Monday, 11 November 2013

'Thor: The Dark World' (2013) Review

Let's face it, sequels by and large are a gamble. More often than not they struggle to find the balance between continuing the development of the characters from the original while constructing a story worthy of a minimum 90 minutes. Characters usually are left stagnant re-hashing the same old dance that made audiences love them the last go round (Ian Malcolm in 'The Lost World') or the story itself seems to be a beat for beat remake of the original except this time instead of a baby in the closet it's a monkey on the shower curtain.

Sequels: What not to do.

This is not to say that the sequel is a gamble to the studio, in fact nothing could be further from the truth. A sequel to an established property is almost always guaranteed to make more money than it's predecessor. The risk is considerably less when producing a sequel because, by virtue of being a profitable established property it can be assumed that the audience is not only familiar with the premise and characters of a universe but also yearns to experience more. Admittedly, the sequel doesn't have to work as hard as the original, which is tasked with the burden of familiarizing the audience. Lifting this burden however can lead to some sloppy storytelling and leaves you wishing you could get your money back

Thor: The Dark World however, miraculously avoids the sophomore slump and instead uses its second endeavour to improve upon its first. Beginning as the 2011 film did, The Dark World begins with Odin himself, played once again by Anthony M.F Hopkins, overlaying a flashback sequence with egregious exposition through long winded narration. It is through this sequence that the audience is treated to the introduction of the main villain, played by the ninth Doctor, and the central conflict of the film. I don't particularly like narration in film, in fact I find it a bit overwrought sometimes but the one genre I've found myself enjoying it in is fantasy. Narration makes it feel more of a mystical childhood story with giant hammer warriors and rainbow bridges. Having said that though, I can tell when it becomes an unnecessary and meddling trope rather than a beloved cliche. Frankly though, I'm under the impression that if Anthony M.F Hopkins wants to narrate, you best believe there'll be some M.F narration.

"Zeus ain't got s**t on me." - Odin

It's hard to argue its necessity however, when the same character who narrates retells the same information to another character in the film, forcing the audience to hear the same thing twice. It's double exposition which is really audience torture. It wouldn't be so terrible if the film committed this sin but once, however Odin is not so merciful. In one instance the characters exchange a few lines of dialogue about a not so sane friend of theirs who had recently become publicly unhinged. Subsequently, a news clip is shown reinforcing this plot point. Later on in the film when the character becomes increasingly relevant he is reintroduced in a scene in which characters watch the same news clip. I understand the relevance of informing both the characters within the film and the audience viewing it but there's no reason to say this cannot be done at the same time. Especially if the method of communicating this information is going to be exactly the same. The audience is forced to re learn the things they learned not half an hour ago detaching from a story that was moving at a surprisingly well balanced pace.

As jarring as these moments can be, they are admittedly few and far between. The rest of the film is well constructed and this extends to the characterization, including the titular hero. Thor has been busy since the events of the last film and remains as formidable a foe as ever with his mighty hammer 'myeh myeh'! Chris Hemsworth's performance differs from his arrogant jock of the first film as his character now calls for one that is calm, patient, with a touch of heartache, but not enough to depress the audience. He's still a being who possesses the power of the storm and a big ass hammer, with all the whimsy that goes along with that. Hemsworth's balancing act however may go unnoticed as the film is more inclined to show off his God like physique in many a gratuitous body shot for the mighty Thor. Still, I suppose if Alice Eve has to go through with it on the Enterprise then Thor shouldn't be complaining.

Decided that showing the over sexualized imagery would be hypocritical of me

Along with Thor are the mainstays from the last film. Lady Sif, the warrior's three (two really since one is off screen for most of the film drinking mead or whatever), and of course his loving family including sort of step brother and fan favourite Loki. It's with these characters that the film shines. Wheras the first film spent most of it's time on earth with a little bit of Asgard, the reverse happens here. What that gets you is the prettiest soap opera fantasy ever. I really like the way characters interact in this movie. They don't waste time telling you about their shared history but rather mention them in a natural "hey remember this" fashion. This helps the film because it makes the characters feel like they've known each other for years, which is of course how they should be. Thor and Loki bicker like the sibling rivals they are, Odin lovingly banters with his wife, and the warriors recount battles they've had in the past when celebrating the last one. It feels like real life on Asgard and the film masterfully keeps it up throughout.

