Batman: the hero we deserve… just as long as you’ve done your homework.

Batman: the hero we deserve… just as long as you’ve done your homework.

In which I say something outlandish and probably hugely offensive … on the Internet of all places. Sheesh! (Oh and as you can tell I’ve just found out how to take a screenshot on my new phone and went a little bit over the top in regards to my visual aids. For the single person who accidentally comes across this page and decides it’s worth a punt, I hope you can see them.)

A few weeks ago Simon Pegg tweeted in response to his first viewing of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises.

Of course this prompted a vast array of replies from the typical Twits craving attention from celebrities and believing that following someone on a social networking site basically means you know them well enough to act like their friend. (But that’s an issue I should probably work on some other time.) The replies included attempts at humour referencing Miller’s infamous rant concerning the Occupy Wall Street protesters; general insulting and idiotic comments about Miller himself; and replies that actually pertained to Pegg’s original point (i.e. the relationship between Miller’s graphic novels and Nolan’s films).

To clarify his point Pegg followed up with this tweet:

It is this statement that started to get me a little riled up. The phrase “too few people will appreciate” is in keeping with the air of smug, superiority that I feel is in the background of Pegg’s writing. Before I go any further I’d like to point out that I, like most people in the world, am a big fan of Simon Pegg. From being a fan of Spaced when it first aired to thoroughly enjoying Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, I have always had a great deal of respect for the work that he is doing. However, there is something about his constant pop-culture references and allusions that give the impression that he‘s out to prove that he‘s better than all of us (I’m under no illusion that Simon Pegg is better than me but I find it off putting that he always has to remind me of that fact). I can’t help but feel that the inclusion of so many in-jokes and references are merely a device used to alienate a large section of the audience. There is no doubt that Simon Pegg is knowledgeable about all things relating to general geekery but his constant need to show us his knowledge has a pretty clear judgemental tone behind it.

Now back to the original point. The phrase “too few people will appreciate” is highlighting the fact that Pegg is obviously a fan of Frank Miller’s graphic novels whilst simultaneously suggesting that those who go to see The Dark Knight Rises without being aware of his material are worthy of criticism. An idea carried on to his next tweet:

The idea that people who go to see a comic book movie without being aware of the original source material is a horrible and incredibly pretentious suggestion. Now I’m aware that this is something of a hypocritical statement for someone who has probably not discussed TDKR without uttering the phrase “in the comics” at least once. However, I wouldn’t dare to group myself in with the Batman fans who have been following the comics for years. As someone who got into the Dark Knight, and comics in general, as a teenager rather than a child, I’m aware that I still have a lot to learn but it is being in this position that allows me to have a certain amount of detachment when it comes to the much-loved work of writers like Miller.

I find it strange that so many of the replies to Pegg’s tweets were angry about the fact that Nolan took inspiration from, and in some cases lifted scenes straight out of, the comics. I doubt any of them would have been happier had Nolan gone off book and written a completely freestyle script. That leads to terrible, Joel Schumacher style abominations after all. There is no getting away from the fact that the film’s are based on a popular comic book character and writers have continued to pen stories about Bruce Wayne and friends since 1939. Of course Nolan and his co-writers were going to look at certain stories (sensibly the most popular and critically acclaimed stories at that) to find inspiration for the films. Complaining about the use of ideas from The Dark Knight Returns or Knightfall is as stupid as watching an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and complaining that the writer references characters from Austen’s text. What we are really dealing with here is the awful hipster-ish quality of wanting it to be known that you liked something before it was cool or popular. I guess that a possible problem for a lot of die-hard Batman fans is that liking superheroes, something that was perhaps considered uncool and geeky, is now becoming something that absolutely anyone can enjoy. If the subculture becomes a normative part of the wider culture what does that mean for the original fans? They can no longer be differentiated from anyone else. Holy hipsterism, Batman! 

This is an idea that I have long associated with graphic novels as a whole. I find the term ‘graphic novels’ to be flawed and intentionally conceited. The definition of the term taken from the OED is “a novel in comic-strip format” which is fair enough. Graphic novels, as I see it, are basically longer comic books or, in some cases, collections of shorter stories that fall under one theme/idea. However, the term has become a way to make comics appear more socially acceptable and upmarket. It is a term that has come to have more importance for the readers than for the creators of  the graphic novels themselves. If I may quote Daniel Raeburn:

I snicker at the neologism first for its insecure pretension — the literary equivalent of calling a garbage man a ‘sanitation engineer’ — and second because a ‘graphic novel’ is in fact the very thing it is ashamed to admit: a comic book, rather than a comic pamphlet or comic magazine.

Sticking a hardback cover on a story told primarily through artwork does not magically make it better than a comic book. It is something that sellers picked up on to make works appealing to a wider audience. In an interview in 2000, Alan Moore also turned his back on the term.

 It’s a marketing term. I mean, it was one that I never had any sympathy with. The term “comic” does just as well for me. The term “graphic novel” was something that was thought up in the ’80s by marketing people… But no, the term “graphic novel” is not one that I’m over-fond of. It’s nothing that I might carry a big crusade against, it doesn’t really matter much what they’re called but it’s not a term that I’m very comfortable with.

Similarly, when Neil Gaiman was described as being the writer of graphic novels rather than comic books he suggested that he “felt like someone who’d been informed that she wasn’t actually a hooker; that in fact she was a lady of the evening.”

