Iron Man 3- The Review

Robert Downey Jnr’s character and me have always had a bit of a strained relationship. I could never enjoy his blatant patriotism for America in killing stereotypical foreigners in desert landscapes, his dead-pan one liners while looking over his shades, or his dull, unappealing and unremarkable girlfriend. And here I am, having come back from his latest film a changed man; Iron Man 3 is a blistering return to form for superhero movies, with Marvel’s metallic hunk providing a perfect summer blockbuster. It falls down in some places, but Iron Man 3 is the finest superhero movie since The Dark Knight Rises, and sets the standards high for the upcoming sequels to Thor and Captain America. 

Based on the ‘Extremis’ graphic novel story arc, Iron Man 3 takes place directly after the Avengers, with Tony Stark and his horribly bland girlfriend Pepper Potts (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) having moved in together and trying to settle back down after aliens attacked New York. Unfortunately, their plans are scuppered after Stark goes on a personal revenge mission against the terrorist Mandarin, whose radical bombings have put Stark’s best friend in hospital. So begins a chain of events that will put Stark under the spotlight, and truly test his resolve as a hero.

What I liked about Iron Man 3 was how grounded in reality it was (aside from the obvious). It displays Tony Stark as vulnerable,  a man with many flaws, who can make rash decisions at wrong times. The writers are very brave, as for the large majority of the movie they remove Stark from his suit, exposing him into the outside world and forcing him to improvise. After two movies of a big metal guy blowing people up, it was nice to see the man behind that at work in the battlefield, making ingenious weapons out of convenience store items to infiltrate a mansion. Stark is supposed to be a genius, and the writers appreciate that. So rather than see the outcome of his genius with the suit, they allow some proper characterization and tension to be created by taking it away from him, something Iron Man 2 failed to do. That also leads to a huge sense of satisfaction when Stark finally gets his suit back on, and he starts taking the baddies on in a dazzle of CGI stupidity. The problem before, with Iron Man 2, is that it did nothing but stupid, meaningless effects. By grounding Tony Stark back in reality, and exposing his flaws, they have created a more finely balanced and hugely improved film.

The acting has never been a problem with the Iron Man franchise, but the script always has, so it is good to see them both be adequate here. Robert Downey Jnr. always impresses as the witty billionaire Tony Stark, and rarely do we see an actor have such fun with his role. I get the sense that Robert Downey Jnr. is actually quite similar to Tony Stark in real life, so he just has to play himself, and he does it with gusto and aplomb. Gwyneth Paltrow was mediocre as Pepper Potts, but unlike the comic books, the films have never really given her character much space to breathe. In the original graphic novels, Potts actually gets her own Iron Man suit, and becomes a vigilante crime fighter called ‘Rescue’. After three films, she has put on the Iron Man suit once, and that was to demonstrate that she can’t handle it. It’s disappointing that the writers haven’t bothered to flesh out a more interesting and solid figure, and after three films that should be a minimum requirement.

This clever action scene makes good use of Iron Man’s abilities, without overpowering him.

The new cast is led by Guy Pearce, in a show stealing performance as Aldrich Chillian, a withered and pathetic man rejected by Stark back in 1999 and ruthlessly changing his appearance to get what, revenge? Justice? His motives are sometimes unclear, but the plot is decent enough to let that slide, Guy Pearce playing the part to perfection, brilliantly displaying two sides of a personality and convincing the audience that his threats are very real, a rare sight in a big budget blockbuster like this. Despite these performances though, Iron Man 3 does have its issues. Despite its heart, it sometimes lacks the brains to convincingly put all the parts of the jigsaw together. Compared to the top standard superhero movies, which are Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films, Iron Man 3 really does lack some basic intelligence in terms of its plot, and occasionally also relying on the CGI to see it through a couple of minutes. Another issue is the constant tie ins with The Avengers. I know they want to stress this all happens in the same universe, but these reminders inadvertently point out some plot holes. Most crucially, why isn’t the rest of the team, like Hulk and Thor, not coming to help Tony Stark out? It is a big question thanks to the constant links with Joss Whedon’s previous big blockbuster. However, these aren’t issues which can take away the sheer enjoyment of the film. Iron Man 3 is set apart from recent superhero movies by portraying a real human with real human weaknesses, who just happens to have a warmongering suit. After all, the franchise was never about the suit itself, it was always about who was behind the mask. Finally, the series has lived up to that expectation.

Best Bit

Tony Stark invading a mansion with only a couple of items he picked up down the supermarket and tied together with duck tape, displaying his genius and likeability so refreshingly you wonder if there is any need for a metal suit at all.

