Tag Archives: blockbuster

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.