The Avengers

Info:

Genre: Super-hero

Director/s: Joss Whedon

Running Time: 143 minutes

Budget: $220 million

Released: 11 April 2012

Plot:

Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. brings together a team of super humans to form The Avengers to help save the Earth from Loki and his army – imdb

Review:

This review is long overdue, and actually had half of it completed since May…anyway, so where to start with a film of this magnitude?  The Avengers didn’t just materialize out of thin air, it’s been in the making for sometime now and ever since the stinger in 2008’s Iron Man, where the shadowy agent known as Nick Fury proposed the ‘Avengers Initiative’ to Tony Stark, fans have been clamoring for an Avengers film.  Since Iron Man, Marvel Studios released a number of films, each of which had a post-credit scene that would reveal a little more of what was to come.  These films include – The Incredible Hulk (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011) and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011).  Even though these films were not direct sequels to one another (excluding the Iron Man films respectively), Marvel Studios has managed to create an unprecedented level of continuity between separate franchises to create a cohesive universe that unified with the arrival of The Avengers, and even better still, The Avengers has its very own post-credit scene, hinting towards the next villain, who will undoubtedly be the focus of The Avengers 2.  Marvel Studios have stated that Iron Man 3, Thor 2 and Captain America 2 will essentially be ‘Phase 2’ of The Avengers Initiative.  So is The Avengers as good as the hype would have you believe, and how well will it be received in the post-Dark Knight era, where dark and gritty is the order of the day?

Captain America’s new, updated suit.

Simply put, The Avengers is the definitive superhero film, and many believe that it may have already stolen some of The Dark Knight Rises thunder (which is impressive considering that it is yet to be released).  Whether or not that’s actually true remains to be seen, one thing is for certain though, and that is that The Avengers has proven that large, splashy superhero flicks definitely have a place in a market that idolizes the antics of a brooding billionaire and the stark realism of his world.  What’s more, there’s no guarantee that The Dark Knight Rises will be as great as everyone seems to think, let’s face it, the film will have to be pretty damn amazing to top The Dark Knight, as well as the sterling performance by the late Heath Ledger and his insidiously brilliant and nuanced portrayal of Batman nemesis The Joker, but I suppose only time will tell.

The Avengers could have gone one of two ways, either it could have been a contrived, silly crap-shoot of a film, or it could be the awesome-tastic  thrill ride that every comic-book fan has been clamoring for – thankfully, it’s the latter as The Avengers is a well-written and action-packed film, filled with tonnes of inside jokes for the fans as well as just being downright and somewhat unexpectedly (though certainly welcomed) funny.  The Avengers has Joss Whedon to thank for that – the screenwriter/director/comic-book writer/actor, founder of Mutant Enemy Productions and is perhaps best known for creating  the series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2003) and the cult classic Firefly (2002).  Whedon was certainly the right choice for an undertaking as grand as The Avengers as the film broke box-office records earning in excess of $200 million over a weekend (claiming the highest grossing weekend total in history), shattering the previous record held by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 ($169.2 million) and has already received the go-ahead for a sequel.

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow.

…the Avengers has proven that large, splashy superhero flicks definitely have a place in a market that idolizes the antics of a brooding billionaire…

So is it really as good as all the ‘professional’ film critics are saying and if so why? Short answer – yes.  The Avengers has certain key attributes that make it such an entertaining and successful film, and I feel this can be best explained in a laundry list fashion;

1) High budget – getting the most obvious thing out-of-the-way first, a film as big and visually reliant as The Avengers could only ever be achieved with hundreds of millions of dollars, $220 million in fact, and this was achieved in part by product placement as several companies (about 18 brand names have been confirmed thus far), were offered mention in exchange for cash, needless to say these companies made a tonne of money themselves.  This tactic is an attempt to reduce the costs of making a film of this caliber and it has seemingly worked.

Robert Downey Jr. reprising his role as Iron Man.

2) Continuity – no doubt played a huge role in the film’s success, no thanks to Marvel Studios as they got audiences familiar with the characters back in 2008 when Robert Downey Jr. took the helm as Tony Stark.  With each new Marvel Studios film (where the film licenses belonged to them, this excludes Punisher: Warzone, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: First Class and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance), like Captain America, The Incredible Hulk and Thor – Marvel Studios where able to create a cohesive world where the characters existed in the same universe, and the same actors would be used to portray them so that by the time The Avengers arrived, it would already have a huge fan-base as movie patrons would undoubtedly pay to see their favourite heroes kick ass.  On a side note, the reason why I think that The Hulk has failed to be as popular as the other Marvel films is partly due to the constant change of actor (Eric Bana, Edward Norton and most recently Mark Ruffalo) but mainly because I believe that The Hulk works best in a supporting role, and this was proved beyond a shadow of a doubt as The Hulk was the ace up the sleeve for the other teammates, who relied on him to show up and do some serious damage to the heavy hitters, The Hulk wasn’t introduced immediately, and by the time he did show up, audiences were already worked up in anticipation for some ‘Hulk Smash’ action.