Worst Bit 

The first 20 minutes are very slow and pretty dull, even when the first real action scene comes in. The script was lagging and the pacing was reminiscent of its predecessor; thankfully, once Stark crash-landed in a snowy forest, Iron Man 3 really got going.

Overall

Iron Man 3 is a treat of a summer blockbuster, displaying a lot of heart and enough brains to better its mediocre Marvel counterparts into oblivion. While not as deep, clever or heart breaking as it wants to be, its brilliant characterization of Tony Stark and an excellent performance from Guy Pearce as the new villain makes Iron Man’s latest film his best yet, and raises the standards for the new sequels from the rest of the Avengers. Brash and bold summer entertainment.

4/5

Oblivion- The Review

The bravery shown by Joseph Kosinski, director of Oblivion, is staggering. As his first directorial début he decided to make the ambitious sequel to the classic sci-fi film Tron, a flawed attempt to bring the old low budget film into the new era kicking and screaming, upsetting a few fans along the way. Now for his second film he brings us Oblivion, a huge science fiction epic starring Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman, set in a post-apocalyptic earth where aliens destroyed the moon and humans had to deploy the nukes to defeat them: winning the war but losing earth as an inhabitable planet. Before they can fly off to Titan for a new home, a few humans have to stay behind to help harvest the water for their new planet. But is everything as it seems?

Science fiction is such a hard genre to do well; there are so many established stereotypes that come with it, and in making one it is hard to avoid them without moving it away from the genre altogether. It takes a special film to use science fiction in a completely new way, and it’s rare that we see these films anymore. Kosinski however goes for a very classic style, effectively ripping off every sci-fi film that inspired him, and trying to fool the audience into enjoyment with a beautifully crafted CGI apocalyptic world. He clearly forgot to add any basic sort of characterization and heart into this boring and bland attempt to establish himself as a science fiction director, as if Tron: Legacy wasn’t off-putting enough. Oblivion is hopelessly derivative, shockingly soulless, and most science fiction fans will be downright insulted with the lack of real effort put into the script and plot, instead focussing on showing you a really big desert with some ships in it. What Kosinski should have been focussing on as a more pressing issue is whether the plot actually makes any sense or not, which it doesn’t. Upon leaving the cinema I began to think about the plot in detail, and it immediately fell apart, not making a bare ounce of real sense afterwards. The execution of this poor plot isn’t great either, some techniques Kosinski uses to engage the audience are out of place and misguided, including a bizarre attempt to add slow motion at one point, with Tom Cruise’s surprised face in slow motion prompting many of the audience to burst out laughing. This sort of execution from the director only makes a bad script worse.

The stunning scenery can’t save this bland and emotionless epic.

As previously stated, the whole film is blatantly and shamefully unoriginal, and some franchises have a right to sue. In particular, the Halo gaming franchise is so shamelessly ripped off it felt like a lead up to the actual licensed movie. Tom Cruise’s gun is a light rifle from Halo 4 but with a new paint job. Human enemies disintegrate into bright ashes when shot, which would have been a lovely touch had it not already been done in Halo. Also, the scavenger helmets are clearly a mould of a classic Predator mask, and for reasons unmentionable, the ending has a huge element of i, Robot about it. Not to mention that in the premise and style of the movie as a whole, with its sleek and white surroundings and odd suits, it already has taken a lot of material from Star Wars.  I admit, Kosinski is forced to derive some inspiration from the classics that preceded him, but he borrows from so many, and so obviously, that Oblivion doesn’t feel like an original film at all, but a sum of hastily stolen parts.

The film has no idea where it’s going; the pacing is an absolute nightmare for the audience. The first hour of the film leads up very slowly to a revelation that was effectively spoiled in the trailer, and was so obvious anyway that some people in the audience chuckled when it was revealed so dramatically. It somehow manages to be very slow in its pacing, but also not delve into characterization, leading to situations later where you find yourself just not caring, which in turn leads to little excitement, which then leads to little enjoyment, if any. This is my biggest problem with the film, and it is unforgivable. In spending so much time wowing us with lovely scenery, the characters are almost forgotten underneath this veil of a fake world. The script simply doesn’t allow any of the characters to develop properly, not giving time for them to establish themselves onto the movie, and whether this is due to a poor dialogue or a general lack of interest by the writers is debatable. I also feel that the casting is misjudged, Tom Cruise in particular a bad choice. Sure, his character is so underdeveloped that any male actor could have played him, so why Tom Cruise? He’s terrible in Oblivion, displaying such a dry and bland state that he may as well be a prop store mannequin with someone reading his lines and moving his arms out of shot. He is desperately clinging onto his now tired title as an action hero, not wanting to let it go and churning out more and more films like this. I never felt convinced by Cruise at all; when the character panics he shouts, when they experience a plot revelation he stares open mouthed at whoever he needs too, and if he is completely confused he works his face up as if he is holding back a particularly huge sneeze. His counterpart Morgan Freeman is solid enough, but a huge con by the advertisements fools you into thinking he is a major player in the plot. Wrong. Freeman is on screen for half an hour at most, and has about a dozen lines. The casting director knows that a lot more people will go see Oblivion if it has Morgan Freeman in it, because everybody loves him and everybody knows him. Putting him on the poster of the movie is effectively a very clever lie, actually tricking you into going to see it. As the final credits rolled I felt cheated, and not just because the ending itself is a lazy ‘get out of jail free’ moment.  Don’t go see this movie if you love science fiction. I left feeling cheated, insulted and angry.

