Tag Archives: Avengers Assemble

Opposites attract: a spoiler-free comment on Avengers: Age of Ultron

24 Apr

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“Just one ticket?” I could hear the surprise in her voice. Seeing that I had heard it, she looked embarrassed. But I got that the ticket girl wasn’t saying “you sad man, seeing a film on your own” – if Ritzy staff can’t understand the joys of solo film appreciation, who can? – but rather, “you don’t have a child in tow? I mean, you do know this is a superhero movie?”

Lady, I was inhaling this superhero shit before yo’ mamma was born.

I’m sure I was more excited than the kids in the row behind me. At least, I didn’t see them bouncing in their seat the moment the Marvel logo came up on the big screen.

So does Avengers: Age of Ultron live up to expectations? Yeah. Not quite as laugh-out-loud funny as Avengers Assemble, a little less cohesive in terms of plot, a little too CGI-tastic, but still huge fun and an incredible feat in juggling ten lead characters and giving them all a distinct voice. Joss Whedon won me over right from the outset: there’s this big chase and battle scene, and it’s all motorbikes and tanks and guns and flying shields and mystic hammers, and I’m like woah, too fast, too jerky, I can’t see, and Whedon knew we’d be thinking that, because that’s the moment he slo-moed everything way down, practically freeze-frame, for this beautifully choreographed comic-panel shot of the whole Avengers team flying or leaping through the air in their own individual styles.

I’m not going to tell you anything about the plot. Why spoil the anticipation? But I will say, in terms of script-writing lessons, look for how Whedon uses opposites to powerful effect. Stark vs his metal twin; peace-loving Banner vs ragenik Hulk; sentimental Natasha vs assassin Romanoff; peace vs war; saving life vs extinguishing it; even, at the climax, going up vs coming down. It’s an effective technique, and elaborated on brilliantly by BBC script guru John Yorke in his recent Into the Woods: How Stories Work and Why we Tell Them. (Writers: buy it.)

If this is how the blockbuster summer begins, I’m all for it. Now roll on Mad Max.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Marvel rolls the dice, and…

7 Aug

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Playing poker, like making films, is all about taking calculated risks. Last night I called a £200 re-raise with just a pair, to someone who was representing a straight, because I sensed he might be bluffing. I was right, and doubled up.

Hollywood seems to know all about the calculation, but has forgotten about the risk. This summer’s blockbusters are, yet again, all franchise sequels (22 Jump Street, How To Train Your Dragon 2, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Expendables 3) or properties with existing brand recognition (Hercules). So when a new film by a relatively untried but hugely talented director (James Gunn) gets a mammoth budget, forgive us jaded viewers if we go a bit ga-ga.

Guardians of the Galaxy, currently scoring 8.8 on IMDB, is every bit as fun as people say it is: brash, colourful, irreverent, risky, and both incredibly smart and incredibly dumb at the same time. As a tiny example, Stan Lee gets a Hitchcockian cameo in every Marvel movie. Usually it’s something pretty innocuous, but here the revered 91-year-old founder of Marvel is shown talking to a pretty girl young enough to be his great-granddaughter, at which a wise-cracking alien raccoon comments: “What a Class-A Pre-vert.” Or this: the climactic battle scene turns on a moving plea from the roguish leader of the Guardians: “I am an A-hole but I’m not 100% a dick.” If Shakespeare were alive today – and smoking a lot of dope – he could surely do no better.

Yes, there are spectacular action scenes and spaceships and explosions and aliens and strange new worlds. But it’s the left-field dialogue and characters that really sing. The closest comparison might be Avengers Assemble, also brilliantly scripted. But that was based on established, well known superheroes who had already been set up over the course of multiple movies. Guardians was not a comic many people read or knew about; the film seems to have come out of nowhere.

All credit, then, to Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios. In 2008, I interviewed Feige for The Times on the eve of the biggest gamble of his career. Instead of licensing their comics to studios who barely understood them in return for a fee, he reckoned Marvel could do better. So he bet the company’s future on a $550 million loan to fund an initial three movies. It worked. The first, Iron Man, took over half a billion dollars worldwide; Avengers Assemble, which in 2012 brought all their different superhero movies together, made over $1.5 billion.

With figures like these, it would be tempting to stick with a sure thing. But Feige rolled the dice once again, pitting the full might of Marvel behind a much quirkier, edgier, cultish sort of film. It’s paid off in spades: Guardians of the Galaxy had by far the biggest August opening in Hollywood history, taking $172 million worldwide in its opening weekend.

