Film Review: Man of Steel

This review was originally published on The Orange Post on Wednesday 3rd July 2013.

Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel is a mixed blessing. At times it soars, just like the breathtaking depiction of Superman’s first flight. However, at times, and particularly in the final hour, it drags and is reminiscent of the director’s poorly received Sucker Punch.

Snyder retells Kal-El’s origin story, giving Krypton a much grittier and organic feel when compared to Richard Donner’s glowing crystalline depiction in Superman The Movie from 1978. Through a series of flashbacks, he recalls important moments in Clark’s early years on Earth and then thrusts us into what is essentially an alien invasion, as Kryptonian criminals General Zod and company arrive in search of Kal-El and some alien maguffin thingy.

The problem with man of Steel is that it takes Superman’s perspective rather than ours. It’s very easy to imagine that Clark / Kal-El is apprehensive about revealing himself to the world. Unfortunately, he waits until Zod demands that he be turned over to don his tights and cape. Snyder never shows us how the non-US military world reacts to his existence. Instead, we cut straight to brain numbing Transformers-lite fighting. You and I dealing with a superman amongst us is far more interesting than an alien’s angst about dealing with us mortals.

And that brings us to stakes. In Man of Steel, there are none. From the outset, it is established that Superman and General Zod are practically invincible on our planet, so when the film heads down the slippery slope that is two guys fighting in the air and crashing through buildings ad nauseum, it is pretty hard to care. We’ve already seen the battle sequences in Man of Steel before, in the Transformers franchise and again last year in The Avengers.

It’s not all bad though. The actor most maligned on the internet for his casting, Kevin Costner, is really solid and brings a gravitas to Jonathan Kent, Kal-El’s human father figure. Also charismatic is Russell Crowe who has clearly stayed off the pies to fit into his Kryptonian super suit as Jor-El, Superman’s real father. The talented Amy Adams is a determined and ambitious Lois Lane who has great chemistry with her boss at the Daily Planet, Perry White, played by Laurence Fishburne. It’s a bit of a shame that this chemistry is not present with the guy in the tights.

Henry Cavill certainly looks right for the part of Superman, but as the storyline takes place before he dons his glasses and becomes a mild mannered reporter, there is not really any duality. Without the Clark Kent persona, Cavill has little to do but look concerned. He might be the perfect Superman, but I think that may well be a matter for any subsequent instalments.

I was most looking forward to seeing how Michael Shannon, one of my favourite actors, would fare in his first major blockbuster role as General Zod. For his first couple of scenes, I had a great time with Shannon’s intense, bug eyed performance, however, it soon became clear that this was a one note performance and I grew tired of it. I hope that this isn’t his only foray into mainstream film.

The final act of the film consists of two very long and tiresome CGI laden fights that will leave you walking out of the cinema exhausted. Only when the dust had settled and we got just a few moments of Clark joining Lois on the staff of the Daily Planet before the end credits rolled did I catch a glimpse of the Superman movie I really wanted to see.

Published in: on July 4, 2013 at 00:05  Leave a Comment  
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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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Superhero going stale? Reboot!

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 10th May 2011.

Next year will see the cinematic release of The Dark Knight Rises, the third film in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy. With stars Christian Bale and Gary Oldman returning, along with new cast members Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, Tom Harding as Bane and Joseph Gordon-Levy as an unnamed character, the film is sure to be a major box office hit for Warner Bros and DC Entertainment. However, with Nolan and Bale confirming that they will not be back for a fourth film in the franchise, rumours are rife that Batman will be rebooted with a new director and star.

In cinema, a reboot is where all previous continuity in a series is discarded and begins anew. In the Caped Crusader’s case, Tim Burton’s original series, which began in 1989 with the box office smash starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson, had petered out to a kiddie friendly mess by 1997 with Batman and Robin, directed by Joel Schumacher (The Lost Boys), when the big red reboot button was thankfully pressed.

Batman isn’t the only comic superhero to undergo a reboot. The Man of Steel has been revised once, and is soon to be revamped again. Following four films starring Christopher Reeve, each one sillier than the next, reaching rock bottom with the anti-nuclear rubbish that was Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, X-Men director Bryan Singer was given the reins to reboot the franchise. Starring Brandon Routh and Kevin Spacey, Superman Returns essentially eliminates the original third and fourth films and picks up from where the second film ended.

Superman Returns, which was shot in Sydney, was not the mega success anticipated by Warner Bros, and now the rebooted Superman: The Man of Steel, which will premiere in 2012 and star Henry Cavill in the blue tights, will begin production soon.

Marvel comic characters are also not immune to a reboot or four. Mr Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Human Torch and The Thing make up the Fantastic Four, who were successfully translated into cinematic gold in two films produced between 2005 and 2007.  Starring Jessica Alba and Julian McMahon, both movies were profitable for Fox. A much more superficial take on the superhero genre compared to Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise, the Fantastic Four are due to be rebooted soon.

Sam Raimi’s very successful Spiderman trilogy has made a fortune for Sony Pictures. Following the critically panned Spiderman 3, which starred Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, Sony has announced a reboot, The Amazing Spider-man, to be directed by Marc Webb (no pun intended) and starring Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy.

The dilemma with reboots is where to take a renewed franchise. After the serious Gothic style of Michael Keaton’s Batman to the silliness of Val Kilmer’s Caped Crusader to the craptacular Bat-nipples on George Clooney’s Bat-suit to the super dramatic gravelly tones of Christian Bale, where to next for the Dark Knight? You can’t really go any darker than Health Ledger as the Joker and you can’t get any campier than Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr Freeze (unless Adam West is looking for work). The choice in my opinion is simple, a musical spectacular on ice in 3D. Holy reboot Batman!