first section all set up a film of epic proportions. What follows is something that both does and doesn’t deserve this kind of build-up. Tarantino trick’s his audience by taking the action from the snowy mountains of Wyoming into a secluded Haberdashery: moving from the great outdoors to inside by the fireplace.  Tarantino uses the 70mm format, most commonly associated with epics like Ben-Hur, to really examine the players on his stage.

Opening during a dangerous blizzard, we find Marquis Warren (Samuel L.Jackson), a bounty hunter, stranded in the middle of nowhere with the dead bodies of men he was bringing in. Thankfully, he is discovered by the carriage carrying fellow bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and the prisoner (Jennifer Jason-Leigh) he is transporting to Red Rock to be hanged. Along the way, the trio pick up fellow traveller Chris Mannix (Walter Goggins) an ex-Confederate who just so happens to be the new Sheriff of Red Rock and the man who is needed to give these men their bounties.

Unfortunately, the four are driven off the road and into the shelter of Minnie’s Haberdashery where they discover the owner missing and a strange Mexican called Bob (Demián Bichir) in her place. The rest of the titular group is made up of Michael Madsen’s gruff Joe Gage, Tim Roth as the plummy hangman Oswald Mobray, and the Confederate General Sandford Smithers (Bruce Dern). What ensues is less like the Western the opening may have promised and more like the result of a Tarantino script being blended with an Agatha Christie novel.

Despite the very dialogue heavy narrative, there is an obvious amount of tension seeping through the entire film. The action may be constrained to one, incredibly large, room but there is enough intrigue and mistrust there to keep things interesting. This is classic Tarantino and you know people aren’t what they say they are and eventually he’s going to turn everything on its head to surprise you. With no way of knowing anyone’s true motives, Hateful Eight more than slightly brings to mind John Carpenter’s The Thing. The sense of paranoia and betrayal hangs in the air beautifully until Tarantino finally reveals the truth to his audience.

Of course, this tension is only heightened thanks to a well written screenplay. The atmosphere alone wouldn’t enough to sustain our attention but add Tarantino’s traditional wordmanship and it’s a highly riveting affair. Nothing more so than Samuel L. Jackson’s lengthy monologue that ends Act 1. It’s a hilarious but horrific affair that plays on an audiences attitude to race. Bound to make some rolling in the aisles and others incredibly uncomfortable. This is, when it comes down to it, Jackson’s film. It’s his greatest Tarantino role to date and he excels even in a breadth of talent this huge.

Kurt Russell is delightful as the gruff John Ruth but never quite overtakes the brilliance of his facial hair. It is Jennifer Jason Leigh who has received the majority of the award attention and it can’t denied that her portrayal of Daisy Domergue is incredible. In fact, all of the cast of players make a pretty decent impression save perhaps for Michael Madsen who offers little beyond his gravelly tone of voice. Bruce Dern working off his Nebraska success in a less intense role ad Tim Roth fills the Christoph Waltz dandy role perfectly. It’s an absolutely flawless ensemble and all work with Tarantino’s words with great talent.

Yes, The Hateful Eight isn’t going to be the best film you’ll see this year but that doesn’t matter. It’s not the best Taratino film you’ll ever see but it is, most definitely, a Tarantino film. What I’m finally coming to understand about the director isn’t that he’s a flawless director but that he’s a consistent one. In a world of underwhelming sequels, remakes and paint-by-numbers film making, he is consistently refreshing, exciting and funny. As a writer he makes me feel things that very few other people could and as a director he reminds me what’s really important: making enjoyable, fun and interesting films for like-minded people to enjoy. And enjoy it I did.

TBT – Revenge of the Sith (2005)

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This month marks the 10thanniversary of the release of the third episode in the Star Warssaga: Revenge of the Sith. As such, it marked the end of the prequel trilogy and the end of the three films that managed to break the hearts of so many people. Fans were fucking jaded and sad come 2005: the excitement pre-Phantom Menace a fading memory of a more naïve time in their lives. To a certain group of society, George Lucas was the fucking villain who pissed on their childhood thanks to an over-reliance on CGI and a fucking racist alien. Although, people still flocked to see the final film to get the closure they needed but they weren’t going to enjoy it. It turned out that after the abysmal first two films, Revenge of the Sithwas the best of Lucas’ modern trilogy but, really, what does that accolade mean?