So c’mon, execs. Lighten up a little. Take some risks. Give us something fresh. And who knows? You might just get another franchise to milk out of it. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is already slated for summer 2017.

See also: how I “discovered” the young James Gunn

Man Of Steel: repaint the ‘S’ on his chest with a ‘Z’

21 Jun

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What a colossal bore Man of Steel turns out to be. To get all Shakespearean on your ass, it’s a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. It’s about as engaging as spending 143 minutes watching a statue.

Henry Cavill looks the part, sure; but he’s just not given anything interesting to do or say. The extended back story about his Kryptonian origins is about the most enjoyable thing, and even then not very — it’s all kind of rent-a-sci-fi, an origin without originality – and that only emphasises how resolutely earth-bound the rest of the movie is. Russell Crowe is good, and reminds you there was once some point to him. Michael Shannon, despite the hype, is wasted here on a one-note performance as General Zod that runs the gamut of emotions from intense, all the way through to even more intense.

It’s a shame. I wanted to love it, and I’ve read some pro reviews and seen the 8.1 grade on IMDB, but guys, guys, you have to give me someone to root for, something real to care about. It’s moral dilemmas, emotional conflicts that make even an action movie, not just the punch-ups. The only affecting scene in the movie from that perspective is the tornado (no spoilers by saying more). Superman deciding he was going to side with nice Earth people against mean Kryptonians was never an agonising choice.

So, Superman must save the world – in the guise of Metropolis aka New York — from destruction by an alien ship hovering above it. The climax of Avengers Assemble was spookily similar, only WAAAAAY more fun and inventive. If you’re going to give us a standard action-movie-type punch-up, at least make the choreography of it inventive, not just shot after shot of evenly matched superheroes punching each other through buildings. For instance: what really happens when an omnipotent force meets an immovable object? Put some thought into it, please.

The other problem is the production design. It’s as though Zack Snyder had heard that 50 Shades of Gray was wildly popular, but hadn’t realised the title was not meant literally. I’ve seen mime artists less muted than the colour palette of this movie.

And finally, Amy Adams. I like Amy Adams. Who doesn’t? But investigative reporters are not nice. Smart, yes, driven, yes, deceitful, yes. Nice, not so often. Casting her as some kind of latter-day Hildy Johnson just doesn’t fly.

And while we’re on the subject, what’s with this niceness epidemic? The essence of drama is conflict. But here, look at the people of planet Earth, not one of them is any less than thoroughly nice, apparently: Lois Lane, supercutely-nice; hard-bitten editor Perry White, yup, will selflessly risk his own life for his staff; even the army guys, after mistrusting Superman for about a second, get behind the cape and play nice.

Speaking of the army, that brings me on to a scene so extraordinarily stupid and casually sexist that, if it hadn’t come right at the end, I might have walked out. The notion that a woman, having recently won the right to serve alongside men in the military, having completed a gruelling training regime to weed out all but the leanest, meanest fighting machines, and having been entrusted with the position of aide to the most powerful general in America — the notion that this able, driven young woman would, on being confronted with the extraordinary spectacle of a God-like walking weapon in a cape more dangerous than any nuclear bomb, simply simper and giggle and say “I just think he’s kinda hot”… Shame on you, David S Goyer. 

Star Trek Into Darkness – Three words: A. Ma. Zing.

10 May

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Nearly 50 years after Star Trek first aired on television, the new film, Star Trek Into Darkness, feels box-fresh and cutting-edge. I’ve just seen it on opening night in South London’s famous Ritzy cinema, where they served Romulan Ale in the bar and the staff – sorry, crew – dressed in uniform with Starfleet insignia!

The film can be summed up in three words: A. Ma. Zing. It starts with the most thrilling opening sequence since Raiders of the Lost Ark – Kirk dodging spears on an alien planet while Spock is dropped into the boiling heart of a volcano – and then it goes into warp-drive.

I hate reading spoilers myself, so I won’t give away the plot. And anyway what we love about Star Trek is the interplay between the characters, and that’s all here and played to the hilt. The Kirk/Spock bromance? Yup. Each would die for the other. Spock singing The Logical Song? There’s a great exchange between him and an angry superior officer: “That’s just a technicality!” says the officer. “I am Vulcan,” replies Spock calmly. “I embrace technicality.” And, in an argument with Kirk, “Reverting to name-calling suggests you are defensive and therefore find my objections valid.” Maybe you had to be there.