The term has never really sat well with me and there is a part of me that agrees with the idea that the difference between the comic book and the graphic novel is the binding. Yes a graphic novel may present more of a complete narrative but there is no need to remove the idea from the simpler format. Sticking the term graphic novel onto a collection of comics is a basic way of jacking up the price and allows self-conscious readers to feel better about their reading habits. I agree that there are some fantastic graphic novels out there but the inclusion of the word “novel” does make the work comparable to the likes of Ulysses. I’m all for keeping people happy but we need to keep a bit of perspective here. I’m sorry to say that you’re reading comics and having read them does not make you better than those who have not.

I went to see this film with a group of friends who had no real knowledge of the Batman universe and only had the last two films as a basis. I don’t see how it is possible to say that they would have missed out on a major aspect of the film because they weren’t sat there thinking “ooh that scene is lifted straight out of The Dark Knight Returns” and “this film has taken a lot of ideas from No Man’s Land”. As it  happened, the first time I saw this film I was trying to second guess Nolan and trying to look for plot twists where there were no plot twists. “Oh well if this is like such and such a comic then this will definitely happen” was constantly at the forefront of my mind and I wasn’t able to appreciate the finer points of the film itself.

Of course, I do admit that I found a small amount of pleasure whilst watching the likes of the “you’re in for a show tonight, son” scene taken straight from Miller’s story. Even though the inclusion of the famous ‘breaking the Bat’ scene from Knightfall was a necessity once Bane was chosen to be the villain I still rejoiced when it happened. Also, the allusions to No Man’s Land made for an interesting setting for Bane’s plan. Without a doubt I would recommend these titles and many others to those who enjoyed Nolan’s films but I fail to see how it aids your viewing to know who came up with the original ideas referenced in the final script. I was certainly less offended by people who hadn’t read the comics watching DKR than I was by the people who hadn’t seen Batman Begins. The first installment to the trilogy was vital when it came to the ideas being explored in the third. The people who had picked up on Nolan’s Batman thanks to the hype surrounding Heath Ledger would have been missing vital information that the director expected (nay needed) his audience to know. At least have the decency to watch the whole trilogy before you claim to be a fan.

As a final thought, if we’re saying that only comic book fans can watch and appreciate comic book movies what do we say of filmmakers unaware of the original material making superhero films? I’d like to ask those who are offended by an audience member watching DKR without having read The Dark Knight Returns whether the fact that Bryan Singer did not like the X-Men comics when he made the first film meant it was worthless and terrible. Cinema is a mass culture. As a secondary example, was it necessary for people to have read all of Tolkein’s books regarding Middle Earth before indulging in Peter Jackson’s outstanding films. Is it vital that people have read the ridiculous Tom Bombadil scene before they watch Elijah Wood and the guy out of the Goonies set off on their long walk? Of course it fucking isn’t! What about the Lion King? Not only does the story take ideas and themes from Hamlet but basically copied scenes directly from Kimba the White Lion, an anime series from the 60s. The Lion King is still one of the most popular Disney films of all time and many people consider it to be their favourite Disney film, if not all round film. Do we have to track these people down and tell them they can’t have it because they aren’t aware of the either of these sources? Yeah that sounds stupid doesn’t it.

Surely the point of film adaptations is to open up material to new people whilst still containing enough in-jokes and ideas that fans will appreciate? It’s barbaric. Cinematic apartheid is not a road we want to go down people. It should be enjoyed by all whether or not they spent their childhood devouring comics or not. To quote my favourite reply to Simon Pegg’s tweet: “Oh. And I rather enjoyed it too, I didn’t realise there was homework we had to do beforehand”. Kudos, my friend. Kudos.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The final instalment in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy had a huge benchmark to reach as it was, without a doubt, the most anticipated film of this year. Particularly after the amazing success of 2008’s The Dark Knight which was a hit with both audiences and critics alike. The hype surrounding Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker has given The Dark Knight a better reputation than it really deserves. Ledger’s Joker aside, the film lacks a great deal of what made the first film so fucking awesome. The Harvey Dent/Two-Face storyline is as much of a fucking joke as the Spider-Man/Venom storyline in Toby Maguire 3. Then you have the annoying Rachel/Harvey/Bruce love triangle thing and a fucking stupid ending. Why was necessary for Harvey to be the good guy? Why not allow Gordon (a strong symbol of honesty, lawfulness and justice… also hotness) to step forward as Gotham’s White Knight? Yes, there were stand-out pieces (the sequence on the two boats is unforgettable) and great visual effects but I was certainly not one of the people who went into the third film predisposed to see only the Heath Ledger shaped hole.

