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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.
A truly original horror film isn’t easy to come by these days; even the likes of Paranormal Activity and, going further back, The Blair Witch Project don’t stand-up to second viewing after the dust has settled from the initial impact. Irish production, The Canal, isn’t the film that’s going to change that, but it does have its positives.
The story tells of a husband troubled by paranoia; film archivist, David (Evans), suspects that his wife, Alice (Hoekstra), is having an affair and his suspicions are proven right. Amidst the impending demise of his marriage, he also comes to discover that a gruesome murder was committed in his house some one hundred years ago and he becomes increasingly unstable when Alice goes missing and he becomes the number one suspect.
While it’s far from perfect, writer/director, Ivan Kavanagh, manages to create a sense of dread and anticipation throughout, all the while resisting the conventions that have come to define the modern horror genre. It wouldn’t be completely off-point to call The Canal a more traditional, old-school haunted-house horror, with the dreary Irish backdrop making for an apt setting.
The aesthetic seems to have seeped into the dialogue, however, and paints the script with dreary deadpan interactions. But what will keep you engaged most is David’s slow emotional descent; it gives the film a humanness that many modern horrors lack. But as we’ve mentioned, this is a film not cut from the same mould and European film continues to produce diverse and unique horror.
Again, this is far from perfect and there’s a Hollywood polish that moviegoers have become accustomed to that’s lacking and at times this is a film that will make you feel uncomfortable in the best of ways. It’s as much as psycho-thriller as a horror and despite an underwhelming conclusion, it’s indie horrors like this that will impact the genre in the decade to come.
If Hollywood was to be defined by its trends, then the next few years belong to the world of comic book heroes. With the Marvel Cinematic Universe already established and welcoming more and more superheroes into the fold, DC is about to jump into the deep-end with its own universe and the X-Men franchise is arguably as strong as ever. Marvel’s Fantastic Four – a franchise owned not by Marvel Studios, but by 20th Century Fox – haven’t been so lucky.
After two forgettable attempts at bringing Mr Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Human Torch and the Thing to life on the big screen – and an exhilarating appearance by the Silver Surfer – the franchise has been rebooted with a production that seemed doomed from the very start.
The film re-explores how the Fantastic Four came to be, with its characters made considerably younger than we’ve seen them before; a motiveless scientific experiment opens a ‘Quantum Gate’ to a parallel universe named Planet Zero, which our heroes-to-be recklessly investigate and subsequently suffer severe consequences from. An ensuing botched return home leaves one of the scientific team stuck in Planet Zero, while an explosion in the Quantum Gate gives Reed Richards, Ben Grimm, Sue Storm and Johnny Storm their powers. The man left behind goes on to become a figure that is historically the Fantastic Four’s deadliest foe, Doctor Doom.
Despite its solid cast of Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell and Toby Kebbell – a collection of some of the best young actors around – the film is so underwhelming, that it makes the previous Fantastic Four films look like works of art. There are glimmers of a solid, modernised adaptation of a loved comic, but the execution of that vision has been tainted from the start and there are basic elements in the film that demonstrate little understanding of what made the foursome one of Marvel’s most popular characters.
Firstly, by making the main characters teenagers, the film eliminates much of the dynamic within the group – Reed, for example, has yet to become the brilliant scientist we know him as and because he and Sue are not yet an item, the familial set-up that gave the group heart isn’t there – and it’s a huge problem. A problem that is only further confounded by the fact that, as teenagers, there is no logical reasoning behind their motivations – no reason is given as to why these teens want to build a Quantum Gate.
Throw in some of the worst plotting and pacing to ever taint the silver screen and a strangely gloomy and sombre tone and you have, well, not very much. And we haven’t even talked about the infighting, the re-shoots and the fact that this film was rushed and released as soon as possible in order for Fox to keep the franchise from returning to Marvel. Sigh.