Everyone does their part well and is fully committed to both the role and the premise, which further helps solidify the world. Of course, there are those who stand out as more engaging than others, namely, Anthony M.F Hopkins Odin, Idris Elba's Heimdall who is the baddest gatekeeper in all the nine realms, and of course, Tom Hiddleston's Loki. It's not surprising given the captivating performances given by Elba and M.F Hopkins in other roles and Hiddleston again owns the role as Loki. I won't touch too much on each of their performances as they all have moments that are too good to spoil, but safe to say these three made the movie for me.

Thor is giving Heimdall too many 40 degree days

Of course where there is light, there is darkness. While the Asgardian roles shine brightly the humans of midgard disappoint. Returning to the silver screen are Darcy, Erik Selvig from Avengers and the apple of the Thunder God's eye, Jane Foster. The first two characters didn't bother me but I can see people having problems with them. They provide the purely funny moments in the film and as such can come off as unnecessary comic relief. The real low point to this film however is with Jane Foster. Established as a world renowned physicist with her own theory named after her, Jane's moments in the film are reduced to her fawning over Thor's majestic curls. There are moments in which she says something scientific, like trying to provide the logical equivalent to the "magic" of Asgard, but outside of these ridiculously small moments Foster is a ditsy damsel in distress. I hate to make comparisons to the first film when discussing a sequel but when it comes to characters I believe it's justified. When Thor arrived in the original Jane was not the doe eyed mistress pining for the approval of Thor's dad and trying to impress his mom. She was a scientist obsessed with trying to make sense of a monstrous astronomical event. The film leads you to believe that in the two years Thor was absent Jane spent her days kind of continuing her research but mostly looking out the window crying into a tub of ben and jerry's and hoping Thor was watching the same stars. The ridiculous nature of the character is even more appalling when taken into consideration with Thor. Thor is shown to have little snippets of watchful wonder doting on his loved one but in the next scene he's using his hammer to knock a rock monster into pebbles. Why is it that the male counterpart of the relationship is seemingly so much better off than the female? Doesn't it stand to reason that her research would only kick into high gear after the events of the first film? It's inconsistent characterization at it's worst and it's galling enough to force me to type not one, but TWO rhetorical questions CONSECUTIVELY, and use ALL CAPS IN CERTAIN WORDS.

More like the woman of indignity.

I haven't mentioned much about the plot because it's pretty simple and doesn't need much commentary. Bad guy wants to do something bad because he's bad. It's the less interesting part of the movie and definitely serves its purpose as the driving force of the film.There's a level of tension however that the film maintains throughout and avoids the trappings of most super hero films where the characters are all but guaranteed to live.  Christopher Eccleston is given a nasty role no doubt as the character does some pretty heinous things but there's really not much there for Eccleston to do as an actor. It's not like he has a monologue that he can sink his teeth into or anything, mostly because he speaks dark elvish for most of the film.

I know I'm supposed to scared but that sounds like a baby's gibberish.

Finally I'll talk about the look of the film. It's an absolutely gorgeous movie. The set design is an achievement and there's not an ounce of shoddy CG in the entire movie. The world of Asgard and the other realms are fully realized, and switching between them provides a nice change of environment that only helps to increase the scale of the films which helps to raise the stakes.

'Thor: The Dark World' is a mostly great film. It has its issues of course, some of them pretty glaring, but I found myself enjoying it much more than I had anticipated. I didn't feel as though I needed more than I was given and I walked out the theatre thinking, "I kinda wanna see that again". Which is definitely a good sign for any movie.

Arbritrary Numerical Rating: 8.8/10

Sunday, 10 November 2013

'Elysium' (2013) Review

One of the most important rules of story telling is "show, don't tell". Essentially, what it means is that, instead of explaining the importance of something to the viewer, the story teller needs to simply show it as it is and trust that the viewer is invested enough in the story to pick up on the pertinence of that story element. The technique can either be used to further the story or bring across a particular metaphor within the story. With film being a visual medium it is perhaps the easiest and most important medium to apply this technique, and of all the genres of film, Science Fiction is perhaps the hardest and most difficult.

A quote from Chekhov as in 'Chekhov's gun'

Science Fiction is a genre which applies this technique through allegory. Taking real world ideologies and masking them in a quasi realistic universe. It's the perfect genre to be done in as the whole basis for science fiction is taking familiar science fact and proposing it's exaggeration into science fiction. It's because of that initial familiar basis that we are able to connect to our favourite science fiction stories, and a continuation of that connection rests in the allegory proposed by the films elements.

Star Trek is an allegory for the U.N, Godzilla is an allegory for the effects of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and more recently, District 9, directed by Neill Blomkamp, is an allegory for the Apartheid system. The key in what made those films successful is that symbolism aside, there was always an engaging plot with interesting characters. A success unfortunately not found in the latest from Mr. Blomkamp, 'Elysium'.