It’s hard to write an ensemble script. Marvel Avengers Assemble managed it (see here); so does Star Trek Into Darkness. Simon Pegg has a bigger, funnier role as Scotty; John Cho as Sulu stands in as Captain for a while; Karl Urban as Bones gets several of his patented “For God’s sake Jim, I’m a doctor, not a missile defuser” lines; and Zoe Saldana’s romance with Spock is now on the rocks. “Really?” says Kirk. “Are you guys fighting?” A pause to consider Spock’s cool logicality. “What’s that even like?”

But the stand-out is Benedict Cumberbatch. He has the stillness and physicality of a Zen Warrior, the deep, slow, sure voice of a man utterly convinced of his ability to “walk over your cold corpses”. He’s already conquered TV with Sherlock, and dipped a toe into Hollywood with War Horse. After this, his phone will be ringing off the hook. He is unquestionably Britain’s next A-list star. See here for my interview with Benedict; part 3 will be posted on Friday.

I said I wouldn’t talk about the plot. Without giving too much away, I will say that just as the ‘60s TV show fostered love and understanding between nations by having Asian, Russian, black (and alien!) crew members working together, women alongside men, so too Star Trek Into Darkness has a moral heart. It is a film about the effects of terrorism. And, with Guantanamo Bay still open and drone attacks causing high civilian “collateral damage”, the message is clear.

“There will always be those who mean to do us harm,” says Kirk at the end. “To stop them, we risk awakening the same evil within ourselves.”

Discover more about Benedict Cumberbatch in my in-depth interview. Click here for part one. Click here for part two. For part three, click here. FINAL PART: click here

Yes we Cannes! Colonel Badd posters up for film festival

19 Apr

Exciting news – x2! First, we now have some great-looking character posters for Colonel Badd, the short film I wrote about here. I loved Avengers Assemble, so it’s cool to be part of a terrifying team-up of scarifying supervillains. Every good story needs a strong hook, and in this one, I’m it (top left)! [Photography by Giulia Pizzi.]

Secondly, Colonel Badd has been accepted into the Short Film Corner at Cannes, and director Tony Errico (lower left) has been good enough to put me down for one of the precious Accreditations. So it looks all of a sudden like I’ll be going! If anyone knows anyone with a room/floor/couch available cheapish during the Festival, please email me. I’m a good cook, fun to have around, and fully house-trained.

Last time I went, I slept on Jon Ronson’s floor as he wrote gags for carrot-topped TV terror Dennis Pennis (aka Paul Kaye), partied on a yacht with the cream of young Brit talent such as Anna Friel and David Thewlis, danced in a beach marquee with James Woods, and lunched with Alan Parker and Barry Norman.

Then, I was Editor of Time Out. Now, I’m the lowest of the low on the film pecking order: the humble writer. Co-writer, even. But it will be fascinating to experience the other side of the festival – not the acme of international cinematic art, but the world’s biggest commercial movie fair.

Click on the ‘Follow’ button so as not to miss my blogs from Cannes next month!

Never mind the BAFTAs: here’s the DAFTAs

9 Jan
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Skyfall, HAFTA Award winner

 

The BAFTA nominations were announced today. But it’s a long month till we find out the winners, so I’m taking it upon myself to hand out awards instead:

DAFTA Award: The daftest movie of the year is always a hotly contested category. The crowd-funded Iron Sky, in which Nazis return from a secret base installed in 1945 on the dark side of the moon, must have thought it had the DAFTA in the bag. Then along comes FDR: American Badass, which upped the ante with Nazi werewolves pitted against a President Roosevelt in a pimped-out wheelchair.   

GAFTA: The 2012 movie with the most gaffes is, officially, Avengers Assemble, with 22 bloopers spotted by www.moviemistakes.com. Or maybe there are just more trivia-obsessed geeks watching it than any other film.

HAFTA: For the movie that you just have to see. The Hobbit might have won if Peter Jackson hadn’t bloated the film to three parts. Instead the clear winner is Skyfall, which broke UK records to take over £100 million (and £1 billion worldwide).

LAFTA: Ted will be on many people’s lists for funniest film of 2012 (and, I know, on a lot of people’s least funny list). But I’d like to give it to Sightseers, as a serial-killing caravannist is mildly more out there than a beer-swilling teddy bear. And it’s British. So there.

NAFTA: Naffest film of 2012? Rock of Ages. No other contender comes close. It’s toe-curling to see major stars in such drek: Tom Cruise jumping the sofa on Oprah was less naff than his performance here. Mediocre songs, cliched storyline and witless dialogue are all delivered with toothpaste-ad enthusiasm that make it all the more tragic.