Film Review: Iron Man 3

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 30th April 2013.

Avengers assemble again…in an orderly fashion over the next two years!! Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has begun in earnest with the first of four superhero movies rolling out of the Walt Disney Pictures factory this past week. Iron Man 3 will be followed in October by Thor: The Dark World. Next we have Captain America: The Winter Soldier in April next year, then Guardian of the Galaxy in August, before the superhero mothership mark 2, otherwise known as The Avengers 2, lands on May 1 2015.

The good news is that Iron Man 3 maintains the fun quotient set by its predecessors and isn’t a letdown following the smashingly brilliant geekout that was The Avengers. The storyline picks up directly after the Chitauri invasion of New York and finds Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) unable to sleep following his near death experience free falling from the alien portal. To keep busy, he has designed a further 35 armours, as you do, and is experimenting with a mind-controlled version (Mark 42 for the nerds). A mysterious terrorist attack masterminded by The Mandarin brings Stark back into action as he confronts a new enemy and his own demons.

The challenge for new director to the franchise Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) was finding a villain menacing enough to follow an evil alien race. To his credit, he manages to find two, in Ben Kingsley’s The Mandarin and Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian. Kingsley is joyously over the top (and very non-Asian) in a role reminiscent of his turn as The Hood in the terrible Thunderbirds movie. Pearce also seems to be carving a niche for himself in the movie villains department with yet another crazy moustache twirling bad guy, following a similar role in last year’s Lawless.

Alongside the dependable RDJ, Don Cheadle and Gwyneth Paltrow return as James Rhodes and Pepper Potts, respectively. Original franchise director Jon Favreau also reappears briefly as newly appointed Stark Head of Security, Happy Hogan. It’s a testament to the quality of the film, and the whole Marvel Universe franchise generally, that a balance has been found in the storytelling which allows each major character to have their moment in the spotlight and not get lost in a plethora of villains and minor characters.

As with most major Hollywood tentpole releases, Iron Man 3 is available in 2D, 3D and 3D IMAX versions. Filmed in 2D and post-converted, the movie is not a remarkable 3D experience and after a few minutes I forgot about it altogether.

Tony Stark is armour free for the middle third of the film, and it was a refreshing contrast to enjoy a superhero using his brains rather than his brawn, or his powered suit of high tech weaponry in this case. Of course, fans of mega-armoured suit battles aboard oil rigs will particularly enjoy the finale. A rescue of multiple passengers falling from a crippled Air Force One is also exhilarating.

Make sure you stay right to the end of the credits for the traditional Marvel Movie Universe bonus scene. It’s a corker.

A healthy blend of action, humour and melodrama, set in a comfortable, now familiar universe, makes Iron Man 3 a winner in the superhero stakes.

Published in: on April 27, 2013 at 17:51  Leave a Comment  
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First Review: Marvel’s The Avengers

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 24th April 2012.

It’s finally time for The Avengers fans to assemble. Starting with Iron Man in 2008, Marvel Studios, now a subsidiary of The Walk Disney Company, has slowly built towards this ultimate team-up movie. Brief scenes, often occurring after the credit have rolled, in The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America and both Iron Man entries have pieced together the formation of S.H.I.E.L.D., a peacekeeping organisation led by Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury. Can the silver screen contain all of these larger than life characters and satisfy casual and diehard fans of the Marvel franchise? The answer is yes, yes, yes.

Two weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend a preview screening of The Avengers. All I had to do was hand my mobile phone over to a security guard, sign a confidentiality contract and be scanned by metal detectors before I entered the screening room. Disney is obviously very aware that a pirated copy of this film could cost them millions in revenue. Not that I minded. It meant that I got to enjoy a movie without interruptions from annoying flashing mobile screens.

Written and directed by Joss Whedon, The Avengers brings Earth’s mightiest heroes together in response to an attack on humanity by Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor’s brother. Thor (Aussie Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) and The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, replacing Ed Norton) have little reason to trust or like each other and it’s this friction which allows Whedon to work magic with his trademark witty dialogue exchanges and put downs. There are many laugh out loud moments to enjoy.

Surprisingly, every major character gets their fair share of screen time. Even lesser known heroes Hawkeye and Black Widow, only briefly introduced in Thor and Iron Man 2 respectively, get time to shine. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is appropriately smarmy and a worthy opponent for the team. With the vast majority of characters well established in their own feature films, only Jackson’s Nick Fury seems a little thinly drawn.

I saw the 2D version and there were only a few noticeable 3D moments. I’m not a major proponent of cinema 3D (I much prefer the brighter home 3D) so you’re definitely not missing out on anything by avoiding the surcharge.

The action sequences are well captured and the CGI is convincing. Loki’s attack on the S.H.I.E.L.D. flying helicarrier is breathtakingly good. The final showdown in New York City is a little reminiscent of a similar sequence in Transformers: Dark of the Moon but again Whedon’s humorous banter between the heroes saves the scene. The Hulk smashing things up also helps.

Forget The Dark Knight Rises or The Amazing Spider-Man, there is only one superhero film to see this year and The Avengers is it. Fans of Whedon’s Serenity will be pleased with a little nod to the cult favourite (think Wash). Make sure you stay after the credits for the now standard Marvel Universe credit cookie.

Published in: on April 22, 2012 at 12:54  Leave a Comment  
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The Year in Film: 2011’s Best

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday  27th December 2011.