In the four years between Ledger’s shock death in 2008 and the release of The Dark Knight Rises the rumour mill went into overdrive about who would be Batman’s next foil. (In a potential villain Fuck, Marry Kill, I’d definitely have fucked Neil Patrick Harris as the Riddler and killed Angelina Jolie’s catwoman). Nolan’s decision to make the material more realistic is both a blessing and a curse. It had taken the series in a wonderful new direction but had also limited the number of existing supporting characters that would fit the bill. Seriously, what the fuck could he have done to rewrite the likes of Man-Bat or Clayface into his gritty, gangster underworld? Ultimately though, there was only ever going to be one choice: Bane.
It’s fair to say that the Joker has always been the quintessential Batman nemesis. He is the Other to Batman’s crime fighting vigilante: a force for chaos acting against Bruce Wayne’s desire for order. On the other hand, Bane is the all important “big guy” when it comes to villains: the man who broke the Bat. A friend of mine came out of his first viewing of The Dark Knight Rises and insisted that Bane could never have been as terrifying as The Joker was. I could understand where he was coming from, Ledger and Nolan created a highly intelligent psychopath who made up for his lack of strength with his deadly mind games… and a pencil.
I also politely disagree. Bane is a fucking mountain. I sat throughout TDKR absolutely sure that Bane would definitely be able to punch through my skull without any trouble. He feeds off pain and gives the people of Gotham just enough rope to hang themselves with. He’s clever and has the strength to back it up. Tom Hardy did a great job with the character and certainly stands up next to the much-loved Joker. Well perhaps if we could hear him a little better.
Yes, we now find ourselves back in the all too familiar position that we found ourselves in with Michael Fassbender’s Magneto a year ago. Much has been made of the issues surrounding the recording of Hardy’s dialogue and there are multiple schools of thought. I neither know nor give much of a shit about what happened. All I can say for sure is that in the second and third viewings it gets a whole lot easier to figure out what the masked terror is shouting about. Although, a conversation between the mumbling Bane and the raspy Batman certainly makes for an interesting exchange.
The aspect of The Dark Knightthat was so compelling were the moments that the Joker and Batman got the chance to interact and play off each other. Unfortunately, Hardy and Bale share very little screen time in TDKR and that basically consists of the two beating the shit out of each other. The action sequences are, surprisingly, not the stand out sequences of the film. This is not to say that they are bad but I find myself preferring the more intimate moments where the main cast interact one-on-one.
Christian Bale and the usual suspects are all as good as they have been in previous instalments and they are joined by the equally wonderful Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle and Joseph Gordon Levitt as a young police officer, John Blake. It is the moments in which we see Gordon wrestle with his conscience and Alfred terrified for the young boy he watched grow up that provide the best moments. Thankfully, the cast are all more than up for the task at hand.
Although, I freely admit I was initially horrified when it was announced that Hathaway had been cast as Catwoman, Brokeback Mountain aside, I had seen very little evidence that she was worth her high reputation and the emotional scars from her attempt to sound like she was from Yorkshire in One Day still ran deep. Even I have to admit, she was a fucking badass in the end. Her eventual realisation that the coming storm may not be the blessing she first thought is played with an amazing subtlety. She also handled the action sequences remarkably well, which is more than I can say about the lovely Marion Cotillard who joined the cast as Miranda Tate.

The Dark Knight Rises is not a perfect film, the plot is not necessarily as strong as one might have expected, there are several annoying plot-holes and Bane’s plan does not feel quite as important as it should do. Then again this is a film, as the title suggests, about Batman’s struggle to get back to his position as protector. The journey Bruce must undertake from crippled, shut-away to the Dark Knight is captivating and there are plenty of old faces along the way to please any fan of the series. As an end to the trilogy, it does everything that it needed to do and was, as we all expected, highly entertaining. I, as I’m sure most viewers did, went out of the cinema feeling more than happy with the final chapter of this raspy-voiced Batman’s story.
X-Men: First Class (2011)

X-Men: First Class (2011)

It is undeniable that comic book movies have come a long way since their early days. Tim Burton’s Batman(1989) gave us a dark tale starring the Dark Knight that was stylistically very similar to the original comics. His two Batman movies introduced us to a gothic world and gave us just enough danger, humour and excitement to make it ok to be a bit of a geek. Bryan Singer’s original X-Men (2000) showed us that superhero movies could be all round good films and Spider-Man (2002) made them smash hits with cinemagoers. Lastly, with Batman Begins and more recently The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan gave us an intelligent, grown-up and very dark look into the world of costumed crusaders. Comic book movies were no longer just for fans of the original source material. They became hits with movie fans as a whole. Gone are the days of the simplistic and silly Batman of the 1960s, audiences want something clever, exciting and just a little bit terrifying.