Matt Damon plays generic white protagonist #103,978,593,713,850,707,042

'Elysium' is set in post-apocalyptic 2154 on an overpopulated and ruined Earth, complete with copious amounts of dust, dirt and grime. The film never specifies what causes the Earth to assume this ruined state but the fault is implied to lie with man's action and inaction. In the wake of the unfavourable condition that now plagues the planet, the wealthiest of Earthlings have opted to separate themselves from the less fortunate through the development of the very first country club in space, Elysium. Complete with household medical scanners that cure cancer, lush green gardens and robot servants, Elysium trumps Earth any day of the week, and is the driving force behind the films main protagonist Max, played by Matt Damon.

Max is a down on his luck ex-con whose whole life, much like the rest of the Earth's population, has been spent trying to accumulate the funds to acquire a ticket to paradise. Throughout the first half of the film we are treated to his daily routine, working at a robot construction factory, dealing with robot parole officers and robot policemen.

The symbolism of machine run Government is also painfully obvious

As the film goes on however Max is presented with a chilling conflict for which the only solution would be to find a way to get to Elysium before it's too late.

Matt Damon plays the role well and grounds the film immensely as he is successful in presenting the relatable every man who is thrust into an impossible and fantastic situation. The same can be said for the other characters on Earth like Alice Braga's Frey who plays a nurse with a heart of gold whose only real care in the world is her daughter. The most outlandish of performances come from the characters on Elysium. Perhaps this was intentional in portraying the population as elitist as possible, but I found the characters to be over the top, and not in the good sense. In a movie in which most of the characters feel so real, a few feel like cartoon characters and make it difficult to buy the movies premise. I didn't find myself  believing that what the movie proposed would be a reality simply because the characters did not themselves feel real. In the first scenes of the film Jodie Foster's character orders a ship of illegal would be Elysium citizens to be shot down, killing everyone on board. Being the opening of the film, it feels like a hollow moment simply because the movie hasn't earned it yet. Yes Foster's character is further presented as having a controversial and violent approach to things but the character herself never earns this establishment, which can be credited to Foster's performance.

I remember when you were Travis Bickle's girl

Characterization issues aside, the movies biggest problem comes into what I was talking about earlier. The movie is blatant in it's message in being a reflection of the current status of healthcare, militarism and immigration in the United States. So much so that it ends up feeling heavy handed. I'm all for a movie being about something but that's why there's such a thing as subtext. Your thematic message should be somewhat coded to the viewer. Hidden within the movie to be found. It shouldn't be obvious or overstated but in fact it should be that the audience can take it that way if they so choose to. Wall e is a good example. That film could be said to have a green message encouraging better care of the environment and ourselves, or it could be said to be a classic love story between a recluse and a girl who's waaaaay out of his league.

Post apocalyptic imagery be damned.

Where Elysium fails is that the core story is about the character trying to battle the issues he faces due to his social status. The hidden message then becomes the story and you actually don't feel like you're enjoying any of it.

Aside from that, there are couple things that actually became endearing to me as the movie goes on. The film actually lets the viewer figure out for themselves how this world works. What people do on Earth and Elysium and establishes it's universe pretty well. The technology alone is fascinating. It was exciting to discover what this particular droid does or what that rifle's bullets look like. The look of the film is also mesmerizing. Grime never looked so good. In fact it looks like a high definition District 9. It maintains the same rustic environments and has it's own element of beauty to it. Also the film is gore-geous. I haven't seen heads explode that way since, well, District 9. Blood everywhere and the heads make a nice *pop* when they do :).

Overall, I can say that I definitely liked the film, just not as much as I wanted to. Phony and non existent characters and a lack of an endearing story made the film feel empty to me. However, fun violence, a well thought out beautiful world, and performances by Sharto Copley and Matt Damon make the film worth a watch, just with lowered expectations.

Arbitrary numerical rating: 6.5/10

Monday, 29 July 2013

'Pacific Rim' (2013) Review

Every time I decide to write a review, it's done the night of me seeing the film. This is why my posts usually go up during the weekend at around midnight. I find it best to write my thoughts about a film after the thoughts are still fresh and they can pour into the review. Otherwise they rot, become moldy and more slosh than pour into the review. But sometimes a movie can be either so good or so bad that your brain has to let it sit for a few days. I could not sit down and accurately get my opinions across on the page. I was too excited or too furious to focus my literary efforts to a clear and coherent 8 to 10 paragraphs with a fitting conclusion, although some people would say that's the case for all my reviews, consistently feeling as if they were written by a monkey.