Best Bit

The stunning views of this post-apocalyptic earth are a rare highlight of the film, and if you have to see it, go see it in IMAX where I hear the CGI is breathtaking. Critics seem to be giving Oblivion decent reviews on its looks alone; maybe you will too.

Worst Bit

The shameful lack of characterization in the film takes away any heart and soul the characters might have had to offer, which leads to a two hour mess of tedious people doing tedious things.

Overall

Oblivion is a lazy and unfulfilling science fiction movie, unsubtly drawing from many sources in a brazen attempt to make it worth seeing. Sadly all Joseph Kosinski succeeds in doing is alienating science fiction fans from his future work while also wasting their time in this boring and tedious 2 hour slog through a mildly interesting concept. The script is dire, the plot is shallow and makes no sense and the characters are underdeveloped to a point of absurdity. I went in with very low expectations from ‘The people who brought you Tron: Legacy and Rise of the Planet of the Apes’. Somehow, I left feeling disappointed.

1/5

Trance- The Review

To start this review off, I’d like to pay tribute to Roger Ebert, who died on April the fourth after a long battle with cancer. He greatly inspired me to continue with my love of films and writing about them, and throughout his long career as a film critic he revolutionised what it meant to be one. Rest in peace. 

Trance is the new film from Danny Boyle, taking place after a robbery of a piece of art worth 26 million pounds goes wrong as the man who has hidden the painting, Simon (James McAvoy) gets hit on the head and forgets where he hid it. His associates, desperate for the painting, take him to a hypnotist called Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) who is tasked with exploring Simon’s mind to unearth the place where he hid the art. I always enjoy films that deal with situations of the mind, as they give the director ample opportunity to really experiment and explore with the characters and the plot. While Danny Boyle really tries to use the good concept to great use, Trance feels like a good sum of parts, not a completely satisfying whole, leading to a clever but somewhat messy thriller.

Since his magical opening show at the London 2012 Olympics, Danny Boyle has become even more of a household name, and after impressing the whole world with his director’s flair at the games, has become a national hero to Britain. No wonder the film is being advertised as ‘Danny Boyle’s’ this and ‘from Danny Boyle’ that; his name now brings crowds in, he is now the selling point. Quite right too: the main star of Trance is the direction itself. It is stylish, smooth and leads the audience down roads which they didn’t expect, and throws them into situations which don’t seem real, mainly because they are not. As I expected, Boyle places a lot of the attention on the hypnosis, and in particular the exploration of the mind. Much of the film takes place inside James McAvoy’s mind, in the desperate attempt to find the painting, and this allows Boyle to do things that the setting of the real world doesn’t allow him to do. The hypnotist remarks early on that Simon’s subconscious is ‘unusual; he drifts in and out of trance very easily’ and this foreshadows Boyle’s style throughout the movie. He dips in and out of the real world so fluidly and so fast that you won’t know what’s happening, and whether the current scene is actually taking place or is just a premeditated hypnotist technique. This keeps things interesting, but I felt like it used this ‘gimmick’ a bit more then it deserved. I feel huge similarities between Trance and the Christopher Nolan classics Memento and Inception, which also used the mind as a plot device to explore what is real and what is not. The problem is that Danny Boyle just isn’t as good at it as Nolan, and I hate to compare Trance to two of my favourite movies, but the comparisons are too bold to be ignored. I digress. Trance is a great movie, whether I compare it to two untouchable classics or not. It is a lot more daring then those two, as it does not make it as obvious to the audience where the action is taking place, in the world of the imagination or the real world we live in, and for that I think Trance has to be applauded for bravery alone, even if it doesn’t work as well as I had hoped.

