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The Avengers: Believe the Hype
Fling a bunch of superheroes together and you either get the New Year’s Eve of superhero films or you get a slice of unbridled awesomeness. Thankfully, The Avengers, which crams Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Black Widow and Hulk into one film without short-changing any one character, falls squarely into the latter camp. In fact, it’s mayor of that camp.
Exhibit one of its awesomeness: Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow gets an introductory scene that is more badass than her entire Iron Man 2 arc and in fact, she’s one of the most awesome characters in the film. Exhibit Two: Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts, with her entire three minutes of screen time, manages to come across as smart, hilarious and generally super cool; three things that can’t be said about her roles in both Iron Man films put together. Exhibit Three: Hulk, who was previously so mistreated by Hollywood that he needed a reboot instead of a sequel, is the most badass superhero in the line-up. Although Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, in all his power hungry, revenge seeking insanity, is a joy to watch.
The film’s plot is rather simple. Loki (Hiddleston), Thor’s (Hemsworth) brother, is out to take over the world and has assembled an alien army to do so. All he has to do is get his hands on the Tesseract - a super powerful energy source - and use it to open a portal through which his army can join him. Nick Fury (Jackson), director of S.H.I.E.L.D. decides to reactivate The Avengers initiative and calls on the world’s superheroes - Iron Man (Downey Jr), Captain America (Evans), Black Widow (Johansson), Hulk (Ruffalo), Thor and Hawkeye (Renner) - to counter this extraterrestrial threat. Despite the fact that they can barely stand each other, they’re forced to put their planet-sized egos aside to save the world from Loki’s dominion.
We could go on and on about everything that makes this film far superior than all the other superhero films that came before it, but it can really all be summed up in two points: the dialogue, and the visuals. The dialogue here has Joss Whedon written all over it. Seriously, anyone who’s watched one episode of Buffy, Angel, or Firefly will recognise his voice from the very first one liner. The relentless onslaught that follows only solidifies his status as the king of quips. This film is so hilarious, that you’ll frequently miss jokes because you’re laughing too hard at the one before. And no, they don’t all come from Iron Man. It also has to be said that the actors really prove their comedic skills here whether with outright jokes or more wry material.
As for the visuals, they’re Transformers good. It rivals anything Michael Bay has put out in sheer thrill factor alone. The main difference though, is that there’s space to breathe. In between all the mayhem and destruction, the characters get time to take a moment, get back on their feet, trot out an epic one liner then throw themselves back into the fray. It’s awesome! The combination of The Avengers’ skill sets makes for really interesting fight scenes where the characters’ personal fighting styles and weapons of choice come together in really exciting ways.
You don’t need to have seen each character’s films before seeing The Avengers but a basic knowledge of the superheroes is actually recommended - Thor and Loki in particular as it’s their relationship that drives the story. While not technically a sequel, it does tie all of the characters’ previous story arcs together and relies to an extent on the fact that the characters have all been established already.
Sinking the already-shaky horror-genre deeper into further oblivion, Ouija – based on a popular spirit-summoning board-game from the 1890’s – is, unfortunately, nothing to get excited about.
Written and directed by Stiles White – along with the penning support of Juliet Snowden – the story is centred on best friends, Laine (Cooke) and Debbie (Henning), who, ever since they were young girls, loved to indulge in a childish and seemingly harmless play using the Ouija board.
Several years later, however, Laine is shocked to learn that Debbie has killed herself and even more surprised to learn that – after visiting her home – that there is evidence of Debbie playing with the Ouija board all by herself; a big no-no in the world of spirits and magic. In order to get to resolve the mystery surrounding her death, Laine calls upon the help of her sister, Sarah (Coto), friend, Trevor, (Kagasoff) and Debbie’s boyfriend, Pete (Smith), to play with the Ouija board and summon Debbie’s spirit.
However, things turn upside down when they accidentally end up summoning an evil spirit who, unlike Debbie, wishes to spread harm upon the group. Now, Laine, who brought everyone into this mess in the first place, needs to find a way to shut the portal - between earth and the life beyond - before it’s too late.
Although the idea of turning a popular board-game into a movie doesn’t sound all that ridiculous and the material seems generally interesting, there just isn’t enough imagination or character in Ouija to make it worthwhile. Lacking depth and character, the film relies a little bit too much on the jump-scare tactic and the lack of suspense and tension only adds to its weak attempt to create a frightening horror experience.
Adding salt to the wound, the characters are just as weak thanks to the poorly-scripted material. Cooke leads the way as the only character of note and the relatively new face won’t have harmed her future prospects. The rest of the cast, unfortunately, simply don’t register and ultimately fail to convey a single genuine emotion.
Ouija is tedious, unimaginative and seemingly uninterested in elaborating and expanding on its own source material.
Back in 2002, a straight-to-DVD adaptation of the novel, Left Behind, left what could have been a potentially interesting film franchise a horrible mess. For some reason, a Hollywood bigwig decided to give the green-light to a new adaptation.
Left Behind begins its story at JFK airport where we meet Chloe Steele (Thompson); a college student who has just arrived home to celebrate the birthday of her pilot father, Captain Rayford (Cage). Unfortunately, her father, portrayed as a heartbreaking player amongst his peers, is unable to attend; he has decided to work the overnight flight to London – in order to get away from his wife, Irene (Thompson), and her newly-found relationship with God – and also, to have a little bit more time to canoodle with the attractive air hostess, Hattie (Whelan).
Disappointed by her father’s no-show, Chloe soon pours her heart out to TV reporter, Buck Williams (Murray), whom she meets before he boards her father’s flight. Soon after, she heads home to see her mom but only to end up having a heated argument – mainly about religion – forcing her to storm out and take her younger brother, Raymie (Dodson), out to the mall. However, strange happenings soon begin to take place when millions of people – including Raymie – mysteriously disappear, leaving only their clothing and belongings behind. Similar occurrences take place on her father’s flight, leaving the Captain and what is left of his passengers, wondering what or who could be responsible for the catastrophe and whether ‘The Rapture’ is nigh.
Based on a popular book series of the same name written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, there are no words to describe just how terrible and poorly-executed Left Behind really is. There’s zero cohesiveness to the story and the production values are embarrassingly cheap.
Poorly paced and filled with a lot of unnecessary dialogue – everyone seems to have something to say – most of the story takes place within the confinement of the airplane and it takes a really long time before anything remotely exciting happens.
In what appears to be one of his most questionable roles to date, Cage is his usual melodramatic self, while Thompson’s character as a born-again Christian brings embodies the notion’s clichés and stereotypes without a shade of pragmatism. The only member of the cast to bring any kind of sincere conviction to his role is Murray, as the helpful TV reporter.
Overall, Left Behind is a shockingly poor and devastatingly boring take on the ‘end of days’ and it is, just like it states, probably just better off left behind.