Talking of the 60s, X-Men First Class takes us back to this most swinging of eras and puts us in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Called upon by the FBI, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) must bring together a group of young mutants to help stop former Nazi scientist, Sebastian Shaw, (a familiarly terrible Kevin Bacon) from bringing about World War Three. Whilst I liked the idea of giving the mutants a non-superhero threat, I think this was the wrong film to introduce us to the idea. There was far too much going on and, in the long run, many plot lines feel rushed and never quite reach their mark.
This film needed a simpler plot in order to ensure the mutants themselves were the major focus. Instead, we have to contend with new faces; the tension between America and Russia; Nazi Germany and the subsequent revenge plot; problems in the CIA; Kevin Bacon’s gang; and an unnecessary and frustrating romance between Charles and Rose Byrne’s CIA agent. This romantic plot only goes to suggest that it is impossible to make a film that doesn’t rely on love to keep the audience engrossed. Well bollocks. I can see no real benefit for it; well, aside from the infamous line “Gentlemen, this is why the CIA is no place for a woman.” A statement which, during both of my in-cinema viewings, caused the people around me to gasp in disgust (to be honest, as soon as Moira mentioned being part of the CIA I was sceptical about the historical accuracy of this plot point).
However, the scenes where Charles trains his new recruits were enjoyable to watch. James McAvoy is a great talent and is able to bring us a fresh perspective to a role that will always truly belong to Patrick Stewart. On top of this, it gives us the unintentionally hilarious moment of bromance between McAvoy and Fassbender when the two shed a manly tear over Magneto’s long forgotten memory. It’s a beautiful moment I’m sure you’ll agree. Although, for the most part, the chemistry between these two great actors is awesome. The films finest moments are the ones where these two are free to explore their characters and the relationship they once shared. Unfortunately, these key moments are over much too quickly and each new mutant is given an unjustly small amount of time to find their inner strength.
Magneto is the only character to get an considerable back-story and, because of this, it is his storyline that leads to one of the most interesting aspects of the film. After seeing snippets of his childhood, we return to his life story once the young Erik has grown up into Michael Fassbender and he’s really, really pissed off. What follows is a revenge plot that sees Erik get all Quantum of Solace on us and torture and kill everyone who gets in his way. Yes, he’s like an angry James Bond with the ability to manipulate metal running through Russia to seek vengeance. Why the fuck wasn’t that the entire film?
Obviously there was a great pressure to release this for a certain point and the film ends up feeling as though it is lacking cohesion. The film relies heavily on special effects but, whilst they were much better than those on show in The Green Lantern (released around the same time), it is nowhere near as impressive as it could have been. I mean what the fuck happened with Beast? We live in an age of great possibilities when it comes to computer graphics so I have to ask who decided to make Beast look like a cheap university student’s fancy-dress outfit?
Most frustrating of all is Fassbender’s accent throughout the entire film. If someone decided to start a drinking game where you have to take a shot every time he slips into his Irish brogue it would have descended into utter mayhem halfway through the 2 hour running time. I have to question the decision to forgo ADR just to ensure the film was released that little bit quicker. The whole film ends up looking quite amateurish and messy, which is an utter shame.
Although, I have to admit that the script is, for the most part, well-written and entertaining. Vaughan brings a fresh feeling to this seemingly washed-out franchise. His film is action packed, fun and thoughtful: he manages to breath new life into familiar characters and helps the lesser known cast members to flourish. Especially the rising star Jennifer Lawrence who makes a decent job of trying to recreate the character of Mystique. She even managed to bring conviction to the disappointingly flat underlying message about remaining true to yourself. (‘Mutant and Proud’ never quite seems to get off it’s feet and the film seems a little self-conscious about what it is trying to teach its audience.)

As we saw from Kick Ass, Vaughan knows how to put together a good fight sequence and the large action sequences are pretty spectacular. Unlike Singer’s films, Vaughan has created an X-Men film that is not afraid to show itself to be a comic book movie. It may have been far from perfect but we are so much closer to the level that Bryan Singer introduced us to back in 2000. There is certainly enough on show here to keep both fans of the comics and newer audiences alike satisfied. Thankfully, it leaves us with the impression that a sequel, if given the deserved amount of time and care, will be a wonderful addition to this newly awoken franchise.
X-Men: A short history of Marvel’s mutants in movies.

X-Men: A short history of Marvel’s mutants in movies.

I sat down in front of my computer with the intention of writing a witty and charmingly disorganised review of X-Men: First Class. Instead I found myself delving into the history of the relationship between the popular Marvel series and the cinema. Turns out I had quite a few issues to work out in terms of the later two films. So apologies for this impromptu therapy session but getting this out in the open has prepared me to write a decent enough analysis of the latest mutant outing.

The history of cinematic adaptations of Marvel’s popular band of heroic mutants is certainly a chequered one. It all started with the good but definitely not outstanding X-Men in 2000. Bryan Singer came on board to direct and, in my opinion, his lack of interest in the comic book series made the film. Singer had something to prove with his first foray into the world of comic-book heroes after his follow up to his hugely popular The Usual Suspects, Apt Pupil, failed to make it. Singer’s interest in the franchise came about because of it’s references to prejudice and discrimination. X-Men was a decent film that suffered thanks to the inevitable need to introduce the key characters and concepts. Just as Batman Begins wonderfully led the way for the outstanding sequel The Dark Knight, X-Men set us up for an exciting follow up, that was to become the wonderful X2. This film kicked off the franchise and brought life back into superhero films after Joel Schumacher’s disastrous turn threatened to remove all life from it. Singer showed that films based around popular comic book characters didn’t just have to be loud, colourful and silly. They could be clever, a little bit more serious and very well made.

Singer’s 2003 sequel X2 is often quoted in lists of great comic book movies and for very obvious reasons. The film delves deeper into the mystery surrounding Wolverine’s past and reasserts the importance of the themes that were so strong in the first film. It is a very well made film and, though it is far from perfect, the plot really increases the pace after the more sedate opener. The script was inspired by the story of the 1982 graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills in which Reverend William Stryker stirs up religious anti-mutant feeling and attempts to wipe out all of mutant kind (Incidentally, this is still one of the finest X-Men graphic novels. I thoroughly suggest having a read if you fancy that sort of thing. It is where the idea that mutant/human relations should be read as a metaphor for race relations really comes to the forefront.). The rules changed in the second film and the X-Men didn’t find themselves fighting one and other but teaming up to fight ‘the Man’. The great cast are much more comfortable in their roles here and Singer knows how to use them. McKellen and Stewart add a touch of class to proceedings whilst offering the perfect amount of ham in their portrayal of the characters Magneto and Professor X respectively. It clearly looks like both actors, McKellen in particular, had a fantastic time whilst filming and I love their performances. X2 showed cinema goers what comic book films could really be. It’s smart, very well made and, lest we forget, contains one of cinema’s finest cliff-hangers and paves the way for an eagerly anticipated third installment.