As mentioned in my last post, Revenge of the Sithstarts with by swiftly slapping you in the face with an epic space battle taking place of Coruscant. It starts fast and the pace rarely slows. Well except for those moments when characters just sit in silence looking longingly into the distance: you can’t fucking get away from those moments. However, there is no denying that there is plenty of action on offer and enough Jedi duelling to keep your attention for the most part. If Revenge of the Sithisn’t a good film then it is at least a pretty decent spectacle. Even those maudlin moments of starring are fucking visual treats in their own CGI’d way.
Of course, in terms of story there isn’t much to write home about. Although, this is mostly down to the fact that Sithhas the awful job of revealing several plot twists that were revealed up to 30 years previously. That’s no excuse for the dismal use of language throughout, of course. Some of the lines in this film are so horrible that I’m pretty sure I’ve lost a necessary number of brain cells with each watch. I don’t think I can afford to do it again guys.
Poor Natalie Portman gets the brunt of these lines, having been relegated to pregnant love interest. It really isn’t the Padmé that was suggested to us from the last films. Although, to make it up to Portman, she is also given one of the film’s greatest lines: “so this how liberty dies… with thunderous applause”. That line gives me fucking chills every single time. Portman often finds herself lost in this shitty role that is becomes more emotionally charge than Padmé’s inevitable and uninspiring death.
Of course, acting was something that the films always had a lot of potential with and in Siththe likes of Ewan McGregor and Samuel L Jackson continue to revel in their respective positions as Jedi badasses. There are moments when it’s impossible to ignore the sheer joy on McGregor’s beautiful, beardy face as he nears completion in his transformation into Alec Guinness. Even Hayden Christensen seems to have taken some notes after Clones and started to really think about what his fucking job entails. Sure he’ll never be a great performer but there are moments when it’s almost forgiveable.
Of course, he’s in full evil mode now: something which is very apparent from the opening scene thanks to the tell-tale scar of immorality over his right eye. Although, to hammer the point home, Anakin is the only Jedi wearing all-black robes (you’d think someone would have picked up on it), only ever appears half-lit and looks fucking evil. I know we all knew he was going to become Darth Vader but this is half-arsed even for George Lucas.
So far, Revenge of the Sithsounds much like the first films but there are a few inspiring moments. I’ve discussed a couple in my last post and maintain that the fight on Mustafar and General Grievous in general are fucking fantastic. Then there is the almost perfect scene at the end when the action cuts between Padmé enduring a painful labour and Anakin’s “rebirth” as Darth Vader. There are some genuinely inspired moments of filmmaking from a director who’s name has become synonymous with shitting over a beloved series of films.
Of course, before we get too comfortable with Lucas again that are a lot of questionable choices within his direction. Most worryingly of all, his apparent obsession with extreme close-ups. There’s no need for it and they crop up at the most inconvenient times. He is on shaky ground still and attempts to mask the film’s many flaws by bombarding the audience with endless scenes of action and CGI wonderment. Sithtakes on board the frustration many felt with the prolonged exposure to Galactic politics and decided the best way to keep people happy is to blow all the shit up. Hey, as strategies go I’ve hear worse.
Revenge of the Sithis as good a science-fiction film as you’d want from 2005 once you remove it from the nostalgia tainted world of the Star Wars fandom. People were never going to welcome it with open arms and many stubbornly failed to see any of its good points out of sheer spite to Lucasfilm. It’s a visual feast and has enough within it to keep an audience entertained. I’m not ashamed to say that I have a certain fondness for this film despite my unending devotion to the original trilogy. It’s the part of the franchise that I’ve watched the most in recent years but that might have more to do with that beard I mentioned earlier. I’m not going to beat around the bush here: Sith is good. Not great by any stretch but a good film.

