I have to say , considering the quality of the previous 2 Thor films, it’s been pretty difficult to be a fan of Marvel’s God of Thunder. He has always been my favourite male superhero in the Marvel comic book world but it’s been hard to convince non-comic book fans that he deserves that title. Iron Man is the funny and cool one thanks to RDJ. Captain America has, the best Marvel film, Winter Solider, to make himself look better. But Thor? He’s had a pretty poor showing in terms of solo film outings. I say as someone who adores the first Thor film but also understands that it leaves a lot to be desired. I understand the second one is dire but we don’t need to go into that again. This back catalogue of frustratingly weak films have meant that a lot of people have overlooked Thor. He hasn’t made enough of an impact. His own films are just irritatingly lacking and he tends to get lost in the huge ensembles of the two Avengers movies. Heck, he wasn’t even allowed in Civil War. Instead Thor was benched along with the other Avenger that nobody really knows what to do with: the Hulk. The problem is the very concept of the Thunder God. He’s so caught up in mythology that there is a tendency to play him straight. Living up in his own realm of the God’s means he feels even less realistic than the rest of the line-up and that really is saying something. His roles in these films have left Thor feeling like the weak link in the chain. He’s neither the funniest, the most badass, nor the most memorable of the Avengers. Hollywood just doesn’t know what to do with him. Or at least they didn’t. From the minute the first images of Ragnarok came out I was convinced this would be the film we Thor fans have been waiting for. It had Guardians of the Galaxy style humour, an 80s aesthetic, and a fucking awesome soundtrack. Even before I’d seen it I was sure it was going to be my cup of tea. Of course, the fact that it would also serve as the closest we’d get to a Planet Hulk movie was just an added bonus.
The main problem that I remember from watching Thor: The Dark World is that it tried far too hard to be dark. It was around the time that Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy was at the height of its popularity and before Zack fucking Snyder made us all weary of the grungy, angsty comic book movie. It didn’t really have that fun, silliness, or, at the very least, self-awareness that the best Marvel films have in buckets. It was all dark elves, family melodrama, and a naked Stellan Skarsgård. The second Thor film was trying to be something it wasn’t and the end result really showed what a mistake it was. Thankfully, for his third solo outing for the MCU, it seems Marvel have really learnt their lesson. Despite the title’s reference to Ragnarok, the apocalyptic demise of the Norse God’s, this film is anything but dark. Something we learn from the very first scene is that not only has Thor finally found an on screen presence but he’s managed to pick up a great sense of humour along the way.
For too long comic book movies have been trying to make themselves seem as grown-up and serious. Ragnarok understands that all of this is so crazy that it’s pointless trying to play it straight. Marvel films have dabbled in humour before but Thor 3 has a completely different feel to it. It’s more like a comedy film that happens to be about comic book characters instead of a comic book movie with more jokes. Marvel have always been good at letting unexpected directors have a go at massive Blockbusters but New Zealand born director Taika Waititi is, perhaps, the weirdest so far. Thankfully, he was allowed the chance to do his own thing and, as we can see, it works wonderfully.
Ragnarok has a bit of work to do before it gets down to the real business. We left The Dark World with Loki on the throne in disguise and we last saw Thor vowing the track down the remaining infinity stones. So Thor goes back to Asgard to sort shit out but, before he’s even got time to breathe, his long lost sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death, turns up to royally fuck shit up. She wants revenge on her father and his people for casting her out years ago. Unfortunately, as this is going on Thor (Christ Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) find themselves stranded on a distant planet, Sakaar, presided over by the villainous Grand Master (Jeff Goldblum). Whilst Loki is taken in as a friend, Thor is captured and turned into a gladiator. With no other means of escape, Thor is left with no other choice but to fight the Grand Master’s Champion; who, as we all know, just happens to be the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Can Thor, the Big Guy, his sketchy brother and their new ally, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), an ex-Asgardian warrior with a grudge to settle.
In terms of the basic narrative there isn’t a great deal of excitement and Ragnarok treads very worn Marvel ground. This rag-tag bunch of heroes come together to fight a big evil to save the world. However, there is so much more going on that it doesn’t even feel that familiar. The sub-plot on Sakaar is fabulous and both Hemsworth and Ruffalo get the chance they both deserve to flesh out their characters. His recent pitstop in comedy films has left Christ Hemsworth with a greater comedic confidence and, for the first time since he first donned the red cape, he looks comfortable in the role. Conversely, Ruffalo finally has something to do as he starts to flesh out the green monster before the upcoming Infinity War films. I’ve read criticism that the film completely rewrites these characters but I just see it as positive development. This is one friendship I can’t wait to see get stronger.
