Sunday 28 July 2013

Battle of the Blockbusters: spaceships and supermen

I'm waaaay behind with any film reviews on this 'ere blog, so I thought I'd lump all my recent multiplex musings into one pulsating post. ( "Pulsating?" Excuse my lapse into Stan Lee-esque hyperbole  -  just trying to make it sound interesting... ) As is usual with my so-late-it's-embarrassing "catch up" posts I'll present them in reverse order... because I can. Don't expect any deep, meaningful insights, but do expect spoilers. It is a little after the fact...

Man Of Steel
James and I saw this at the Stroud Apollo a couple of weeks back, just before it finished its run. ( In fact we saw all the films in this post together and my mate Kev also tagged along for one of them. ) I enjoyed Man Of Steel with certain reservations. It was definitely an interesting, contemporary take on Superman... if not my Superman.

Things I liked about Man Of Steel:
I thought Henry Cavill gave a fine, thoughtful performance that captured the essential nobility and heroism of Kal-El, even though I missed Christopher Reeves' twinkle-eyed lightness. Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe were also excellent as Supes' Earthbound and Kryptonian fathers. The flashbacks to young Clark's early years, as he struggled to deal with his emerging powers and his place in the world, were wonderful and I'd liked to have seen far more of them. The cape... I really liked the cape. Not too sure about the redesigned costume as a whole, but the long, deep red cape rippling in the breeze looked perfect. ( I'm easily pleased. ) And the revelation of Kal-El's powers, the first flight, the heat-ray vision... all were excellently portrayed.

Things I didn't like so much about Man Of Steel:
Amy Adams and Diane Lane were both short-changed  -  their roles promised much, but both fine actresses were reduced to damsels in distress, which was disappointing. The tone of the movie, while never as dark as I'd expected ( see this previous post ), was often downbeat and lacked the optimism I associate with the character. The action, although spectacular, became numbingly relentless in the last reel, almost to a Michael Bay / Transformers level. There's been much said on t'internet about the destruction of Smallville and Metropolis  -  the cost in ( fictional ) lives and destroyed property to Superman and Zod's final battle. Surely Superman could have removed Zod from the big city  -  dragged him off around the world to a desert or something  -  to prevent the apocalyptic devastation of acres of DC Universe real estate. ( I'm surprised the military didn't nuke Kal-El at the end. None of this would have happened without his presence and what guarantees did they have that it wouldn't happen again? ) And, finally, Superman ( in my opinion ) should never kill... no matter what the reason...

Star Trek Into Darkness
And carrying on the "dark" theme we have the second of JJ Abrams' re-boots of the Star Trek universe. James and I ( fans of the first JJ movie but not "Star Trek fans" ) dragged along my mate Kev, who is a committed Trekker and will even admit to enjoying Star Trek: Voyager. Hardcore!

Again, this is a movie which prompted much muttering among fans for its reinvention of old Trek characters and concepts, and for its plot-holes you could drive a spaceship through. ( There's a very good post about problems with this movie here. ) Some very valid points, but... did we care? Well, no actually.
Star Trek Into Darkness, despite its title, is a lot of fun. The opening scenes with Kirk breaking Star Fleet's Prime Directive to save Spock's life are typical of Abrams' iconoclastic approach to Trek. On TV ( certainly in the Next Gen days ) Kirk's quandary would have prompted much discussion and debate while walking up and down beige starship corridors. Here, it's all action, colour, spectacle and witty lines. At the risk of sounding superficial I know which I prefer :-)
I don't think JJ has "dumbed down" Star Trek ( well, not too much ) but he has obviously injected a dose of intergalactic adrenalin into the series so it can compete with today's mega-budget blockbusters. And it certainly does that.

The main cast are all back from the first movie and clearly having a great time, getting their teeth into their characters, now that the "origin" story is out of the way. It may seem like Kirk and Spock have become friends rather quickly after their original antagonism, but I found their relationship to be quite touching. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto absolutely convince in their roles, as do Zoe Saldana and Carl Urban  -  all pitch perfect. And it's good to see Gloucester boy Simon Pegg get an expanded role as Scotty... although I'm still not sure about his accent.
The movie is virtually stolen, however, by the amazing Benedict Cumberbatch who is cool, suave and very, very dangerous as John Harrison / Khan.
Khan: I am better...
Kirk: At what?
Khan: Everything
It's probable that JJ Abrams will, er, jump ship before the next Trek movie as he will have his hands full with another series with the word "Star" in the title, but I hope any successors will carry on his exciting, emotional, visually spectacular template...

Iron Man 3
We're going back a few months now, so bear with me as I search my failing memory banks for whatever actually happened in Iron Man 3. I must admit I really enjoyed the film at the time but the details are a bit hazy now. ( This may not be an age thing. James, who is 13, has just admitted the same problem, so I don't feel so bad... )

Paradoxically, for a film called Iron Man 3, the best thing about this Marvel blockbuster is the relative lack of Iron Man. Tony Stark's home is destroyed and his whole life is deconstructed when he comes up against the mad bomber known as The Mandarin, so, for a fair portion of the film, Stark has to rely on his wits and not his technology for a change. This gives the film-makers a chance to give us more of the best element of this series: Robert Downey Jnr. As ever, Downey Jnr is charisma personified as his sarcastic, driven character tries to piece his life back together, even enlisting the help of a surprisingly likeable kid sidekick. Stark's recent experiences in The Avengers have also scarred him, giving RDJ a chance to play a more vulnerable, human Tony Stark, verging on PTSD at times.

But, there's obviously a lot of action to be had in this movie, too. There's a thrilling, jaw-dropping set-piece revolving around Air Force One ( literally! ) as the US President's staff are thrown out of the plane and the race is on for Iron Man and War Machine ( Don Cheadle ) to rescue them from a long drop. Speaking of Don Cheadle, his scenes with RDJ as they infiltrate the villains' various lairs are great fun, the two actors clearly relishing Shane Black's chewy, snarky dialogue. It's also great to see the lovely Gwyneth Paltrow finally getting something substantial to do and kicking serious quantities of arse with her newly-acquired ( if short-lived ) super powers. The final scenes, with Stark ludicrously hopping in and out of suits of armour, are predictably over the top but visually dazzling. You can certainly see where the budget went :-)

As in Trek, though, the movie is yet again almost stolen by a British thespian. Ben Kingsley is wonderfully menacing as mysterious terrorist The Mandarin, with his strange Southern accent and philosophically-slanted threats. And then... he's hilarious when his character's true identity is revealed, in a brilliantly funny, audacious turnaround. It really is comedy gold...
So, it turns out I managed to remember quite a bit...

Soundtrack: Highway 61 Revisited / Blood On The Tracks by Bob Dylan


Anonymous said...

What can I say, but I just don't like most science fiction or super hero movies these days. Man of Steel seemed to be imitating both Batman Begins and Spider-Man by giving the hero a guilt motivation. Some heroes (like Batman) are well suited to a grimdark style, but Superman isn't. Haven't seen the new Star Trek, and probably won't. The over-emphasis on youth is a turn off for me. The senior officers of a ship should be experienced, not yuppies fresh out of college. And I hated the plot twist in Iron Man 3. I'm sick of Hollywood's leftist blame-America-first bias. There. End of rant.

Simon B ( formerly cerebus660 ) said...

Anonymous, we might differ on some of your points but I have to agree on one thing: Superman definitely didn't need guilt as a motivation. The death of the Jonathan Kent character was a serious misjudgement in my opinion...

Thanks for commenting :-)


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