                                                                The monkey's name is Carl. He's the next Ebert.

Of course 'Pacific Rim' would naturally be the film to cause this, and for good reason. On the one hand it seems to be the latest CG monster destructorgy from explosion veteran Michael Bay, swapping out Megatron and the gang for some Godzilla wannabees. On the other hand sitting in the directors chair is not Mr. Bay but instead Mr. Guillermo del Toro, director of thought provoking horror and fantasy pictures devoid of the doom and gloom that comes with the genre and instead swapping it out for relatability and humour. Being a fan of del Toro's previous works, I kept optimistic, until I made note that the film was unapologetic sci-fi with little to no supernatural undertones. Not exactly Guillermo's forte. I decided to instead go into the film completely blank, which is next to impossible. I would let the film be what it was without trying to fit it within a predetermined classification box.

Once I did that? The movie surprised me.

For those that don't know, the premise of 'Pacific Rim' is relatively simple. Giant monsters from another world called Kaiju come through a portal in the Pacific, hence the title, and tear the world a new one. Mass destruction is caused in all the world's major cities and the nations of the world pool their efforts towards the production of giant mechas called Jaegers in order to combat the Kaiju threat. Each Jaeger belongs to a different country and they are appropriately used in epic battles against the Kaiju whenever they see fit to launch an attack on humanity. Giant robots fight giant monsters.

A tale as old as time itself.

Honestly if that doesn't sound appealing then you might not like this movie. As ridiculous as it sounds the movie does a fantastic job at establishing it's universe, particularly the rules by which it plays relative to the real world. This is no doubt helped by the fact that the movie begins with a narration by lead character 'Raleigh Beckett' played by Sons of Anarchy star Charlie Hunnam. The narration is played over a montage of news clips of Kaiju attacks around the world, experimentation with Jaeger prototypes and other tidbits of information, cementing within the viewer that the war against the Kaiju has been waging for more than 10 years at the beginning of the film and is coming to an end. The choice to set the film so late within the war provides the audience with characters who are experienced and learned, avoiding the tired trope of characters who are thrust into a situation and eventually as the film goes on, rise to the occasion and overcome the conflict. This is where the world of Pacific Rim is established and all within the first 10 minutes of the film, in a coherent and distinct manner. It also raises the stakes of the film. As one character puts it: they are no longer an army, they are the resistance.

It's refreshing to see a film avoid such mundane cliches of fiction by opting not to tell an origin story, avoiding cliched and annoying characters bewildered by the situation and it's also refreshing to see a film take it's premise so seriously, which helps to sell it to the audience. But while 'Pacific Rim' does this masterfully it also does the opposite, laughing at itself and being riddled with cliched caricatures. Characters in the film are basically picked out of a box and thrown into the plot.

There's the egotistical jerk with daddy issues, the reluctant hero with a dark past, his rookie sidekick/love interest with supreme talent who helps him overcome his reluctance, the hard ass military superior with a heart of gold. There are more of these in the film and they're not lost on the well versed movie goer, in fact the characters outright describe the cliches they inhibit (at one point a character actually calls another an egotistical jerk with daddy issues) but what's interesting about 'Pacific Rim' is that it seems to be aware of their character's unoriginality, embraces it and then has fun with it. It doesn't pretend as if these characters are new to the viewer, but instead revels in the fact that they aren't and somehow it works. It's as if the film decides to take a look at these characters, depends on your familiarity with them, and writes them in a way that's sort of meta and tongue in cheek. Instead of rolling your eyes at Burn Gorman's over the top posh British accent, mannerisms and flamboyance, you're laughing along with it. I mean for crying out loud, the movie has characters named, 'Stacker Pentecost', 'Hannibal Chau' and 'Hercules Hansen'. Clearly these characters are not to be taken seriously.


This man speaks through that snobbish pout throughout all of his scenes and I love every second of it.

To speak of the way in which the film doesn't take itself too seriously I'll simply describe scene in the film that really makes me smile. If you'd really rather be completely surprised you can skip this paragraph and just take my word for it. After a Kaiju attacks a city the two scientists in the film go down to the area in which the Kaiju corpse can be found to conduct an experiment. After conducting the experiment the posh scientist suddenly becomes sick. They're surrounded by rubble and Kaiju guts so one assumes he would simply vomit on the ground. Instead the character manages to find a toilet that just happens to have survived the attack in pristine condition and vomit in the toilet bowl. There's no reason for it, the toilet just happens to be there, and he could have just as easily been sick anywhere else. Instead he finds a toilet and vomits into it. Maybe it's just me but I find that hilarious and think it shows that the film isn't afraid to have ludicrous moments like that, of which there are enough in the film so as not to wear out their welcome.