Unfortunately, that third installment was X-Men The Last Stand (2006). This was the first film to be made without Singer’s input (after he jumped ship to make Superman Returns. Turned out really well for you there Bryan. Good choice.) and it is the silliest X-Men film ever made. After X2, Singer was keen to make a third and fourth film in his franchise and, before he left, he had already started working on a Phoenix based narrative. There were plans to make more of the younger characters (Rogue, Iceman and Pyro) and the intention was to introduce new characters, including a Sigourney Weaver shaped Emma Frost (that sounds both awesome and horrific to me) and Keanu Reeves’ interpretation of Gambit (really glad this didn’t happen. I love Gambit and I greatly dislike Reeves. He’s nowhere near as charming as our favourite Cajun). After his exit, new writers were brought in and a plan to include parts of the ‘Gifted’ storyline from Joss Whedon’s phenomenal Astonishing X-Men was suggested to take centre-stage. Brett Ratner took his place in the empty director’s chair and filming commenced in 2005. I admit that the plot, revolving around a pharmaceutical company’s development of a mutant cure, had a great deal of potential but X2 had so obviously and expertly set us up for a roller coaster ride with Dark Phoenix. The terrible decision to make this a secondary plot point was an absolute travesty and one of the most dangerous and powerful characters from the series was utterly wasted. Neither story, ‘Gifted’ or The Dark Phoenix Saga, are given enough time or respect to be played out to their full potential. The first two films were beloved in part because of their subtlety and intelligence. This film basically comes down to blowing shit up. There are too many ideas that are being introduced at once and the consequences of both narratives are glossed over in order to get back to the lengthy and, often, unnecessary action sequences. Ratner’s direction was to the point but lacklustre. Any of the emotion and heart that the first two films contained was replaced with action sequences and special effects. The third film was loud, fast paced and confused about what story it was trying to tell. It is a film that could have finished off a fantastic franchise that had a great deal of potential.

Of course that didn’t happen because Fox saw the commercial potential of continuing this franchise. Whilst The Last Stand was being made work was already going ahead on a spin-off, X-Men Origins: Wolverine which was eventually released in 2009. Unsurprisingly, this film is a prequel dealing with Wolverine’s history, looking at his life before and during his time with Team X and looking at the events that led to his skeleton being bonded with adamantium. Wolverine is a fan favourite both in terms of the comics and, thanks to Hugh Jackman’s portrayals, the films. An origin story was an obvious choice for making money but the film doesn’t stand up next to the pre-existing material. I will admit that I was pleasantly surprised by this film but that was only because, after the third film, I had such small expectations that I probably couldn’t have thought less of it. On the plus side, Origins introduced us to Taylor Kitsch’s Gambit (who, despite having very little to do, showed great potential) but, on the other hand, it completely fucking ruined Deadpool. The film’s plot is hardly exciting and contains enough holes to be able to drain pasta with it. Normally a film that raises so many questions has enough excitement and fun to hide this. Unfortunately, there is too much downtime in the film to give you time to worry about ridiculous introduction of an adamantium bullet and the consequences it might have. As origin stories go, Wolverine’s is visually interesting, mainly thanks to the exciting scene where our hero becomes a bit more magnetic, but, I have to agree with the majority of critics here, it is a bit dull. Wolverine is immortal so his story is just a long list of times where he got into trouble but couldn’t die. It’s the Captain Scarlett thing all over again. (Even as a child I never really enjoyed watching Captain Scarlett. Week by week he got into life or death situations but there was never any danger. It’s why I’ll always prefer Thunderbirds or Stingray.) When a character is immortal, they simply become a vehicle for action and special effects. Unfortunately, the CGI in Origins is pretty appalling. There is no real point to this film because the audience pretty much know where we are heading. In this sense, to feel like a fulfilling film it would have to be a wonderful spectacle and incredibly well acted. This film ticks neither of these boxes (Team X in particular is awash with wooden and laughable performances. I mean Will.I.Am? Who made that insane decision?)  Whilst it is undeniably better than The Last Stand, Origins is nowhere near the type of film that this franchise reached at its peak. It gave enough of a spark to restart the heart in this battered series but the pulse remained weak and almost undetectable. Then in walks Dr Singer and expert consultant Matthew Vaughn to perform the much needed kiss of life…. but more on that story later.

Jane Eyre (2011)

Jane Eyre (2011)

(Feel I should point out this contains spoilers but doesn’t everyone know the story of Jane Eyre even if they haven’t read the book? Maybe not. SPOILERS!)