The cast is solid enough, but as previously mentioned, the way the story is told, and the story itself, overshadow their performances. I was impressed with James McAvoy as Simon. He sometimes comes across as slightly mediocre and overly bland for me. However in Trance he was great, giving real believability to the performance by really not holding back with his character’s more insane moments, as the journey into his mind takes a personal and unsettling turn. He snarls, shakes and even dribbles to convince the audience of the character’s downfall, and it really does work. I acknowledge it is harder for some of the cast to impose themselves onto the movie, as the cast in itself is so small they all are under pressure to not be the weak link of the group. Forget about weak links, two of the gang members are so underdeveloped they might as well have not turned up. In reality the real characterizations and relationships are in a tense and believable love triangle between Simon, Elizabeth and the gang’s leader Franck, played by Vincent Cassell. Out of these three, the best chemistry lies between Simon and Elizabeth, with the latter probably stealing the show in a really convincing performance as the hypnotist who could be helping the group of men or stabbing them all in the back, in a role which recalled fond memories of Quentin Tarantino’s classic Jackie Brown. With James McAvoy and Rosario Dawson shining the brightest, it was always going to be hard for Vincent Cassell, and I was disappointed with his particular character development; like other parts of the film I felt this was a real missed opportunity. I personally would have liked to have learnt more about this seemingly interesting personality. It’s unclear to me whether this is down to the script not exploring him, or perhaps the acting by Vincent Cassell isn’t as good as the role demands. Originally the part of Franck was taken by Michael Fassbender, and the unfulfilled potential of that haunts the film. Trance deserves more then me pondering on what could have been though – Danny Boyle’s brave film deserves a lot of credit for its brave style.

Boyle’s style of direction is captivating and beautiful

My main criticism of Trance is the uneven pacing, resulting in a finely crafted beginning and end, but a sloppy and messy middle section that highlights a loss of control to keep the plot tight and well crafted. It feels like Danny Boyle veered into riskier and sillier directions after the tense and brilliantly plotted beginning, and the film does suffer as a result. Thankfully Boyle does manage to regain control after the messy diversion, just about managing to tie everything up neatly, and resolve the many mysteries that the film unearths. As mentioned before, Boyle enjoys weaving in and out of reality and the world of the mind, but doing it in such a risky way does lead to not just confusion, but also chaos. If you are going to confuse the audience, it has to be controlled. Sometimes, during the middle section of Trance, it feels like Boyle is fooling himself, weaving in and out only for the sake of mystifying the audience, and this overuse of the plot device leads to constant questioning of it later. I shouldn’t be weary towards to the end of a film questioning whether or not things are real, are they going to wake up in a minute, is this all a dream, but Trance settled me into so many different realities that it was hard not to be weary of it later, and that indicates a loss of control by the director and by the writers. It also doesn’t help that in the middle section the script suddenly takes a hugely violent turn, which feels completely out of place in this type of movie. I felt as if the IQ of the audience dropped significantly when McAvoy shoots a man’s private parts off with a revolver, spraying everyone with a shower of gore and stupidity. Trance is clever enough to rely solely on plot, not resort to cheap shock effects like sudden uses of gore, or even jump scares. In the end, it is a minor miracle that Boyle manages to finish the film off as smoothly as he does, finding the calm needed to wrap up the engaging plot.

Best Bit

The early scenes of hypnosis set the plot up well, already having us question what is real and what is not, engaging the audience immediately with good characters and great concepts. In particular a scene in the the main protagonist’s mind where he is unwrapping a metaphorical parcel containing the whereabouts of the painting blends his imagination with his bleak surroundings, which work superbly with the growing tense atmosphere.

Worst Bit

The middle section is overly complicated and messy, with Boyle overusing the switches between the real world and the exploration of Simon’s mind and also resorting to gore to get his point across. A lot of it feels unneeded, and a lot of it feels rather messy. Boyle manages to regain control and right wrongs with the end sequence, but when the end and beginning of a movie is this good and the middle not, you can’t help but feel overwhelmed with the sense of a missed opportunity.

Overall

Trance is a solid and well crafted thriller and Danny Boyle brings style and substance to a interesting idea. While the middle section lets the film down, it cannot overshadow the fact that Trance is very brave and admirable film making, and Boyle should be proud of his attempts to do something different, something original, which the film industry is sorely lacking. However not nearly as good as his best, (my favourite of Boyle’s work is 127 Hours, I highly recommend), Trance is an interesting piece of work by the genius director, and it takes a brave man to veer in a direction which might display a rare loss of form. The risk hasn’t paid off this time, but he was close. Very close.

3/5