3) Pacing – a film with so many characters cannot be achieved in the typical ninety-minute time frame that seems to be stock-standard these days, and thankfully The Avengers is over two hours, as it takes its time to get into the story and systematically introduce the villains and each of the heroes.  Originally, Robert Downey Jr. wanted the filmmakers to make Tony Stark/Iron Man the lead protagonist but when that didn’t work out, they approached the film in such a way that each of the main characters would have sufficient screen time in which to tell their story.  Needless to say,  not all the characters get along, and in a way The Avengers themselves behave like a dysfunctional family – bickering, arguing and even fighting amongst themselves (in a spectacular fashion I might add), but when the time comes to pull their shit together and act like a team, they deliver in spades, making for one hell of an entertaining superhero film.

Avengers assemble.

Conclusion

Marvel Studios have done it again, and this time they’ve really outdone themselves with The Avengers, as it proves to be a well-written, brilliantly paced, action-packed film – with enough humour to keep casual audiences happy, and enough references and inside jokes to sate the die-hard fans.  While The Watchmen remains to be my favourite film of this type, The Avengers is without a doubt the definitive superhero team film.  Seriously…who wouldn’t want to see The Hulk take on Thor? Highly recommended.

Grade: A

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Green Lantern

Info:

Genre: Superhero, science-fiction

Director/s: Martin Campbell

Running Time: 114 mins

Budget: $200 million

Released: 17 June 2011

Plot:

A test pilot is granted a mystical green ring that bestows him with otherworldly powers, as well as membership into an intergalactic squadron tasked with keeping peace within the universe – imdb

Review:

Given the current success of Marvel Studios growing library of superhero films, it’s only natural that their main competitor – DC Comics, would want to cut in on the action, however it seems that unless Christopher Nolan is behind it, DC comic-book adaptations just don’t have what it takes to draw audiences, with the possible exception of Watchmen.

Okay, so with a $200 million budget one has to wonder what went wrong.  Since the concept of superheroes is a very visual thing to begin with, I believe that these type of films have to be one part special effects and one part good storytelling so that firstly, the film looks believable (as can be) and recognizable to its comic-book counterpart and secondly, so that the plot is interesting and engaging enough to appease fans and casual viewers alike.  So which one of these things was Green Lantern Missing?  Well, both really…

So don’t get me wrong, Green Lantern is an effects-heavy film, there’s no doubt about that and a lot of it does look good, such as the space scenery, the Green Lantern’s home planet Oa as well as the various alien species and of course the power ring’s manifestations.  Unfortunately, some of Hal Jordan’s (Ryan Reynolds) flight scenes just didn’t look very believable and he looked rather ridiculous wearing that mask, especially when his eyes changed to a washed-out blue colour.  My main issue regarding the visuals however is with the film’s lead antagonist – Parallax, who looked poorly constructed (CGI-wise) and almost cartoon-like.  Parallax is supposed to be this sinister, threatening entity but resembled a Jim Henson muppet more than anything else (think it had a lot to do with how the animators stylized the eyes), and everything that followed past the creature’s head just looked like a swirling mess.

The film's main antagonist, Parallax (pictured right) a swirling mess of CGI vomit.

So visually, apart from the abomination that is Parallax, the Green Lantern costumes did look pretty impressive (apart from Jordan’s ‘Green Hornet‘ mask) and a lot of the alien species present were faithful to their comic-book counterparts.  On a non-special effects note, I feel that Ryan Reynolds did not do Green Lantern justice and that he was a poor choice for the role of Hal Jordan.  Reynolds is usually associated with comedy/romantic comedy films and I feel that his inclusion in this film took away from the overall tone, often making the film seem like a joke and overly comedic, and while perhaps the film tries not to take itself too seriously, I know that Reynolds has what it takes in portraying a tough guy, but only perhaps when he dons his beard, such as in Smokin’ Aces, Blade Trinity and so forth.  Reynold’s performance just came off as goofy in my opinion.

Moving on from special effects, the character that I found to be most interesting was Sinestro, played by Mark Strong, it’s just a pity that he didn’t fulfill his purpose in the film – that of lead antagonist.  The film goes to the effort of having Sinestro convince the Guardians to forge the yellow ring (powered by fear as opposed to will) in order to ‘fight fear with fear’ only to not have him use it.  I was expecting an epic battle between Sinestro and the Green Lantern Corp, but all we get is a stinger at the end of the film suggesting that Sinestro has fallen from grace, this left me feeling cheated and while I understand that the first Green Lantern film is basically an origin movie and that the filmmakers obviously did this to pave the way for a sequel, given the expense of the film, the negative reception overall and the mediocrity of the plot, I don’t see the point of making a sequel (which has already been confirmed).