There are some amazing performances on display in this film. Jeff Goldblum is at his most Jeff Goldblum and manages to walk the line of annoyingly hammy without falling into oblivion. Tess Thompson is sensational in her role and more than makes up for the abysmal female presence in the previous Thor films. Tom Hiddleston is perfect as Loki, as usual, but over time I find myself tiring of the “is he good or bad?” narrative. It just gets old. Still, I’m always happy to see that face. Finally, Idris Elba, returning as Heimdall, is worth noting. If only for the fact that, at the point that he takes off his cloak, his beefy arms. I love the change Heimdall has made from Gatekeeper to fucking badass.
My only real problem with Ragnarok (aside from the pointless and built up Dr Strange cameo) is Hela herself. The great villain looks the part but never gets the chance to get going. It’s a waste of Blanchett’s talents and a potentially great bad guy. Every time the action switches back to Asgard I couldn’t help but wish I was back on Sakaar. Hela feels out of place in this film just as all the references to genocide and darker elements do. These references are fleeting but they do stick out badly. There are also some poignant moments that are not dealt with properly. It can feel a bit weird. But, really, it doesn’t matter. Everything is held together thanks to an immense amount of charm, humour and utter silliness. This film knows it’s dealing with nonsense so plays up on that fact. I lost count of the time I genuinely laugh-out-loud watching this. Minor problems aside, this the greatest Marvel movie you’ll ever have seen.
Tomorrow I’m watching Spider-Man: Homecoming and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ve enjoyed the majority of Spider-Man films that have been released, probably only really excluding Toby Maguire’s third outing, but none of them have really done fantastic things. I think Andrew Garfield was perfectly cast but the stories just didn’t cut it. Toby Maguire was fine for the time and his films are still astonishing in terms of that era. However, his portrayal of Peter Parker just seems flat nowadays. With this film being the third time a new actor has taken up the spidey suit in 15 years, it’s starting to feel like every young-ish actor will eventually get the chance to play him. Still, I have high hopes for Tom Holland. His brief appearance in Civil War was an absolute treat within all of the heavy shit going on and proved that a solo film could be full of geeky fun. To get myself in the mood for watching this new film I spent today watching some past Marvel films: namely Civil War and Ant-Man. Both were great, obviously, but it got me thinking about my ranking of the films in the MCU. It’s something I’ve tried to avoid doing because it’s such a changeable thing. However, with another Top 10 Wen-sday upon us, I decided it was time to give it a go. Expect this to have changed by tomorrow.
Fifteen: Iron Man 2
Iron Man 2 was the first of man disappointing MCU sequels and it is still the worst of the bunch. I understand that it had a lot to live up to because Iron Man was the film that gave the MCU life. Still, this is just a lacklustre film. It is only saved thanks to Robert Downey Jr’s charm. The film offers us two underwhelming villains (wasting the talents of the wonderful Sam Rockwell) and spends too much time showboating to offer anything real. It’s just dreadful.
Fourteen: Thor the Dark World
I think I always look favourably on The Dark World because it contains Tom Hiddleston’s face. Ever since his brief romance with Taylor Swift I’ve kind of gone off the guy. I know it’s fickle but how can I be a massive fan of someone who made that choice? Anyway, as such I now no longer see all of his films through rose-tinted glasses and can see how awful this film really was. The dark elves are not fleshed out in the slightest and Thor becomes a supporting character in his own film. This was a let down from start to finish.
Thirteen: The Incredible Hulk
Before Mark Ruffalo came along I was more than happy to have an Edward Norton shaped Hulk. I mean, yes, you couldn’t have got much worse than Eric Bana (who I assume was only hired because of his name) but Norton brought depth to the character of Bruce Banner. He wanted to explore the pain and suffering that lay behind the huge green rage monsters and it was a welcome change. The problem that this film really faced was that it’s just not going to be easy to make a solo Hulk film. This is something that has become more apparent as time went on but, clearly, having a main character who is silent and ragey most of the time just isn’t a workable formula.
