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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.
Unable to take the plunge and fully immerse itself into its own pool of ideas, Daniel Schechter’s Life of Crime – drawn from the pages of Elmore Leonard’s 1978’s novel, The Switch – is, sadly, neither here nor there.
Set in Detroit, Michigan circa 1978, Life of Crime is centred on inept and useless low-level criminals, Louis (Hawkes) and Ordell (Def), who hope to extract one million dollars from drunken real-estate developer, Frank Dawson (Robbins), for the kidnapping of his seemingly lonely socialite wife, Mickey (Aniston).
The plan seems pretty straightforward at first, but little did they know that Frank – who’s busy canoodling with his young mistress, Melanie (Fisher) at their vacation home in Florida – has already filed for divorce and is now more than happy to use this opportunity to sidestep the obligatory alimony payments.
Now that Frank has called their bluff, things get a little complicated for the hopeless thugs who have clearly not done their research and even more so when Mickey – who is being held hostage at a home of a Nazi-loving fanatic, Richard (Boone Jr.) – comes to realise that her matrimonial bliss has now truly come to end. The deepening relationship between Louis and Mickey only adds fire to the fuel, causing a riff between the two partners, who seem to be running out of both ideas and time.
While the film still manages to serve its purpose and deliver the goods – through a mix of black comedy and slow-burning tension –Schechter, who also wrote the adaptation, plays it too safe; an approach that doesn’t really allow for Elmore Leonard’s distinctive storytelling style to shine through. Life of Crime is not the first Elmore Leonard adaptation – see Tarantino’s Jackie Brown and Sonnefeld’s Get Shorty. Unlike those to adaptations, this lacks an edge, leaving it rather placid.
Aniston shines as the lonely trophy wife whose kidnapping – although distressing – also ends up being a one-way ticket out of her isolated and troublesome marriage. The actress, who is not usually seen in these types of roles, manages to show great versatility and the chemistry shared between her and Hawkes is equally convincing. Robbins is persuasive as the alcoholic, two-timing husband while Fisher was deliciously manipulative as the seductive mistress.
Capturing the 70’s era with plenty of polish and charm, Life of Crime is rather forgettable, despite occasionally popping into action – the source material deserved better.
Emerging from a lesser-known comic-book line, James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy – Marvel’s tenth, and possibly quirkiest, offering – proves to be a risk well taken.
Set entirely in the galactic immensity of outer space, Guardians of the Galaxy follows the story of Peter Quill (Pratt); a twenty-six-year-old Earthling who was abducted as a young boy and raised by The Ravegers – an alien gang of thieves led by the notorious, Yondu (Rooker).
Far away from home, Peter – a.k.a Star Lord – now roams the cosmos and soon comes across a special orb; a silver infinity stone that holds an incredible amount of power. Unfortunately, he’s not the only interested party and he is soon confronted by Korath (Hounsou); the right-hand man of one of the most villainous terrorists in the galaxy, Ronan (Pace), who wants to use the orb to overthrow a rival civilization run by Nova Prime (Close).
Intrigued by the high interest in his new discovery, Peter turns his back on Yondu, who sends assassin, Gamora (Saldana), to retrieve the orb.
He also soon attracts the attention of bounty hunters, Rocket (voiced by Cooper) – a sly raccoon warrior – and his best pal, talking tree-like human, Groot (voiced by Diesel).
After causing a public disturbance, Peter and his pursuers are soon put in prison and form a temporary bond, along with muscular inmate, Draz (Bautista), in order to break out and prevent the precious stone from falling into the wrong hands.
Written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, Guardians of the Galaxy is refreshingly off-beat, steadfast and full of character. Visually, Gunn paints his intergalactic backdrop with plenty of colour, however some of the CGI tends to feel a little overcooked and the action-scenes – although pretty entertaining– feel a little unrefined.
Pratt – whose character and performance has already drawn comparisons to Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones – proves to be a solid and extremely likable lead, while Saldana uses her trademark femme fatale penchant to great use . However, it’s Cooper as the chatty and cheeky raccoon, Rocket, and Diesel as the human-tree, Groot, that steal the show, adding a whimsy rarely seen in modern comic-book film adaptations.
Without household comic-book names to inject a bit of weight into proceedings, this is a film that could have found itself in the annals of failed comic-book adaptations, alongside Marvel flops such as Daredevil, Elektra and Ghost Rider.
But, armed with a funky 70’s soundtrack, likable characters, a witty temperament and thrilling action, Guardians of the Galaxy has arrived at the perfect time for Marvel, who – despite huge box office earnings with Captain America, The Avengers et al – were in dire need of a fresh canvas.