Now although I've mentioned that the unoriginal characters work to the films advantage, this is only for the most part. There are a three characters in particular that did not benefit from this methodology. Specifically the two scientists. Although I found Gorman's over the top performance as the uppity and posh doctor delightful and Charlie Day's squirrel like performance hasn't worn it's welcome yet (although I'm starting to feel that effect) I did not like the banter the film has between these two. The film tries to set up and antagonistic relationship between them, as they have opposing methods of combating the Kaiju threat, through making the characters argue every time they're on screen together. The contempt between these two is purely surface as although you can see what you're meant to get from watching them, it's just never funny or quick enough to have it's intended effect.

The other character I have a problem with is Ron Perlman's Hannibal Chau. The set up given to this character before he is actually shown on screen is intriguing and causes the viewer to shiver with anticipation for his reveal, but unfortunately not enough time is spent with him for that to pay off. You get a little taste of it and then he isn't seen again for the rest of the movie. I was deeply disappointed when I realized the man with golden armour plating on his shoes that sounded like a sword being unsheathed every time he took a step would no longer grace the screen and instead would leave me feeling as if something, perhaps a scene or a few lines of dialogue, was cut or simply thought inconsequential to the character along the script development.

"Ah jeez, y'know it's the darnedest thing? I completely forgot what I was doing in this movie. Welp, call me when you need me for Hellboy 3."

Outside of the characters, the plot moves itself along at an even pace, with a total of 4 or 5 complete Kaiju/Jaeger fights. Which are EXTREMELY FUN and stunning to watch. The digital effects are some of the most incredible I've ever seen and makes Transformers look like the cartoon it was based on. Fights are dynamic and fun to watch with surprises withing them. The Jaegers themselves are diverse with characteristics that match the country they were built in. (The Russian Jaeger looks like it's wearing a ushanka and the Chinese one is red with yellow dragons on it) They stand out amongst each other and you can create a semblance of a connection with them, as well as the pilots inside, much like a James Bond car or Tony Stark's suits. The Kaiju are unsurprisingly extremely well designed as is per Guillermo del Toro, with each of them taking cues from existing animals but exaggerating them in a way that looks mutated and alien. (One Kaiju has crustacean elements to it while another is more shark based.)

Just looking at pictures for this caption made me want to go see it again.

To be honest there's not a lot to say about 'Pacific Rim' in defense of it. Yes the plot is simplistic, the science behind it is dodgy and the characters are laughably played out, but amidst all it's apparent issues that would normally bug me to no end and cause me to hate it like other movies do, (I'm looking at you Independence Day, it's a crime that I am guaranteed to be reminded of your existence every July 4). In fact 'Pacific Rim' embraces its similarities with other films. There are slight nods to the films 'Aliens', 'Jurassic Park' and even 'Star Wars' and their influence is certainly felt in the overall product. For my money 'Pacific Rim' does it all really well and with just enough self awareness to not become eye roll inducing. It knows what it's trying to be and knows you know it too, once it gets past that it makes no apologies for being just that. If what it's trying to be appeals to you then you will have the time of your life like I did.

Arbitrary numerical rating: 9/10

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

'World War Z' (2013) Review


Zombies are a staple of horror cinema. They’re one of the only movie monsters to stand the test of time and still hold a profit. Sure Twilight technically has vampires in it as well as werewolves but the quality of those films aside, the monsters aren't presented as monsters and instead take the role of the protagonist and ask the audience to root for them. Zombies achieve the most commercial success out of any of the established demons of entertainment, being used in film, video games and one of the most successful television shows on air. Some claim that zombies are on their way out and currently are experiencing over-saturation that will eventually decrease their entertainment value as a story device. Unfortunately those people have been claiming for almost a decade.

Zombies: Dying out since 2004

Although zombies have maintained commercial success in the film industry, the quality of these films can be said to have depreciated with the better zombie stories being either a deviation from the horror genre delving slightly into parody or are simply told in a different medium such as television or video games. Notable examples of this are 'Zombieland' and 'Warm Bodies'. The last film I can remember with a bare bones, no fluff, pure zombie fueled story was 'The Crazies' but that film came out 3 years ago, almost no one saw it and was itself a remake. That is of course until I saw this movie.

'World War Z' is a curious film. It's based on the novel of the same name by Max Brooks, although it reportedly deviates greatly from the original source material. It's a zombie movie that doesn't identify itself as a horror movie, but doesn't hide from that association either. It uses the unrealistic and impossible conflict of zombies but  presents it as not only a realistic one but also sells it as a plausible one. Surely a film with this many inconsistencies must then itself be another of the mind numbing unfocused street trash that often occupy the summer season.