Twelve: Avengers: Age of Ultron
I so wanted to love Age of Ultron. It had everything: Avengers had set us up with a great team full of banter; we were going to see Vision, Scarlett Witch and Quicksilver; and it had James Spader as the voice of Ultron. How could it go wrong? Well, apparently quite easily. Age of Ultron was exciting, maybe, but it was a huge mess of a film. The narrative was all over the place and it was basically just a Michael Bay-esque feast of explosion porn. With every viewing this film pains me more. Not just for how bad it is but for how much it let me down.
Eleven: Captain America
I realise that Captain America is a much better film than I give it credit for but, personally, I just didn’t love this film. I admit that I liked it much better on my second viewing for my TBT post but I still find it difficult to get too excited about Steve’s first outing. Hayley Atwell is amazing and there are some great moments but it all feels a bit rushed. Considering what followed in Steve’s solo outings, this film just doesn’t quite cut it.
As with above, this is primarily on personal taste and I’m sure most people would have this film higher up. I get it. Thor isn’t the typical Marvel film but I adore it. Kenneth Branagh may not be the most obvious choice to direct a comic book movie but I loved what he did with Thor. He turned it into a Shakespeare play and I think it worked. He was on firmer ground and Tom Hiddleston excelled at playing Loki as though he was Edmund in King Lear. It’s not perfect and there are some incredibly dodgy moments but Thor always makes me feel full of joy. I don’t care if I’m the only one.
Nine: Iron Man 3
I kind of wanted to put Iron Man 3 higher up the list because of how badly it treated The Mandarin character. That would have been petty though because, all in all, this is a pretty good film. Shane Black did a great job co-writing the script and directing the whole thing. It’s funny, exciting and dramatic. A huge improvement on the second film in the series. Black and Robert Downey Jr. have a great working relationship and Tony Stark is at his best. There were a few moments I could have done without but, for the most part, this was a winner.
Eight: Ant Man
It might just be because I’ve only just finished watching this film but Ant Man is much better than people give it credit. Paul Rudd is fantastic in the role of Scott Lang and there is plenty of fun to be had. It takes a character that nobody really wanted a film about but shows just how good of a decision it was. Yes, I still wish Edgar Wright had directed the story that he had wanted but this definitely showed the potential of the more random Marvel characters.
Seven: Iron Man
When Iron Man came out way, way back in 2008 there wasn’t an MCU and Robert Downey Jr. was that drug addict from Ally McBeal. This film changed everything for the better. Downey Jr. became a household name and the MCU kicked off in style. This was a brash and exciting film that showed comic book movies could be a spectacle and also a really good film. As important as this film may be in terms of historical importance, it has to be said that it has been overshadowed by future releases. It’s still a great film but there are now better ones out there.
Six: Dr Strange
I can’t say that I was exactly overjoyed to hear that Dr Strange was coming to the big screen because I didn’t know enough about the character. Then I heard the immortal words: Benedict Cumberbatch. I will freely admit that my interest in the film was mostly linked to the face of this great actor but I think that’s reason enough to watch it. There are some fantastic moments in this film and breathtaking sequences where the laws of physics are just ripped to pieces. It’s a visual feast but I wanted this to be better. Dr Strange feels as though it wasn’t give the freedom to be everything it could be and was forced to fit into a Marvel template to keep everyone happy. I hope future films are given more of a chance.
Five: Guardians of the Galaxy 2
The second Guardians film was a great continuation of the series but it made the same mistake that most sequels tend to do. It wanted to make thing bigger and better. Yes, this still has the same funny and relaxed feeling that the first one did but there was something confused about it. The effects were too big and the fights too confusing. However, this was an emotionally charged film that finally added some consequences to the MCU. I adored this film but I wish it had been slicker.
Four: Captain America: Civil War
Again, it might be because I watched this today but Civil War is a fantastic film. It is the film that Avengers 2 wishes it could have been. Watching this film makes me truly sad that the Russo brothers weren’t allowed to direct Age of Ultron because it would have been a massive improvement. Yes, it still runs into the same problems as Ultron has because it deals with so many characters. Yes, the narrative isn’t exactly wonderful considering the comic book story it comes from. And, yes, the villain’s plan doesn’t exactly make sense when you think about it too much. However, this has some of everything. It had the fun and banter of The Avengers, the darkness of Winter Soldier, and the emotional conflict that has followed Steve through all of his films. It could have been better but it was pretty damn good.