Peter Sarsgaard plays the role of Hector Hammond, a scientist who gets exposed to alien DNA of the Parallax entity, causing his brain to grow to enormous proportions as well as granting him psionic powers.  Hammond is the film’s secondary antagonist and does a good job of thrashing Jordan, which begs the question, if one has a magical ring that can make any thought tangible why in the hell does Jordan never create a force field to protect himself, consistently throughout the film, Jordan is smacked around like a rag-doll, and the idea that he could never think of any defensive manifestations leaves much to be desired.

While Hal Jordan is able to imagine countless offensive manifestations such as the mini-gun (pictured) he seemed incapable of conjuring up something as simple as a force field in order to protect himself...

Plot-wise, Green Lantern fails hard, it’s a case of too much too soon and even though the story progresses rather quickly, it gets bogged down with extensive, boring scenes that feel like filler material until the next special-effects-laden sequence pops up.  Green Lantern’s plot is generic and predictable, which is a shame especially considering the amount of reference material the filmmakers had at their disposal.  Parallax is an uninteresting antagonist, who uses another boring bad guy (Hammond) to do most of his dirty work until he arrives on earth for a four-minute showdown with Hal Jordan, and were the film to have Sinestro as the villain, Green Lantern may have been halfway decent.  And it’s really a shame that Green Lantern’s first public display involved him conjuring up a race car and having it spin around a track in order to save civilians, c’mon man – Superman stopping a 747 crashing into an arena filled with thousands of people was a hell of a way to make an entrance, not stupid race cars…

…if one has a magical ring that can make any thought tangible why in the hell does Jordan never create a force field to protect himself…

To conclude, Green Lantern is a disappointing, special effects-heavy film, with a wafer thin plot and poor character development.  There aren’t too many redeeming qualities about this film, so repeat viewing is unlikely to happen.  The action scenes aren’t even frequent enough to keep children entertained, children who seem to be the only demographic this film is intended for given the comedic (unintentionally so I imagine) nature of this film.  A sequel to Green Lantern has been given the green light and I shudder to think how bad it will be.  DC Comics seriously need to start taking the reigns of their properties if they hope to leave an impact in the film market or at the very least contend with Marvel Studios consistently successful comic to film adaptations.  If I had the power ring, I’d use it to vaporize every copy of this film in existence.  Avoid.

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Resolution – 1920 x 1080

Black Swan

Info:

Genre: Psychological thriller

Director/s: Darren Aronofsky

Running Time: 108 mins

Budget: $13 million

Released: 17 December 2010 (USA)

Plot:

A ballet dancer wins the lead in “Swan Lake” and is perfect for the role of the delicate White Swan – Princess Odette – but slowly loses her mind as she becomes more and more like Odile, the Black Swan – imdb

Review:

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a young, talented ballet dancer who constantly strives for perfection and in doing so, she is always pushing herself harder and harder in order to reach that elusive level of flawlessness she so craves even at the expense of her own well-being but having worked for the same ballet company for a number of years she seems to be toiling needlessly as her career has not earned her the recognition she rightly deserves.

After director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) decides to do a reworked rendition of Swan Lake, Nina gets her chance at stardom as she is cast in the lead as the delicate White Swan, a role she is perfect for except that she is required to portray the Black Swan as well – the dark and sensual doppelganger. As Nina struggles to embody the role of the Black Swan, a new challenge in the form of Lily (Mila Kunis) emerges, as she is the very embodiment of the darker twin.

Ballet occupies every facet of Nina Sayer's life.

 

To compound matters further, Nina lives with her obsessive former ballerina mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) who exerts a stifling hold over her, controlling her every move and treating her like a child.  The mother’s failure as a former ballerina becomes apparent as she selfishly pushes and manipulates her daughter in an effort to reclaim a sense of her own lost career and in doing so, project herself into her daughter.  However, Erica’s efforts are inevitably thwarted as Nina eventually befriends Lily, a reckless ‘free-spirit’ who introduces Nina to a world of drugs and sexual encounters that invariably changes Nina, so much so that she is able to stand up to her mother and portray the Black Swan thanks to her newly acquired sensibilities.

…the cinematography and acting are brilliant in Black Swan and Natalie Portman portrays her character with substance and realism…

Though it is quite apparent that Lily is merely the trigger that sets Nina off as Nina seems to possess some sort of obsessive compulsive disorder in the form of scratching herself open as well as a more serious psychological sickness, possibly schizophrenia as she constantly sees visions of herself bleeding, skin peeling or people’s faces becoming her own, a condition brought on possibly by her mother due to social isolation or years of mental abuse.

Natalie Portman as the Black Swan.

