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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.
Riddled with a long line of groundless and senseless ideas, As Above So Below – the latest entry to the exhausting found-footage horror sub-genre – is heavy on the mood, but short on everything else.
Centred on the myths behind the Catacombs of Paris, As Above So Below follows enthusiastic archaeology professor, Scarlett Marlowe (Weeks), who is desperately trying to get her hands on a magical rock, capable of turning metal into gold, called the Philosopher’s Stone.
Starting off in Iran, Scarlett soon finds herself on the streets of Paris, convinced that the stone – which she’s trying to retrieve in order to honour her late father’s wish – lies hidden somewhere in the Catacombs under Paris. Eager to begin her mission, Scarlett soon reaches out to old flame, George (Feldman), for help as well as documentarian, Benji (Hodge), and a random Parisian explorer, Papillion (Civil), who offers assistance with navigation.
Going into the Catacombs, the team soon begins its search for a long hidden passage that is supposed to lead them to the mythical stone. However, as they start going deeper underground, strange events begin to take place and if they are ever to reach their destination, the team will need to battle the darkness around them that seems to thicken with every step they take.
No matter how sound your idea may look on paper, the key is execution. In the case of this latest found-footage debacle, it is unfortunately, very poor indeed. The power of the mood, although relatively strong and effective, is weakened by the film’s crammed premise which sees plenty of random ideas thrown around without any explanation or point.
Luckily, the cast manages to weather the faults and offer a few relatively convincing performances. Weeks, as a woman who will stop at nothing until she gets what she wants, is persuasive; Mad Men’s Feldman keeps things relatively grounded, and Civil – a somewhat unknown French actor – offers just enough energy to keep things interesting.
However, it’s the writing that is at fault here. Chilling, but not enough to make your blood run cold, As Above So Below is terribly confusing, contrived and awfully claustrophobic and if it wasn’t for its somewhat underwhelming – and seemingly abrupt – finale, things might have turned out differently for this part Tomb Raider part Blair Witch bag of fables and scares.
Careless and seemingly unable to find its own footing, the lack of heart and originality found in the latest reimagining of the ‘80s comic-book and film series franchise is disappointing and while there are moments of praise to consider, its shortcomings are a little difficult to disregard.
The streets of New York are terrorised by an underground criminal organization called the Foot Clan, commanded by an ominous figure known as Shredder (Masamune). At the heart of it all is the ambitious TV reporter, April O’Neil (Fox), who – despite the continuing objections from her clearly-besotted cameraman, Vernon (Arnett) – is looking to break out of reporting irrelevant news pieces and move on to much bigger stories.
Her timing, as it happens, couldn’t be better when, while out investigating a lead one night at the docks April witnesses members of the Foot Clan in a hard-hitting confrontation with a group of shadowy ninja-like figures. Determined to reveal the identities of these so-called vigilantes, April soon finds herself face-to-face with the talking and walking six-foot masked turtles, otherwise known as Leonardo (Ploszek), Raphael (Ritchson), Donatello (Howard) and Michelangelo (Fisher).
Raised in the City’s sewers by their rat-master, Splinter (Shalhoub), the four turtles have been training for years to stand up to Shredder and they are soon given that chance when they learn of the plans of a poisonous gas being released over the city.
There seems to be a lot of uncertainty and ambiguity in Jonathan Liebesman’s approach to the subject at hand and the challenge of reviving a thirty-year-old iconic franchise proves to be a rather tricky task for the Wrath of the Titans director. Written by an army of writers and produced by Michael Bay, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles suffers from an sloppy script , awkward pacing and, despite efforts give the very concept a little more depth the end-result feels shallow and undercooked.
Luckily, the action and the visual effects are pretty refined and while the surprisingly potent violence can be a little bit too much to bear, you can tell that a lot of time and effort went into the digital creation of the mutants themselves and the world around them.
Regrettably, the performances are just as unmemorable as the story itself; this applies to Fox most, who seems to be stuck with the same staggered expression the whole way through. The motion-capture translates quite satisfyingly, though the menacing presence of Shredder and the righteous aura of Splinter is never fully realised.
The film as a whole is polished but is short on subtlety and complexity, never finding the charm and nostalgia that initially triggered so much interest in the project.