Three: The Avengers
This was the film that nobody thought would be possible; something that gathered together every big name in the MCU up until that point and made them work together. With that many egos in one room, how was anyone going to be able to come up with a decent story. Thankfully, somebody agreed to let the legendary Joss Whedon have a crack and he managed to make it work. This was a funny, clever and exciting film. It knew what it was and it worked with it’s problems not against them. It gave us more of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, which cemented him as best villain in the MCU, and gave us our first glimpse at Thanos. As with all Marvel films, the evil minions could have been better and it could have been a bit slicker but this is still one of the greatest film the MCU has produced.
The best thing about Guardians was that it was such a breath of fresh air. It came after Thor: The Dark World and Winter Soldier had given us a supremely grim and dark set of Marvel films. It seemed to be following the Batman trend that dark and gritty was better when it came to superhero films. Guardians was always going to be something of an underdog because the source material wasn’t as well known to the general movie going public at the time. So it decided it wasn’t going to take itself too seriously and, boy, are we glad. This was the first comic book movie in such a long time to have a real sense of humour about itself. Director James Gunn managed to create something so full of joy that was also exciting enough for comic fans. This had it all.
One: Captain America: The Winter Soldier
I know a lot of people would put Guardians as their number one because it’s so watchable. I agree that it’s great but, in my heart, I know that Marvel as never been better than in Winter Soldier. Of course, it isn’t as fun or light-hearted but it’s really well crafted and it totally changed the landscape of Marvel’s future. It ramped up the emotional side thanks to Steve and Bucky’s friendship and it gave us the delightful Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson. It may have followed the Marvel staple of having a huge object fall to Earth in it’s finale but this film was so close to perfection. It deserves the top spot.
I can’t deny that I’ve been super bad this year at getting round to all of the films that I wanted to see. I had plans to watch Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of J. G. Ballard’s 1975 dystopian novel but, thanks to my flaky friends, I never managed to see it at the cinema. Then, because I continue to be useless at life, I have only just got round to it. Still, that’s something to celebrate, right? So I decided, in lieu of any current release to talk about today, I’d give my opinion of a film that almost convinced my that Tom Hiddleston could be an okay Bond. Although, I remain unconvinced and will forever dream of a world in which Idris Elba doesn’t feel too old to take the name over. However, there is no denying that Hiddleston absolutely dominates in this role. As he does in basically all of them at this point.
Still, High-Rise is about more than its lead actor and, thanks to director Ben Wheatley, the novel is as unsettling, dark and funny as it needed to be. There have been a great number of directors and screenwriters who have attempted to prepare the novel for the big screen treatment, starting with Nicolas Roeg way back the 70s. It may have taken 40 years to make it happen, the themes within Ballard’s novel are still incredibly relevant today. High-Rise came out the year that Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative Party, you know, before everything went to shit. Still, Ballard foresaw the UK’s bleak future and set his novel in a version of Britain where greed was taking over and the social tensions were reaching boiling point. Ben Wheatley and screenwriter, Amy Jump, make the decision to keep the action situated in the 1970s. This is more than a little disconcerting as we, in the present, are looking into a past that is looking into a future that has already happened. The costumes and set-dressing may seem kind of ridiculous but it provides the film with some fantastic visuals and gives the whole thing a more depressing air. The people in this film are dreaming of a bright future that we all know cannot happen.
Trying to escape his bitter past, Dr Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) is more than happy to throw himself into the world of the High-Rise. The all-purpose community built into a technologically advanced block of flats is the future for society all designed by the mysterious yet well-intentioned architect, Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons). He lives at the top of his own creation with his unsatisfied wife (Keeley Hawes). As the floors decrease so too does the social class of the inhabitants. Laing is on floor 25 and manages to find an in with both those below and above him. He makes quite an impression on his upstairs neighbour Charlotte (Sienna Miller) with whom he forms a romantic attachment and, for reasons unknown, he catches the attention of Royal himself. Although, Laing is more than comfortable with the lower levels and befriends Richard and Helen Wilder (Luke Evans and Elisabeth Moss).