For a reason that remains unknown to me, Edward Rochester is the most popular romantic literary character ever. Rochester is not the kind of man you fall in love with. He is creepy, possessive and, generally, just a bit of a dick. Oh, but all he needs is a hug, a cup of tea and your love, right ladies? So he’s a tortured soul, who made a mistake in his youth but that really doesn’t justify psychologically torturing the young Jane. Although, maybe it is every girl’s dream to meet a man who loves her so much he is willing to convince her he is marrying another woman and break her heart before revealing that it was all a plot to make her jealous? What? In the words of renowned fashion designer Jacobim Mugatu, “I FEEL LIKE I’M TAKING CRAZY PILLS!” Rochester is a man who is bitter about ruining his life by marrying a woman he not only didn’t love but who turned out to be mad. This does not give him to right to play games with an innocent, young woman, fresh out of school, who is stupid enough to fall in love with him. I don’t get it and I never will.

This mindless rant isn’t quite as off topic as it may seem at first. My main issue with the film is the characterisation and casting of Rochester. No sane woman would fall Mr Rochester at first sight (I still maintain that after that it would be difficult but I have to get on with this). On the other hand, very few women would be able to stop themselves falling for Michael Fassbender at first sight. Fassbender cuts an attractive but brooding figure against the backdrop of the wild moors (much more akin to Heathcliff than Rochester). Within this setting, a truly complex man and this turbulent relationship is transformed into a stock character from a romantic comedy. This is not Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre this is When Harry Met Sally in breeches.

The awful and cruel Rochester of the book, who enjoys playing games with Jane’s emotions, has been replaced with a slightly offhand and bored man. For the most part, Jane is treated like his pet, used for his entertainment until, all of a sudden, he is wildly and obsessively in love with her. It is an even more nonsensical relationship than the one within the book (even taking into account that the moment where he disguises himself as a gypsy has been taken out). The intense feeling that is represented within the book never quite translates onto the screen.

The novel has remained a favourite literary work because its heroine represented a great improvement in the representation of gender politics and feminine power. Jane as a character is plain but, most importantly, she is passionate, intelligent and strong. Mia Wasikowska doesn’t stand up to the brutish Rochester and instead comes off as dull, rather pathetic and stiff. She sits opposite Fassbender’s Rochester and barely makes an impression. It is no wonder that the romance never really takes off within the film when the two lovers are as worn-out and dull as this pair.

I’m in desperate need of something positive to say about Cary Joji Fukunaga’s adaptation or this will turn into a review that beats Rochester in the broody and annoyed stakes. Clutching at straws here: I was rather impressed with Wasikowska’s Northern accent. As a proud Northerner myself, I found that my ears were not bleeding in response to her performance, as they indeed were post-viewing of One Day (Anne Hathaway has probably been ridiculed for this enough but casting her in that role is a representation of everything that is wrong with the film industry today. Why pick the best person for a role when you can pick the person who appears in the most magazines? Sorry, still bitter.)

At the same time, Judi Dench is as wonderful to watch as ever but her time onscreen is limited and there is very little she can do to improve the overall quality of the film. Her elderly housekeeper Mrs Fairfax is undeniably rather hammy but she is the only character that it is possible to have any real connection with. She is the only figure that I ended up caring about in the long run. Her happiness at having Jane in the house and their lovely reunion at the end of the film brings a much needed dose of emotion and life into the dusty Thornfield Hall.

However, I was thoroughly disappointed with the portrayal of Bertha as the gothic presence within the film. Having written my post-graduate dissertation on gothic fiction which I’m fairly sure now makes me an expert on the subject (hell if, Jamie Cullum can describe himself as an “expert on Shakespeare” thanks to his degree in literature then I can be a fucking expert on this.) The mysterious screams, the talk of dark figures walking around at night and secret passages are either forgotten or given such little emphasis that there seems little point that the discovery of the secret wife was included at all. They should probably have just fully descended into the world of romantic comedy and had Jane catch Rochester in bed with Judi Dench. Bertha, who is seen for all of 2 minutes, is reduced to the mysterious figure who sets fire to a bed, stabs her brother and give Rochester a well-deserved slap. In the novel, she is feral and very dangerous; within the film she is just an annoyance that prevents Rochester from getting it on with his employees.

Whatever the film lacks in figurative darkness it certainly makes up for in literal darkness. As far as cinematography goes, it was an interesting choice to use as few lights as possible during filming. I realise we are meant to believe that we are witnessing events within the past but that I would have thought it was prudent to allow the audience the chance to see the magnificent sets and Yorkshire backdrop. Of course, this could just be a clever cinematographic attempt to represent the darkness within Thornfield and the unseen gothic feeling that was such an important part of the novel but wouldn’t dare accuse this film of something so clever/pretentious. I

Although, for what you can see of it, the film is visually stunning. Great use is made, during the opening scene, of the wild moors that surround Thornfield. The costumes are stunning and Dario Marianelli’s score is beautiful. In terms of artistic merit Jane Eyre really does deserve the amount of praise it received following its release. Fukunaga’s style is simplistic and understated. He lets the materials that he has at his fingertips do the work for him and it is beautiful. It is just a shame that  the main event, the love story, does not deserve it.

I guess, all in all, Jane Eyre is a decent enough film. The main actors both do commendable jobs that, had it not been for the fact that this is one of many adaptations, would have been satisfying. As it is indeed one in a vast ocean of similar works, this film fails to live up to the reputation of either the original material or the many others that have come before it. The main characters have been so greatly diminished that their love story doesn’t really stand out from the crowd. The film pretty much collapses under the weight of the reputation of its beloved and well-known characters. The ending (expertly mirrored in this review) is rushed and doesn’t offer an adequate resolution for the audience.

Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

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.

War Horse (2012)

War Horse (2012)

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.

The Artist (2011)

The Artist (2011)

Writing something about The Artist proved to be a fairly difficult task. It is a film that I honestly didn’t believe would ever be made. Unlike the vast majority of movies being produced nowadays, it hadn’t sacrificed style and substance in favour of financial pursuits. The biggest Hollywood name is John Goodman, it is predominantly silent, and filmed in black and white. It hardly caters to the 21st century film goer’s usual tastes. It has, of course, turned out to be a bigger hit than many would have anticipated, receiving critical acclaim and positive feedback from audiences.

The Artist was born out of director Michel Hazanavicius’ interest in the films of the 20s and 30s and his long-standing desire to play with this historic genre. It is easily (at least in my opinion) compared to James Cameron’s Avatar, which was solely used as a method to highlight the possibilities of 3d technology. When Avatar was first released in 2009 it was as a celebration of the modern age of cinema and technological advancements. For all intents and purposes, The Artist is the exact opposite. Filmed in traditional 1.33 aspect ratio in black and white, The Artist uses very little sound and relies instead on its beautiful musical score and the occasional intertitle. It looks back to a golden age of cinema but in a thoroughly modern manner.

Hazanavicius spent months researching the era and silent movie filming techniques before he started creating his masterpiece. It is superbly thought out and put together. We are not watching a film that tries to pass itself off as a film of the 1920s but instead a historically accurate homage to that era. On a visual level the film never falters. The black and white world of 1920s Hollywood is consistently beautiful and provides the perfect setting for the cast to do their job. The audience is reminded of a time when it was the all important close-up of an actor’s face that told the story. The pressure was on Hazanavicius to create a film where the image is everything and it’s a challenge he was more than ready for.

If there is anything that lets this film down it’s the story itself. We are dealing with a plot that is fairly pedestrian. Coming from a similar place as films like A Star Is Born and Singing in the Rain, the main character finds himself dealing with the transition from silent film to talkies.

The film begins in the upbeat and joyful world of silent movies. Hollywood’s darling, George Valentin, is so set in his ways that he refuses to believe talking pictures are anything to be concerned about. The same cannot be said for plucky young actress Peppy Miller who quickly finds herself reaching the dizzying heights of stardom within this new era. Of course her climb to the top comes at the expense of the old crowd and performers like George find themselves in a less properous position.

Of course this fairly unoriginal plot is really uplifted thanks to the great work of the lead actors and their director. Dujardin gives a truly fabulous performance as George Valentin, a silent star who finds himself lost in a world where sound is everything. He is the true star of the entire piece. Aided of course by his co-star Bérénice Bejo who proves to be one of the key ingredients in blending Hazanavicius’ vision with Dujardin’s homage to the likes of Rudolph Valentino and John Gilbert. The chemistry between Bejo and Dujardin is palpable.

Hazanavicius’s film is a celebration of everything cinema was and could be again. As the film is predominantly silent it undoubtedly takes George’s side in suggesting that silence is art. Of course, it would be a bit of a stretch to say that Hazanavicius is trying to tell his audience that good films must be made according to the standards of the 1920s. However, The Artist makes a refreshing change and proves that filmmakers do not need to rely on CGI and other distractions to wow an audience. It’s an absolute masterpiece.

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)

I have fond memories of Tintin but certainly would not presume to position myself anywhere near the level of fandom that many possess. Although I do think the original stories are wonderful  and eagerly watched the television series as a child. Tintin is a much loved fictional character so it is safe to say that there was an awful lot riding on the much anticipated big screen debut of Hergé’s infamous journalist and his faithful dog. 

The film itself has clearly divided opinion in a dramatic fashion. Like the much overused example of marmite, it has either completely captivated its audience or thoroughly offended them. It is easy to see why there is such a split in the reaction to Spielberg’s attempt to bring the character to life. On the one hand, the plot contains plenty of excitement and fun that many would associate with the original material but, at the same time, the film lacks the passion and soul that is associated with Hergé’s characters.

Spielberg’s decision to use motion capture is one of the major culprits for this important lack of heart. There is a great deal of emotion and heart tied up within the original artwork which has not been brought to life using this modern technique. It is, arguably, only the motion capture veteran Andy Serkis who is able to bring any amount of feeling to his animated portrayal of Captain Haddock. Serkis may be forced to spout several trite and painfully sentimental speeches about “breaking through walls” but he does so with the perfect balance of feeling and downright ham.

For the most part, the rest of the cast (each brilliant actors in their own right) seem to flounder when faced with this method of filming. We just need to look at the final showdown between Haddock and his archenemy Sakharine (played by Daniel Craig) to the see the stark contrast. This supposedly villainous counterpart to Haddock is decidedly flat. Craig shuffles through the role as if he were simply providing a voiceover. There is never any real show of passion that explains his hate-fuelled mission.