In my annual wrap up of the year in cinema, we’ve so far waded through the stinkers and underrated gems that disgraced and graced the silver screen. After much deliberation (at least five minutes), it’s now time to announce my best films of 2011. Drum roll please.

3. Captain America: The First Avenger In the final lead up to The Avengers, the ultimate Marvel superhero team up, this year saw the release of Kenneth Branagh’s Thor and the far superior Captain America. Directed by Joe Johnston (Jumanji, Jurassic Park III), this action adventure got the mix just right. A likeable hero (Chris Evans) and a charismatic baddie (Hugo Weaving channelling Werner Herzog), combined with some amazing special effects to render Evans as a pre-transformation weakling, plus a not too complicated storyline all made for an enjoyable ride. The setting of the film in World War 2 gave the flick some real stakes too. The final five minutes of the film were essentially an ad for the next film but I was having so much fun to care. The 3D effects were OK too.

2. Rise of the Planet of the Apes “Rotpota”, as it has become known, was really the little film that could this year. Dismissed pre-release as another unnecessary remake, à la Footloose, this reboot of the original sci-fi classic franchise was a taut thriller that features the best motion capture performance so far. Starring as the CGI chimpanzee Caesar, Andy Serkis was a revelation and brought true gravitas to what was essentially a bunch of pixels. He truly deserves a much touted Oscar nomination, the first for such a performance. Directed by Rupert Wyatt, this is a seamless blend of live action and CGI.

1. Super 8 J.J. Abrams’ homage to the eighties films of Steven Spielberg was simply magical. A throwback to a time when movies for children were allowed to be scary, this was The Goonies, Gremlins and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial all rolled into one. Abrams managed to elicit the most natural child actor performances from stars Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning since Henry Thomas left a trail of Reece’s Pieces to attract a certain alien. All of the Spielberg hallmarks were present: the single parent family, the military and the monster wanting to find its way home. In one hundred and twelve superb minutes, Abrams manages to encapsulate the wonder of childhood.

My notable mentions for this year are: Thor, Bridesmaids, Fast Five and X-Men: First Class.

2011 also saw the release of twenty eight sequels (that’s right, twenty eight). It shows that in the current financial climate, the major studios are not prepared to bet on original ideas when there are less risky properties and franchises to build upon.

2012 is already looking interesting with The Adventures of Tintin, Warhorse, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Muppets on the schedule in the first weeks of January. Have a great cinematic 2012!

Movie Stingers and Credit Cookies

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 24th May 2011.

Projectionists must hate me. I’m the sucker that stays in the cinema until the very end of the credits. I know they want to get in there and clean up but watching every name involved in making the film is my way of saying thank you. I also like to check out which countries and locations were used as shooting locations. And I feel so much better knowing that no animals were harmed in the making of the picture.

I’m kidding. I’m actually on the lookout for what is known as a movie stinger, tag, credit cookie or movie coda. That is, an extra little scene at the end of the credits.

Current superhero movie factory, Marvel Studios, has been adding a stinger to its recent crop of pictures, each one slowly building towards The Avengers movie which will unite Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America and Thor. At the end of Iron Man (2008), Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr., meets S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury, portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson. Tony Stark then makes a cameo at the end of The Incredible Hulk (2008), although this is just before the credits. The credits of Iron Man 2 (2010) conclude with Agent Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D. discovering Thor’s hammer in the desert. I won’t spoil the tag at the end of Thor but it is certainly worth waiting for.

Each entry in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise also features a stinger. The original, released in 2003, ends with Jack the Monkey stealing an Aztec medallion and becoming a cursed undead primate. Dead Man’s Chest (2006) concludes with the island dog being worshipped by the natives as a god. At World’s End (2007) features a stinger which shows Will being united with Elizabeth and his son, ten years into the future. The latest, On Stranger Tides (2011), also has a tag, but after a whopping 141 minutes of Piratey goodness or tosh (depending on your taste) you’ll need to sit out a bum numbing 8 minutes of credits to get to the good stuff.

The recent A-Team movie (2010) hilariously brings together the new Face and Murdock (Bradley Cooper and Sharlto Copley) with their original TV series counterparts, Dirk Benedict and Dwight Schultz in a post-credit stinger. I had to leave the cinema in a hurry for that one to return the large frozen coke I borrowed but I did catch the tag on blu-ray.

This year’s Fast and Furious 5, or Fast 5, also features a post-credit sequence which hints that there will another sequel. I don’t need a stinger to tell me that. $23 million at the Australian box office is a pretty good indication that another instalment is in the works. As a kid, I loved the Famous 5. I don’t remember them having cars though…

Stingers are by no means a new thing. My favourite stingers are from eighties flops. The Super Mario Bros. disaster from 1993 features two Japanese businessmen discussing a video game starring Mario’s enemies, Iggy and Spike. OK, so that’s not very funny but it’s Flying High compared to the rest of the film. The Masters of the Universe (1987) feature film stars renown Shakespearean actor Dolph Lundgren as He-Man. Post-credits, a defeated Skeletor (Frank Langella) pops out of the waters surrounding Castle Numbskull to declare, “I’ll be back.” I’m still waiting.

So stick around after the credits have rolled. You never know what extra morsel the filmmakers may have left for you.

 

 

 


The Sixth Sense (1999) features a creepy repeat of the spooky voice on tape saying, “I don’t wanna die” right at the end of the credits to scare anyone left in the cinema.