As it turns out, paradise isn’t quite as perfect as everyone expected and the sheer technological strain on the building proves to be too much. Blackouts occur regularly and the lower levels find themselves suffering more than the upper ones. Far from the unified building that Royal hoped for, this has created a deep tension bubbling under the surface waiting for the perfect time to erupt. And erupt it does. What begins as a seedy party full of alcohol, drugs and sex in the hallways quickly leads us into violence, sexual assault and all out class warfare. Wheatley is the perfect director to take on the task of portraying the buildings descent into chaos. There is an unnerving mix of beauty and degradation on display which shows the binary natures of the society that has emerged. You can genuinely feel the grubbiness that is overtaking the sleek design of Royal’s building. Despite the terrible things presented on screen the whole thing is very dreamlike because everything is presented in such a beautiful way. Wheatley is quite the artist.
Still, High-Rise won’t be for everyone. It features little, if any, exposition but throws you in at the deep end hoping you’ll catch up. In terms of creating the chaotic and disconcerting atmosphere that Wheatley craves it works wonderfully but for those relying on a deeply engaging narrative may find it lacking. It tells the story well enough but, in order to stay faithful to the spirit of Ballard’s style, it often makes the storytelling a little difficult. Rather than a coherent narrative you can expect an almost episodic structure of increasingly unpleasant moments. We all know where it’s heading, thanks to the opening scene set three months before the major action, but it’s hardly a straight path getting there. Which, if you as me, is perfectly fine. Yes, this film doesn’t have the traditional narrative structure some may desire but Wheatley manages to create such arresting and memorable snippets that it’s difficult not to feel engaged. In High-Rise we have, though not a traditional story driven thriller, is a dark, funny and thought-provoking drama that will give you all the chills as you realise how much we can still learn from it.
I, as you probably know, am an unashamed Muppet maniac. I vehemently defy anyone to tell me they aren’t funny. It was a bleak world when the Muppets ceased to appear on the big screen. Thankfully I was not the only person who thought so and back in 2011 Jason Segel and his co-writer Nicholas Stoller set out to reintroduce the Muppets to a modern family audience. Their resulting film proved to be a hit with both critics and audiences alike and Disney swiftly signed up the furry stars for a sequel. This sequel has been hotly anticipated and, for a time, it seemed that a week didn’t go by without another big name star signing up for to play a role in the second part of Kermit and co’s comeback. The first real piece of news was that Jason Segel wouldn’t be returning and, to be honest, I couldn’t be happier. Don’t get me wrong Jason Segel did a great job with the script and is a decent enough actor but I was kind of bored by his whole romantic plot. I’m a bit traditional when it comes to my Muppets and I prefer hilarious chaos rather than romantic comedy. However, I did enjoy the film and felt it was as successful a comeback as everyone else. Unsurprisingly, I have spent the year eagerly awaiting the release of the follow up: if only to experience more of Bret Mackenzie’s sensational compositional work.
The major thing to realise upon the opening sequence of the follow up to 2011’s rebranding effort, The Muppets, is that both Kermit and Miss Piggy are present. If my memory serves me correctly this is the first film in which everyone’s favourite diva swine is present from the get go. After the success of their first (ok their 8th) outing the Muppets realise that they have been rewarded with a sequel so set about trying to find a decent plot. Handily the Muppets use their opening number sets out to lower the expectations of its audience by explicitly stating how disappointing sequels usually are.
Wondering about the best way to build on their recent success they decide that the only way is to embark on a World Tour. Joining them is the mysterious Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) who cunningly takes control of the gang and leads them to various European capitals. Along the way he orchestrates a plan to replace Kermit with the newly escaped Russian villain, Constantine, whilst shipping Kermit off to a Serbian gulag run by Tina Fey. Constantine and Badguy plan a series of thefts in order to pull off the greatest robbery of all time. A plot that leaves plenty of room for typical Muppet hi jinks.
However, unlike the first film Muppets Most Wanted ultimately lacks narrative structure and focus. The various plot lines meander along too slowly and drag out any dramatic or emotional potential. Rather than having a main aim (i.e. getting the gang back together to save the studio) and having smaller subplots along the way, you might be hard pushed to pick out one specific story as the main focus. We have the mistaken identity between Kermit and Constantine, Serbian prison, a series of robberies, the CIA and Interpol investigation, Walter’s rescue plan, Miss Piggy’s attempt to get Kermit to commit, and gulag’s annual revue. Phew. As if that wasn’t enough, the hotchpotch of stories is littered with as many pointless celeb cameos as Disney could possibly afford. (Now y’all know by now that Tom Hiddleston can’t do anything wrong in my
eyes but his seconds long part was both unnecessary and so built up in the marketing campaign that it’s laughable.) It lacks the heart of the previous film and, at times, just feels pretty shallow and desperate.