Pictured above: Mind Numbing Unfocused Street Trash

Actually? 'World War Z' for the most part pulls off all it's crazy stunts.

The film begins with a montage opening credits which switches between clips of wildlife living in their respective habitats (ants crawling on a leaf, lions running across a plain) and news reports of a violent epidemic. This pretty much sums up the films representation of zombies as being both a force of nature and a super disease, it also gives the identity the film tries to work with attempting to be part supernatural horror movie and part sci-fi thriller. 

While the film juggles these well it also attempts to play off an narrative, with no definitive setting. That's not just concerning the place in which the story is told, which moves from country to aircraft carrier to country. World War Z also doesn't define itself chronologically. The technology of the film is in no way advanced, safe for standard military equipment, the most advanced of this being a satellite phone. There's not mention of Wi-Fi, the internet. Computer's themselves are out of sight and any television depicted may very well be said to have existed 20 years ago. This is in no doubt intentional as the story itself is the main focus of the film and the story isn't exactly dependent on a particular time period.

Speaking of the story, the plot of the film is relatively simple. Not that that's a bad thing. It revolves around main character Gerry Lane, played by Brad Pitt, whose task it is to discover both the origin of the zombie apocalypse and a way to combat it. It's never outright told why the character is chosen for this aside from a few throw away lines of dialogue about his adventurous past working previously for the U.N and it does beg the question as to why this apparent family man is the best for the job. Although the numerous references to the character's past gives the impression that an extraneous prequel is to be expected.

'World War: Why?' (2017)

It is instead shown on multiple occasions where the character portrays an intelligence and resourcefulness that is no doubt a result of that aforementioned experience. It's a refreshing portrayal of a main character who we are given a reason to understand their capability without daunting exposition. It follows the tried and true rule of film making "show, don't tell" making use of the visual medium. 

"GET HIM! HE KNOWS WHAT HE'S DOING!" - said the government.

Upon his adventure the character goes to numerous locations around the world, establishing the threat as a world wide event. The reasons for each of these locations is well communicated and are furthermore substantive enough to warrant the change in location. This leaves the audience to never go "Wait, why are we here again?" for either ignorance of mere confusion. 

Every location is then spent a reasonable amount of time in, being not too short or too long avoiding the feeling that the change in location was inconsequential or unnecessary. They are book ended by action set pieces that lead into the different scenery but never serve as the primary motivation for the change in scenery.

The film also avoids the feeling of becoming formulaic and without peril as the longer it goes on the more danger increases. Although the world's greatest resources are at our heroes disposal, it isn't lost on the film that at this stage that doesn't mean much and what little it does mean is shown to depreciate over time. Although the film is extremely tense in some scenes, it balances this with light dialogue, with characters joking in between serious conversations.The film takes itself seriously, but not too seriously, ensuring not to overwhelm the audience.

As I mentioned earlier the film treats zombies in an interesting way. It relies on your understanding of zombies to a certain extent while still explaining the inner workings of the creatures in this universe as the characters themselves are understanding them. The most explanation is done near the end and is not done in a way to induce eye-rolling. The zombies are depicted in familiar fashion as horror movies prior have depicted them when characters are in enclosed locations, whether it be a hospital or an apartment, playing upon claustrophobia and restriction. It is in these scenes where the "monster" aspect of the creatures is amplified. Otherwise the zombies are treated as a spreading infection depicted in insurmountable hoardes. Both portrayals are sufficient in providing the thrills and drama necessary for the scenes to work and to present the zombies as an incredible threat and both help to keep the film feeling fresh instead of dull. 

Zombies are dangerous both divided and united.

I should also note that the film does somewhat delve into the story mechanic of any apocalyptic film of the conscious human threat, with the average person doing horrible things once society crumbles. It's present but it's so brief that I almost forgot it writing this review.

Of course the film is not without it's problems. The film does not exactly excel as far as character work. There's no notable arc to be told here as the main character is already as capable as he can be. The most that can be said for his development is briefly near the end of the film, but this is so brief that it doesn't exactly register as strongly as seemingly intended. Secondary characters suffer as the only notable characterization that they have is in moments that they have with the main character. These are fine with regards to establishment but since so little time is spent with them it's difficult to connect with them as much as we'd like to. This is similar to 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' in which most if not all of the secondary characters were cardboard cut out caricatures, although it is less extreme in this film.