Until you start comparing your viewing experience with your first taste of original Star Wars. You can’t compare watching A New Hopefor the feeling you got for this film and come out singing George Lucas’ praises. Die hard Star Warsfans are, perhaps, some of the most stubborn people on the planet and would have no doubt hated the films even if they were Oscar worthy. Let us not forget the initial hyperbolic reaction when it was announced that JJ Abrams was to direct the next one. People acted like it was the worst thing to happen to mankind in the whole of existence. It’s about time they stopped being such fucking cry babies about everything. 

Star Wars Day 2015: A necessary defence of the prequels

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So, it’s May 4th and a day when the world come together to celebrate all things Star Wars. The one day of the year where card-carrying geeks, film fans or just normal people rejoice that in 1977 a film was released that gave birth to a great franchise. With the release of the latest trailer for Episode 7 a few weeks ago there has been an increase in the amount of people announcing that JJ Abrams has saved Star Wars after George Lucas nearly killed it. Not only do I bemoan the fact people are only just trusting Abrams to work his magic on the series but I’m getting bored on people moaning about how terrible the prequels are. It seems to be quite a cool thing to hate the prequels but I say it’s fucking ignorant. Yes, there is no denying that they aren’t as good as the originals but this fucking stubborn need to criticse them is getting silly. In Midnight in Paris Woody Allen warned us against living in the past and I think it’s about time we move on. The prequels aren’t as good as the first films but they aren’t completely awful. In fact there are a lot of things to praise about them: something I’m about to do right now. Here is my list of 6 best things about the prequels.