I guess, despite my initial celebration, this film misses Jason Segel: not on screen necessarily but certainly behind the computer. The script isn’t as tight or clever and ingenuity is replaced with spectacle. The reason The Muppets worked so well was because Segel was so utterly invested in bringing the group back onto our screen. His emotional connection was evident throughout his script and in his performance. His interaction with the puppets was amazing: certainly much better than Ricky Gervais who seems to carry everything out with an ironic or knowing glint in his eye. There is none of the tenderness that either Segel showed or Gervais has been known to show in other projects. His performance is an underwhelming, self-conscious show of the comedian at his most gurning.
To make up for this downfall the other two significant human roles are both memorable and joyous to watch. Tina Fey brings out her best dodgy Russian accent to play a character so dripping in stereotypes that it sort of becomes ok again. The scenes set in the gulag may be distracting to the plot but they are packed full of great Muppet-y humour. Even if the cameos from Jermaine Clement, Ray Liotta and Danny Trejo weren’t used to their fullest potential. However, it is Modern Family’s Ty Burrell is the most prominent performer and, spectacularly, has the most amazing chemistry with Sam the Eagle. Burrell plays a Clouseau-esque Interpol agent alongside Sam’s CIA agent as the pair follows the clues to find the burglar. He brings about some of the biggest laughs and turns a song written as exposition into one of the stand-out numbers.
Great musical numbers is something this film offers in spades thanks to more sterling work from Bret Mackenzie (one half of comedy duo Flight of the Conchords). Mackenzie was the person who brought the Muppets their first Oscar thanks to his incredibly well written song ‘Man or Muppet’. That song aside, I felt the soundtrack was a bit hit and miss though. There weren’t too many original songs and most of them were good but forgettable. This time around Mackenzie hardly ever falters. It is thanks to the musical numbers and their routines that the audience are able to stick with the hodgepodge that is the plot. I downloaded the OST as soon as I’d watch the film and I’ve not been able to stop singing them since.
Yes, Muppets Most Wanted may not be as accomplished or as neat a film as The Muppets was but, if I’m honest, I enjoyed it just as much (if not more). I can’t deny that this is probably mainly down to the Mackenzie but this feels like any other Muppet film. It’s silly, chaotic and feel-good. The Muppets are true to form and, Gervais aside, their human counterparts breathe life into the dwindling narrative: Tina Fey and Ty Burrell work well with the puppets and serve to highlight their co-stars instead of drawing focus. Of course, in my heart I know that I would have been happier if there were fewer shameless cameos and a tighter script but, as for showing the Muppets’ continued potential, I’d say Muppets Most Wanted does well enough.
Although, if Beaker, the Swedish Chef and Fozzie are doing what they have been for years then I guess I’ll always be easily pleased.
I like the idea of vampires. Not romantic and sappy Twilight vampires but back to basics vampires. I’m thinking those who build on the foundations laid out by John Polidori (let us not forget the true father of the literary vampire) and Bram Stoker: basically Lord Byron but with a bigger appetite for blood. So vampires: tick. As you probably also know, I really like Tom Hiddleston (I’m talking worry proportions here). Therefore, after finding myself alone on Valentine’s Day, I made the best of the situation by watching a preview showing of Jim Jarmusch’s vampire love story with friends. I ask you, dear reader, if you can think of a better Valentine’s companion, than sexy vampire Hiddleston. No, thought not.
In the nineties painfully hip director Jim Jarmusch experimented with genres and gave the world his indie versions of the classic western, Dead Man, and the samurai movie, Ghost Dog: the Way of the Samurai. As we all know, these days there are very few things quite as popular as vampires so it was only a matter of time until Jarmusch tackled this in his usual ‘too cool for school’ style.