Visually the film somewhat falters. On the large scale the zombies are less than stunning as in their hoardes the zombies are digitally inserted. When in a large group it can all seem like a massive brown blur with no discernible features. When the hoarde is separated, the effect worsens as the quick paced individual zombie looks too unrealistic to be threatening. However when the film presents the zombies in it's claustrophobic horror movie settings, proper old practical effects are used with delightful rotting skin and jagged teeth.

Depicted above: Massive brown blur.

Furthermore the film has some difficulty with its action and suspense shots. There are shots in particular in which it feels as if this could be avoided. The film is hell bent on not displaying blood and gore, no doubt to secure a pg-13 rating. Because of this certain aspects of the scene are not visually present and leave the viewer frustrated. Other times the camera is much too close up and it is difficult to discern what precisely is going on, however this can be said to portray the chaos of the action.
World War Z is a creative zombie summer movie with a large scale that feels natural and earned. The simple plot, so-so character work and convoluted camera work keep it from being great but the film feels genuine by not trying to be more than it is, and what it is, is smarter than anyone expected, complete with an intelligent main character to boot.

Abritrary Numerical Rating: 8.5

Sub-review note: A while back made note of 5 actors who do the same thing in every movie. Brad Pitt was noted of having something of an oral fixation, always putting something in his mouth. The biggest fear I had in this film was that he would not live up to expectations in this regard. I'm ecstatic to say he does not disappoint.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

'Man Of Steel' (2013) Review

Recently it was announced that Walt Disney acquired the rights to produce and distribute ‘Star Wars’ films from Lucasfilm and had planned to begin production of said films for a 2015 release date. I remember thinking at the time that I could not think of another property that would put such pressure on a film maker than ‘Star Wars’. A property that in the last decade had delineated it’s fanbase through the production of mediocre iterations in the franchise and left them to cling their hope to their slowly fading nostalgia. It truly did represent to me a bold and frightening film making endeavour and for the life of me I could not find its equivalent.

Ladies and Gentlemen: The bravest/stupidest man in Hollywood.

And then I remembered a movie called ‘Man of Steel’.

Man of Steel is faced with a similar, albeit less intense, problem. To date, many people will tell you that of the 5 major release Superman films that preceded ‘Man of Steel’ only two were worth the price of admission. And yet audiences still hold the character to a high standard. People expect quality from a Superman film, regardless of the depreciating quality of his films (see Superman III with Richard Pryor(?) or his inability to connect with modern audiences (see Superman Returns with Superman’s bastard child (?). When it comes to Superman movie audiences suffer from battered housewife syndrome. He used to be so good to us and deep down we know he didn't mean to hurt us.

This is mostly due to the fact that the character is a cinematic and pop culture icon but it’s also due to what Superman represents. The absolute optimism towards human nature is embedded within Superman’s character. He is meant to act as a symbol for good and an ideal of hope. Most films seem to forget this and instead suffer from a misplaced obligation to adhere to the principles of films past rather than the character himself. In order for a Superman film to be “good” it needs to not lose the character it’s trying to represent and what he represents.

How do you make the movie about a superhuman boy scout?

For the most part? ‘Man of Steel’ does this in spades. However, there are notable detachments and problems within the film.

The movie begins with something not seen in Superman films prior. It depicts Kal-el’s home planet of Krypton and truly establishes Superman as a being from another world, one with similar social issues. The film seems to suggest that Krypton is what is to become of Earth through scientific advancement and human evolution. Without going into too much detail, I’ll say that it becomes evident that life on Krypton reaches its limitations.

It was fun being an advanced race while it lasted…

In an attempt to salvage the best aspects of Krypton, the baby Kal-el is sent to Earth where he is expected to thrive and be admired instilling within the people of Earth the means to avoid the mistakes made by the people of Krypton. It is from this that the aspect of Superman as an ideal to strive towards is first established a theme that is successfully brought out in the film at different stages and is mostly driven by Superman’s biological father Jor-el. Russel Crowe’s role as a scientist frustrated by the limitations of his people is an apt one, with the actor providing a solemn yet ferocious performance but sadly does not break out into song.


Superman’s development’s on Earth are chronicled by a series of flash backs in which actor Henry Cavill is saddled with representing a man who has his entire life battling the identity crisis inherent with being born on a now non-existent planet and having the ability to heat objects just by staring. The flash backs depict moment in Clark’s life that have defined his current predicament as a man who wanders around without a home or a dog in the yard, much akin to the flashbacks of ‘Batman Begins’

 “I walk this lonely road…”

His disconnect from humanity is compounded by his compulsion to do good, a compulsion that causes Clark to use his extraordinary abilities. Abilities that he has been taught by his adopted father Clark Kent to hide due to the seemingly paranoid view that should the world be aware of his true heritage he would not be adored but instead he would be met with disdain, fear and other negative reactions as well.