 

The cinematography and acting are brilliant in Black Swan and Natalie Portman portrays her character with substance and realism – as a tortured soul constantly striving for the unattainable, but know that Black Swan isn’t an easy-going film as it is visually disturbing at times and overall the tone of the film is pensive and melancholic.  As Black Swan is a departure from what I’m accustomed to watching, I did find the film to be lacking in pace and sometimes even boring.  Save for the odd twist or two, I feel that Black Swan fails at the level of ‘psychological thriller’ but rather excels at being a drama (and much drama there is).

In conclusion, Black Swan is a well-directed, brilliantly choreographed film, well-deserving of your attention if you are attracted to tragedy and pensive themes, though if you like your films to be light-hearted or easy-going it would be best to avoid this one.  As I said previously, while I feel that Black Swan isn’t much of a psychological thriller (there wasn’t enough mind-fuckery in the film that could really warrant it to fall into the psyche-thriller category) it is however a brilliant drama.

 

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Tekken

Info:

Genre: Martial arts, action

Director/s: Dwight H. Little

Running Time: 87 mins

Budget: $35 million

Released: 20 March 2010 (Japan)

Plot:

About a young man who is driven to vengeance when his mother is executed – imdb

Review:

Ah yes, the video-game to film adaptation, a film genre that has been consistently botched since its inception.  Films like Super Mario Bros (1993), Double Dragon (1994), Dead or Alive (2006), Street Fighter (1994), and not forgetting Uwe Boll’s ‘wonderful’ contribution to the genre and so forth (the list is endless) are fine examples of why video-games should never be adapted to film.  It just amazes me how, with the millions of dollars that these filmmakers are given, that they’re able to churn out something that has no semblance to the original source material save for character names.  So does Tekken have what it takes to break the long line of fail that we’ve been forced to endure for all these years? Not by a long shot.

Tekken centres around one of the most popular characters of the franchise – Jin Kazama, a good move as I am a Jin fan however the choice of using Jon Foo was a huge mistake in my opinion.  Foo is child-like in appearance (and scarily similar-looking to Justin Chatwin in Dragonball Evolution, a film which I believe I awarded negative seven) and though he’s had a good career in stunt work and whatnot, he lacks the formidable physique of the Jin Kazama seen in the popular video-game series.  What we’re left with is a scrawny (compared to the other fighters in the film), half-baked Jin Kazama with emo hair and an annoyingly out-of-place accent (no offense to all the Brits out there).  To the filmmakers credit, most of the characters mirrored their digital counterparts in terms of attire (I thought Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Heihachi Mishima was particularly well done) but what people never seem to understand is that while a character may look great in a video-game, comic-book or animated show it seldom translates into live action very well, with the end result of the actors looking ridiculous in bright, garish costumes.  Directors like Bryan Singer for example know this, this is why his version of the X-Men had them kitted in black leather as opposed to yellow spandex (to paraphrase Cyclops).  Or at the very least, tone down the colours.  As for Yoshimitsu, well that should never have even been a consideration as the costume is ridiculous and completely out-of-place with the rest of the characters.

Jin Kazama as seen in the popular video-game series, formidable in appearance and a force to be reckoned with...

...and here he is portrayed by Jon Foo, hardly the Jin Kazama fans are familiar with.

As if that wasn’t enough, needless to say, the storyline has been modified (almost beyond recognition) in this live-action adaptation, including such highlights as – Steve Fox being Jin’s trainer/sponsor who eventually gives Jin the familiar looking red gauntlets that Kazama fans will instantly recognize, however in this film they’re Steve’s old fighting gloves…um, he’s a boxer, what boxer uses gloves like those?

…what people never seem to understand is that while a character may look great in a video-game, comic-book or animated show it seldom translates into live action very well…

Even though this film is considered to be low-budget, it’s not an excuse for the shitty locales and poor CGI seen throughout the city scenes.  After watching films like District 9 (which has even less of a budget), one can easily see that it’s the director that will make or break a film.  Speaking of which, I have a vague idea as to why this film did have such shoddy directing, considering that Dwight H. Little’s career has been predominately television related, one can see how a lack of feature film experience has affected Tekken.  I’m not saying that Little is a bad director, quite the opposite really as he has directed plenty of television shows which I enjoy (Dollhouse, Bones and so forth).  Bottom line, these sort of adaptations should just never happen as they always get fucked up in the end.

So if the storyline is generic and tedious,  acting is bad, the costumes suck and the overall look of the film is ass, surely the martial arts must be good as it’s a key element of Tekken?  Well, you’d be wrong in thinking so as the combat in this film is a poorly choreographed, overdone mess.  Where’s Woo-ping Yuen when you need him?  In conclusion, this film is a sad affair and further proof that video-game film adaptations should never be attempted in the first place.