It has been two years since the God of Thunder first exploded onto our cinema screens and Chris Hemsworth’s third outing as the Asgardian prince with an incredibly heavy hammer. Personally, I really enjoyed Thor and was looking forward to seeing what the sequel had to offer. As I’ve already mentioned Thor is probably my favourite superhero and I think he has a lot of potential for film adaptations. Especially because the literature nerd in me loves the fact that I am essentially watching a Shakespeare play about Norse gods with a comic book twist. Plus, what kind of card-carrying Hiddlestoner would I be if I didn’t relish the thought of watching the most beautiful and talented actor around get to grips with his evil side?
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.
Before I even saw this film I objected to it. It’s kind of sad that Hollywood believes the only way to show a modern audience the true horror of the First World War is through the story of a boy and his horse. I mean the final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth managed to keep all things equine out of it and still be an emotional fucking rollercoaster. I don’t think there’s anything that can be added to the horror of the real life events by putting a horse into the equation Especially when you don’t have the book’s ability to give the horse a voice or the amazing puppetry of the stage show to justify it. Still, I decided to watch it because, you know, Tom Hiddleston’s face is in it. And I’d watch anything that gave that a starring role.
Spielberg attempts to play the film as realistically as is possible for a narrative revolving around what, essentially, becomes a fucking magical horse. A horse that survives certain death through a mass of coincidences and a ridiculous amount of good luck. The film’s narrative begins in the horse, Joey’s, home in Devon where he is trained by Albert (Jeremy Irvine), the son of a wounded ex-soldier struggling to keep his farm afloat. The partnership between boy and horse is torn apart when war breaks out and Joey is sold to become a part of the war effort. What follows is his adventures through war-torn France where the horse moves between the British and German camps with an almost pleasant stop gap as a young French girl’s pet.
Producing a film from the point of view of a horse without the use of any type of voice-over is problematic. No matter how many fantastic stunts the horse can perform it is always just going to be a horse. Joey will never be able to react to the situations he finds himself in. The best we can hope for is that he stays in shot long enough to get the scene finished. This means that the main emotional emphasis within Joey’s story is placed upon the people he meets on the way. The acting is, for the most part, fantastic but, ultimately, this isn’t the story of the German soldiers, the French farmer or the Geordie private. This is Joey’s story. There is no real time to get engrossed in the human stories because they have to be wrapped up quickly in order to move Joey’s plot forward. It is a waste of such great talent and potential drama.
That is not to say that there are not moments of genius within the film itself. Spielberg is celebrated for his ability to create spectacular cinematic moments and there are some stunning single sequences that really do stand out. The most obvious being the cavalry charge taken from the point of view of the young Captain Nicholls, wonderfully portrayed by Tom Hiddleston. The camera focuses on his face as the young man comes to realise the devastating consequences of the fighting. It is a harrowing and truly emotional moment. There are other single Spielbergian visuals that provide moments of brilliance in what is otherwise a lame beast of a film. Take for example the stunning entrance of a character shown through his reflection in Joey’s eye. Then we have the scene towards the end of the film where a German and a British soldier come together in the middle of No Man’s Land to save the trapped horse. It is a scene that seems to sum up the whole film in managing to be both utterly preposterous and thoroughly entertaining.
That’s the main problem with this film; it has dual personalities. It doesn’t quite know whether it is a hard-hitting war film or a Disneyesque animal fantasy. The bi-polar narrative flits between moments of utter devastation and the constant reminders that Joey is a “miraculous” horse. The repeated emphasis on this special quality has the same effect that saying a single word over and over will have. By the end of the film, it has completely lost any meaning and becomes an unintentionally humorous plot point. To be honest, I laughed my way through this film. I doubt Spielberg would have approved. War Horse lacks any real dramatic punch thanks to its classification as a family film. Spielberg is always skirting close to the violence of war but, because it cannot be shown, the viewer remains detached from the human casualties. The cavalry scene is never able to reach the height of its emotional argument thanks to the fact that Spielberg is unwilling to show death on screen. Instead it is alluded to with cuts between the loud and furious charge with silent, blurry images of riderless horses galloping off into the trees. Rather than finding it harrowing, I found it fucking funny.
It was always going to be difficult to suggest the mindless violence that defined the war without being able to show the loss of young lives on screen. We have a film that is focused on the survival of its animal star instead of the loss of its supporting human cast. Therefore, the deaths come thick and fast but have little, if any, emotional impact. From a director who gave us the gritty realism of warfare in Saving Private Ryan, War Horse becomes nothing more than Homeward Bound 3: Lost in No Man’s Land.