6. Casting

Let’s be honest, as far as franchises go, the only set of films that beats Star Wars in terms of acting names is probably Harry Potter. The long list of great names who signed on to play a part in the continued saga is a fucking phenomenon. Considering a lot of the criticism for the prequels comes from the shitty performance offered up by Hayden Christensen, it’s about time we remember just how good everyone else is.
Ewan McGregor is perhaps the single greatest piece of casting in the entire thing: he was born to play the young Jedi Master. He brings a great range to Obi-Wan and manages to show us what a fucking badass he truly is. Liam Neeson, Samuel Jackson and Christopher Lee, to a lesser degree, manage to do the same: I love Qui-Gon Jinn so much and think Mace Windu is a fucking legend. Then we have Natalie Portman who wades through a sea of terrible writing to bring us a performance that channels the power and sass that her daughter was famous for years before. The prequels may have gotten a few choices wrong but very few of them were made during the casting process. The line-up of actors here is a fucking dream and manage to bring a level of greatness to some particularly uninspiring scripts.
Whatever you think of George Lucas’ overuse of CGI, you have to admit that the one-take tracking shot at the beginning of Revenge of the Sithis fucking amazing. Following two lone starfighters right into the heart of an exciting space battle over Coruscant; it’s spectacular and ensures that the final act of the trilogy gives you a fucking powerful kick in the balls before you’ve had time to realise the film has started. Every time I see this epic scene I get a few chills. It kick-starts the best film of the prequels; anyone who says otherwise is a fucking liar.
4. Villains
Darth Vader has become synonymous with movie villains and, in his distinctive black helmet and raspy breathing, it’s easy to see why. However, in terms of sheer villainy, the original trilogy was kinda tame. The Emperor was mostly an absent figure that didn’t really live up to his reputation in the galaxy and Darth Vader seemed to spend a lot of his time killing his own men instead of crushing the rebel alliance.
Thankfully, the prequels answered our prayers and gave us an army of bad guys to fear. Imagine, if you will, how fucking dismal The Phantom Menacewould have been had it not been for Darth Maul? I mean he turned up and showed us all what a fucking Sith Lord could really do. It’s no wonder he became such a fan favourite. Then we have the equally terrifying and awesome General Grievous who may just be the greatest creation in the entire franchise: yes I think I can be that bold. Even the returning Ian McDiarmid does a fantastic job in the role of Palpatine. Who can forget the scene when the Emperor seduces Anakin with the tale of Darth Plagueis: it’s fucking Shakespearean. The prequels have some top-class badassery on show and its time we all openly admit that.
Revenge of the Sithhad a lot of pressure on it to adequately complete the transformation of Anakin Skywalker to irritating little kid to one of the Empire’s most feared employees. It was showcasing the birth of one of cinema’s most iconic figures so it had to be fucking memorable. Especially considering it would have to break up his strong bromance with Jedi mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi. How do the pair go from witty post-battle banter to being mortal enemies? Well, what happens on Mustafar didn’t stay on Mustafar.
There is an awful lot of terrible dialogue that proceeds a movie fight that had been highly anticipated for the past 28 years. A lot of it is laughable: I find it shameful that I can recount the exchange word for word. That’s a sign of how often I’ve watched this scene. If Revenge of the Sithhad come out on VHS I’d have worn out the ribbon very early on thanks to the constant rewinding and fast forwarding to find the scene. The showdown on the volcanic planet is an amazing watch: the CGI is a spectacle; the score is on point; and the choreography is fucking fantastic. The only weak moment is the close-up of Obi-Wan’s face when he attempts to force-push Anakin out of the way: it’s fucking cringe. The final moments of the fight were a bit weak but there is no doubt that the duel between Master and Padawan was as exciting as it needed to be.
There is very little to enjoy about Attack of the Clones when you think about it. There’s just a tad too much politics, too much romance and a lengthy roll call of cringey clichés. It’s the weakest of the entire trilogy and there are only a couple of things that really make it work. One of those is Ewan McGregor’s beautiful and bearded face but I didn’t feel like I could include that on the list. The other thing Attack did so well was expand the scope of the Jedi in way that no talk of midi-chlorians and prophecies ever could. The original films introduced us to the way of the Jedis but we still didn’t know much about them. Attacks howed us how huge and fucking badass the organisation used to be.
When it comes to being a stand-out scene, the massive Jedi battle on Geonosis does a fucking amazing job. Yes, there is a lot crammed into one space and that is a problem that followed Lucas around the prequels. However, who can honestly say that they weren’t even a little excited when the mass of Jedi appeared within the arena to save Padmé, Anakin and Obi-Wan. Mace Windu was one of the greatest things to come out of these films and his ninja sneak-up on Count Dooku started one epic battle. Just seeing the sheer numbers and power that the Jedi organisation used to possess finally showed us what all the fucking fuss was about. Plus, dat Windu/Fett showdown doe.
The lightsabre battles in the original films are exciting, there is no denying that, but it can’t be ignored that the choreography department really stepped up their game with the prequels. No longer were we dealing with fencing style, professional duels but with energetic and gymnastic fights. It’s updated, it’s fun and it’s a fucking joy to watch. The showdown between Obi-Wan and Darth in A New Hope is so fucking tame when compared to the prequels. It’s not something to be ashamed of: the fights are still great but watching the Jedis flipping and jumping their way through a battle.
There is no scene that highlights this difference more than the duel between Darth Maul, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon. Ray Park showcased his fucking cool martial arts skills to play Maul and choreographed his own stunts. Wielding the coolest weapon of all six films, a dual-bladed lightsabre, Darth Maul flipped his way into Sith law and the hearts of Star Wars fans. This battle was not only epic in terms of styling and action but also emotion. Qui-Gon Jinn’s death is devastating and Ewan McGregor’s portrayal of a grieving Obi-Wan is just magnificent. Anyone who says the prequels ruined Star Warsand have nothing to offer clearly need to watch this scene again. It’s fucking awesome.