It is within these propositions of character that the film succeeds in establishing this Superman. As a son of two worlds he experiences the struggles that arise from such a situation and the film depicts this aptly.

As Superman goes through his internal development his abilities also develop. Specifically with regards to his aerial abilities. The film remembers that Superman has to bound before he can fly. The best modern day depiction of the thrill of a first flight and the fulfilment of the ultimate fantasy has rested with 2008’s ‘Iron Man’. That title now belongs with ‘Man of Steel’ which depicts flight as something that is realistically awe inspiring. 

You will believe a man can fly.

However the film halfway through stops focusing on the development of the character and instead brings light to the plot which at this point in the film had only been briefly touched upon with a few lines of dialogue in the films introduction. The focus shifts to the plot with the arrival of General Zod, the main villain of the picture who is portrayed by modern day movie magician Michael Shannon. Michael Shannon is an actor who is famous for his appetite for gravitas. Every morning he wakes up to a glass of over the top and a box of scenery and starts chewing.

 Krypton General: Morals optional

Imagine my excitement when I was privy to the information that he would be playing the psychotic General Zod. A ruthless militaristic powerhouse with no concern for the lives of innocents and a self imposed importance. However the character is written in a much more sympathetic manner. Although the character is still ruthless his motivations are portrayed well as Shannon is much more solemn than his roles in films past. It’s not a bad performance; it’s just not what I expected.

Upon the arrival of General Zod the film places in a few scenes in which the plot is now developed. The characters establish their stances and the conflict arises. It all feels very basic and run of the mill but it provides a serviceable second act.

However it is in the third act in which the film falters.

Upon realizing the characters have a conflict they then set out to resolve this conflict with fists, laser eyes, and eventual flight fights! The fights themselves are exciting, however even though they are designed using CG the fights are difficult to see. The most apt similarity I can draw them to would be to the fight scenes in Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’ trilogy. It’s very close up and results in confusion as to who is hitting whom.

But more so than confusing the fight scenes feel uninspired and ridiculous. This however, is no worse than in superhero films of the past such as Hancock, Iron Man 2, Batman Begins or even the Avengers. The characters go to their final meeting ground, usually a city or a metropolis *wink* and proceed to thrash each other with no regard for the innocents the hero has so established himself as wanting to protect. You get a few throw away lines with Superman telling people to get to safety much akin to the scene in Avengers in which Captain America instructs the police officers to direct people to safety. You’re meant to assume that every building has been evacuated and that no one is hurt when they’re toppling. Panic in the streets is shown to depict the mortality of the situation contrasting this and the viewer is left frustrated and annoyed.

Pictured above: Superhuman Reckless Endangerment.

Most people, like me, usually take this as par for the course with the summer blockbuster and admittedly if you can put aside the fact that innocents may very well be being hurt with the hero seemingly apathetic to that fact then you’ll be smiling the entire time. However my suspension of disbelief depends on the tone of the movie up to that point. With that in mind, the films portrayal of a Superman with the utmost regard for human life causes the final fight scenes to feel disconnected from the first half of the film which seemed to understand this character so well. The final scenes of the fighting however feel earned and a return to the film that began. It boggles the mind why the gratuitous and empty action scenes were in a movie that feels more thoughtful than expected.

The end of the film is jarring as it comes so swiftly and shifts the tone drastically both visually and thematically, moving from the dark aftermath of a ruined cityscape immediately to a bright field where the characters make light quips. It’s meant to be days and perhaps months after the battle but instead it feels like it was mere seconds after.

Overall the film succeeds in being a different Superman film. It has its own identity and is memorable. It also succeeds in its portrayal of the character. The supporting characters of Ma Kent and Perry White always feel natural and enjoyable with Clark’s interactions with his mother feeling loving and Laurence Fishburne rocking a diamond earring. Both he and Diane Lane provide the best performance they can with their limited material however, their scenes are short and far and in-between. One expects that their roles will expand in future films.

I’ll close off by saying that the film succeeds in the one part in which I would've been mortified had they failed (yay for hyperboles!). That is with the portrayal and construction of Lois Lane. Amy Adams is perfect as the ruthless reporter without much care for authority and with a fiery wit to make a man fall in love. She’s very much a part of this film and that makes me happy. Superman himself is portrayed well by Henry Cavill who has to change his character throughout the film, a character who in this film is written to be more interesting and entertaining than previous iterations. 

Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 6/10