The plot, written by three British screenwriting legends Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, is made up of the plots of three separate Tintin stories. The titular Secret of the Unicorn, The Crab with the Golden Claws and Red Rackham’s Treasure. This results in a fairly mismatched adventure that is fairly clumsily put together. The rushed subplot of the pickpocket, whilst interesting in its own right, is included mainly for convenience and could perhaps have been replaced in order to better set up the main narrative of the film.

The script itself often seems clumsy and awkward. The obvious and almost out of place speeches where characters are forced to state exactly what is happening and why are far more frequent than should perhaps be necessary. Although, there are some outstanding moments and one-liners (mostly courtesy of Captain Haddock) and more than enough double entendres to keep the older viewers satisfied.

This being said, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the film. From the gorgeous opening titles and the tremendous introduction of our hero (briefly uniting the Tintin of old and this modern reincarnation) the film captured my imagination. The action never slows and it is constantly apparent that, despite taking the long way round, the plot is always moving forward.  Yes this fast paced approach may be at odds with the more laidback feel of the books but it was a necessary evolution for the move to film. As much as I may hate to admit it, we live in a modern age where the Tintin Hergé created no longer fits. It was a necessity that his adventures captured the imagination of a modern audience, even if this was perhaps at the expense of the true fans.

Yes, Tintin may not be exactly as we all remember him but this is to be expected. He fights his way out of tricky situations in a manner that would have impressed the likes of James Bond. Modernising the hero was something that was bound to happen and should have been embraced as openly as the recent reincarnations of Sherlock Holmes. He is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but he is good enough. If I may quote Commissioner Gordon here, Hergé’s Tintin may be “the hero we deserve, but he is not the one we need right now”.

The Three Musketeers (2011)

The Three Musketeers (2011)

I must admit I didn’t have very high hopes for this latest adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ novel as any attempt since the 1973 version, directed by Richard Lester, has never quite felt right. Even the one starring Kiefer Sutherland and my love for him has allowed me to put up with a lot of shit over the years. Although, it does star Rome star Ray Stevenson who I appreciate almost as much.

The latest version from Resident Evil’s Paul W.S. Anderson is perhaps the closest you can get to a modernised version of a narrative set during the reign of Louis XIII. For the most part, the film stays close to Dumas’ original: the young D’Artagnan leaves for Paris and is introduced to musketeers Athos, Porthos and Aramis. The four then find themselves mixed up in a political plot in which they must stop the villainous Cardinal Richelieu overthrowing the young King.

Although the writers obviously felt that a modern audience would not be able to accept this simple tale of four men fighting for King and country so we find ourselves in a steam punk version of seventeenth century France complete with airships armed with machine guns and flame-throwers. The three main characters become more than the traditional sword wielding defenders of the French Monarchy and find themselves becoming examples of a more modern action hero.

Anderson has certainly attempted to bring some fun into this well known story but it ends up being a ridiculous and mind boggling experience. The film tries not to take itself too seriously and the opening sequence is a perfect example of this. With images lifted straight from Batman, The Matrix and video games, such as Assassins Creed, the three musketeers are introduced in an blur of romance, violence and booby traps. This part of the film is actually well played out, if you ignore the awful slow-motion fight sequences (something that has not only become one of the most annoying of Hollywood clichés but also something that is pulled off much more successfully elsewhere) and the odd faces Matthew MacFadyen pulls as he wields his rapier. Anderson certainly embraces the swashbuckling side of the narrative.

However, there is something about the film that prevents this attempted light-hearted attitude ever fully taking over. Unfortunately for Anderson, there is a lot more to Dumas’ tale than non-stop action. It relies on political treachery, heart ache and double-crossing spies. It is these elements that gives Anderson most of his problems. For the most part he attempts to push them into the background but when it is necessary his attempts are fairly pathetic.

The main offender is the failed romance between MacFayden’s, Athos, and Milla Jovovich’s, Milady. It is something that we are supposed to believe continually haunts Athos but it is barely given any prominence. After the opening scene it is only briefly referred to again in a few conversations. The romance was never believable meaning its destruction is utterly pointless.

To argue that the film’s major positive is that is does not take itself too seriously is both a flimsy argument and, more importantly, a fallacy. A film that is at its heart a political drama cannot completely commit itself to this sense of fun. Anderson seems to be completely perplexed by the actual story he tries to introduce. The plot to overthrow the King is rushed and certainly secondary to the visual aspects.

The film falls down dramatically from it’s poor script and terrible narrative structure. The script is littered with the expected Hollywood clichés as well as more than enough plot holes and unanswered questions. At it’s best the script is laughable and at it’s worst is painful. Take for example any of Athos’ speeches about being a damaged individual driven to drink and despair or the excruciating scene played out between D’Artagnan and his father before he leaves for Paris.

Although, despite the excruciating language, the aspect of the film that annoyed me the most was the overuse of CGI. Mostly because it is an obvious attempt to distract the audience from the poor craftsmanship of the whole thing. The main objective seems to have been to make sure as much was happening on screen as possible in the hope that the audience stopped listening to the words or noticing the acting.

The whole film has an air of desperation after it’s acceptance that there is little substance behind the gaudy spectacle. Of course saying this, there will always be a part of me that finds immense joy from watching these familiar characters outwitting the evil Cardinal and totally annihilating armies of men. Since I first watched the 1973 version I have had a secret desire to one day become a musketeer and, despite his shortcomings, Anderson has reignited my desire to smite my enemies with my trusty blade.