Honorable mentions

  • The pod race
  • Zam Wesell Chase
  • Any Yoda battle
  • Anakin killing Dooku
  • Order 66

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

Colin Firth, comic book, Mark Strong, Matthew Vaughn, Michael Caine, review, Samuel L, spy, violence
There are plenty of films that I get excited about but am too embarrassed to admit to. No matter how much I try and hide it, I’ll always have the soul of a 12 year old boy. The bottom line is that swords, guns and explosions are fucking awesome and if your film trailer is full of them then I’m gonna want to see it. It’s led to a lot of misguided film experiences and is the main reason that I don’t completely hate Michael Bay’s Transformersfilms. Upon first seeing the trailer for Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, I knew it was the kind of film I wanted to see but without anyone finding out about it.

Back in 2010, Matthew Vaughan and co-writer Jane Goldman re-imagined the world of superhero movies with Kick-Ass and introduced us all to the profanity spouting Chloe Grace Moretz. It was a fucking superb film that achieved massive success and spawned a less than great sequel. Obviously feeling comfortable adapting Mark Millar’s work, Vaughan and Goldman are back to reinvent the classic spy film by bringing The Secret Serviceto our screens. No matter how fucking amazing Skyfalland the rest of Daniel Craig’s Bond reign has been, there has been something lacking of late. No longer is there any room for the raised eyebrows, timely quips and batshit crazy gadgets. Thankfully, Vaughan has noticed a gap in the market and adapted Millar’s story to fit the bill. Kingsman does for Roger Moore era James Bond what Guy Ritchie did for Sherlock Holmes… only better.
Kingsmanis refreshingly self-aware and is littered with cheeky nods to all aspects of pop culture. Colin Firth’s suave Harry Hart wear Harry Palmer-style glasses, wields an umbrella in a way that John Steed would be proud and casually references 80s classic Trading Places. Of course, it is Bond that prevails over all and Ian Fleming’s much-loved agent is regularly alluded to or mentioned out-right. In an attempt to make amends for a past mistake, Harry takes urban youth, Eggsy, under his wing to turn him into a gentleman and a trained killer. The first part of the film is a delightful mix of My Fair Lady, The Apprentice and The Ipcress File. The moments between the pair are full of chemistry so it’s a massive fucking shame that the plot strives so hard to split them up.
For, whilst Eggsy is taking part in the most stressful job interview ever, Harry’s time is spent trying to find out what internet mogul Richmond Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) is planning. Valentine is a megalomaniac with a keen interest in environmentalism. As classic spy villains go, he isn’t up there with the best but does provide a few memorable moments throughout the proceedings. Ultimately though, he is woefully eclipsed by his blade-legged, assassin side-kick, Gazelle. A powerful opponent who can easily chop you in half with her prosthetics: the paralympics meets Kill Billif you will. Of course, regardless of his ranking in the super-villain hall of fame, Valentine is a pretty good foil for Hart and the rare moments that they appear on screen together are fucking brilliant. I’m never normally sure what I think of Colin Firth but there is no doubt he had the time of his fucking life. There is the now infamous scene set in an extremist Church when Harry, not fully in control of his senses, takes out an entire congregation of angry Christians. Graphic it may be but fun it most certainly is.
That’s the thing about Kingsman, the fact that it was independently funded meant that Vaughn was able to get away with more without fear of censorship. The violence is perhaps over-the-top but is handled in such a cartoony way that it might not matter. For every potentially dubious moment of unnecessary there is the fucking genius scene of henchmen’s heads exploding in time to Land of Hope and Glory. Whatever your thoughts on the violence argument that will always be raging within Hollywood, there is no doubt that Kingsmanis a stylish, brash and incredibly fun film. The only real let-down that I can see is Vaughn’s treatment of the class system. He makes several attempts to openly criticise the upper-classes whilst simultaneously celebrating their lifestyle. Kingsmanplays with a certain tradition of spy thrillers and inadvertently places the men at the centre of that genre on a pedestal. This is understandably at odds with all of Harry’s reassurances to Eggsy that it is the man underneath that counts. Still, it makes little difference in Matthew Vaughn’s joy-filled celebration of a certain style of cinema. You’ll make it through to the credits perfectly happy and, if you’re like me, excited for the next one.

Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

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I have eagerly awaited the release of The Avengers for about 3 years now and there was very little chance that I would walk out of the cinema without a great sense of glee. To say I had high expectations from Joss Whedon’s turn within the Marvel universe is a disgraceful misrepresentation of my pre-Avengers state of mind. I avoided any review or article that I felt would potentially spoil my viewing and resigned myself to watching the trailer repeatedly for the months before release. I was on fucking tenterhooks.

Thanks to the necessary task of ringing together a fuckload of existing characters, the plot takes a bit of time to get going. The film mainly shows the team coming together and is a lot less focused on big action pieces. It isn’t until well into the film that the super group really get to show off their skills and even then the display isn’t that spectacular. Now I didn’t mind the sedate opening sequences or the elongated sequence where Iron Man and Captain America mend things but  Whedon could have done with fleshing out his villains more. This is a comic-book movie afterall. It’s nice to know why we hate the people we really want you to punch in the face.

Although, as you would expect of Whedon, is is the script that’s the key here; it is funny, dramatic and sentimental. There was always a danger that putting such larger than life characters together in one room would create issues and, more likely, the overpowering talents of Robert Downey Jr. would overshadow the newer members of Marvel’s cinematic family. Whedon does a good job of raining in Stark just enough to allow the group to bounce off one and other and create enough tension.

Downey Jr flourishes within this setting. Playing off the already theatrical and narcissistic Iron Man with the nostalgic Captain and Asgardian Prince creates some truly amazing moments of dialogue. Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth continue in the much the same vane that we have seen in their previous outings as Captain America and Thor respectively. They both do a good job of portraying the fish out of water within the situation. However, I think their role as outsiders could have been utilised to greater effect.

It is Mark Ruffalo’s turn as Bruce Banner that is the biggest revelation of the film. This is the third actor to take on the scientist in recent years and he is simply marvellous. Ruffalo gives the Big Green an even bigger heart and he brings a vulnerability and humour to the character that neither Eric Bana nor Edward Norton managed in their films. His blossoming friendship with Tony provides some wonderful scenes and some exceptional dialogue. He provides some of the most tender and emotional scenes and garners many of the biggest laughs. So much so that it is the Hulk that comes out on top of his fellow Avengers by the end credits.

Jeremy Renner, as Hawkeye, unfortunately gets little to do here but the moments where he is deeply involved in the plot show a great deal of potential for a rather dismal character (I’m sorry he’s hot but being able to shoot arrows at people is neither an awesomely useful or very unique ability.) In the same way Black Widow (played by a rather uncomfortable looking cat-suited Scarlett Johansson) gets very little to do after her first fight scene. She is, like Renner, used to bring extra sex appeal and very little else. She shows off some kick ass moves but this is overshadowed by the many gratuitous shots of her in her skin-tight costume. Consider the directing choice that caused her face-to-face with Loki to be shot from a camera placed at arse height. I’m not entirely sure that scene tells us anything more about Black Widow other than the fact she is rather pleasing on the eye.

The Avengers themselves are such a powerful force both physically and in terms of their screen presence, that every other character is sort of thrown into the shadows. Well all but one. 2011’s Thor introduced us to Loki and set out his path to become the God of Mischief. The Loki we see in The Avengers is something else entirely. Tom Hiddleston is obviously in his element playing the disgraced (adopted) son of Oden and is just phenomenal. Every line is venomous and he has truly perfected the look of madness and pure evil. It is no wonder, then, that it is Loki who has come out of The Avengers with the biggest army of supporters. Yes he’s trying to take over the world but he’s both very beautiful and vulnerable.

The best moments obviously come when the Avengers are doing what they do best. It was always going to be difficult to spread the time between six individuals but the end result is a necessarily confusing, loud but incredibly exciting battle for the earth. Whilst it is uncertain whether Whedon will actually come back to direct a second outing for the super group I certainly hope he does. This film wasn’t perfect but it was certainly worth the wait for those of us who have been desperate for this day to come.