Logan: sad, beautiful and final

Film

James Mangold is a compelling director; in that a lot of his work has real emotional depth and nuance, and often benefits from repeat viewing. And he’s kind of underappreciated. I mean, Girl, Interrupted, 3:10 To Yuma and Walk The Line all had him at the helm.

And yes, granted, he’s also got The Wolverine on his filmography, but we’re all allowed a little stumble now and then, right?

And I have to say, with Logan – almost certainly Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart’s last portrayal of the characters – Mangold has finished with superheroes on a high (assuming he’s not coming back to direct again). Because, simply put, this film is poles apart from almost ALL superhero movies (even Deadpool), in that it’s a melancholy love letter to Logan, aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Charles Xavier, aka Professor X (Patrick Stewart), as the two that are heart and soul – and indeed spine – of the X-Men franchise.

Theirs is the father-son dynamic that’s touched on consistently throughout prior films, but is really brought front and centre here. And, structure wise, we’re in somewhat different territory. Because whilst superhero films (these days) are often Westerns half in disguise, Logan wears this badge proudly, with Mangold really playing to his strengths as a director.

In that it’s a muscular, visceral, downtrodden and wistful story. One that’s gritty, painfully real, and lacks any semblance of a Hollywood shine. (I mean, within one scene more F bombs get dropped than the rest of the franchise put together.)

Indeed, Mangold has previously stated his touchpoints were Shane, The Cowboys, Paper Moon, Little Miss Sunshine and The Wrestler. And, for me, the latter two cited really shine through. Whether it’s the road trip structure or the fact Logan shares a lot of common ground with Mickey Rourke’s wrestler, in that he’s a ‘broken down old piece of meat’, you sense these influences keenly.

And, story wise, it also takes its cues from the Old Man Logan series of graphic novels. So within the opening scenes where we meet Logan, he’s a grey-haired, shabby limo driver. He drinks, he’s bleary-eyed, bent, broken and walks with a limp. So he’s oceans away from his body being the temple of earlier films. Now it’s more a urinal. In short, he’s a right mess and borderline suicidal.

Plus the fact he’s got a half-senile Charles to look after; shacked up in a metal bunker in Mexico (described in one scene as a man with the world’s most dangerous brain and a degenerative brain disorder to match. A lethal combination). So gone are the days of the mansion and gone are the days of mutants and the X-Men. Logan and Charles are practically all that’s left. And they’re barely clinging to life as it is.

But… they’re given purpose by the arrival of a young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), who has certain familiar abilities. And so Logan is tasked – with Charles in tow – to attempt to evade bad guys and get her to the safety of Canada. So we end up with a sort of mismatched family road movie – with Logan as the cantankerous yet caring father, Charles as the doddering yet insightful grandfather, and Laura as the wild, precocious daughter looking for a family and sense of belonging.

And, whilst the whole film has many sweet notes, it’s also immensely sad and surprisingly violent (every Wolverine kill is far bloodier and more gory than ever before).

This is also, without a shadow of a doubt, both Jackman and Stewart’s best performances as these characters. The studio has clearly given Mangold license to do things a bit differently, and it’s really paid off.

The world feels more real. It’s the most emotional ‘superhero’ film yet (in any franchise) and it’s focused in its use of a handful of characters tops, which is really refreshing (the swollen cast of recent X-Men outings was beginning to bore me a bit).

So ultimately, this is a strong contender for the best X-Men movie to date, or at least a firm second place. And you could argue that without all the prior films the weight of emotion wouldn’t ring true here, and that this movie needs to stand fully alone to be considered the best. And that’s valid.

But it’s also worth noting that this movie does FAR more right than it does wrong. Coupled with the fact that more than a handful of scenes are truly heartbreaking.

Now how many X-Men films could you say that about?

Luke Cage: season one review

TV

Take Captain America and add a dash of Superman and thread Harlem throughout his core and what do you get? Luke Cage. A badass bulletproof hero in a hoodie. Originally a character that turns up in Jessica Jones but now has his own show. And one that feels pretty different from others out there, and indeed, different from other Marvel ones too. From the opening yellow-washed, funk-inflected theme song – that’s simultaneously retro and contemporary – you get a sense that a lot of love has gone into its creation and how important the Harlem setting is to its fabric and structure.

For example, music is vitally important. Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Mohammad put it together and said they were influenced by Wu-Tang Clan, Ennio Morricone and Mohammad’s group A Tribe Called Quest. So we’ve got Western meets ’90s hip hop, with an original track by Method Man too (video below). All of which adds to its identity.

And on the character front, our main man Luke is interesting. Not immediately likeable and some may say stoic and unreadable, but there’s a fire under his surface. He’s a quiet hero, fierce, intelligent, troubled. There’s no spandex or cape and he half shuns the limelight for the most part. In reality, he’s an ex-convict trying to lay low and live his life in peace. But he’s too special to do that for long. He’s bulletproof for one thing, but it’s more than that. He has a strong sense of injustice and the people of Harlem need him to step up and protect them. So far so very Western, right?

Marvel's Luke Cage

And whilst it’s easy enough for him to hurl gangsters about (he’s bulletproof and can heal incredibly fast and has superhuman strength) he does have weaknesses. Namely loved ones, the people that he cares about. Which you’d expect. If you can’t hurt a bulletproof man, hurt those around him. Which is the approach our bad guy Cornell ‘Cottonmouth’ Stokes (Mahershala Ali) takes for the first half of the season.

And I very much think this is a season of two halves. First is set-up and a bit slow burn, then the second gets more gung-ho, with Luke half on the run from the law and the bad guys at the same time. So an educated outlaw and vigilante with the common people on his side? May as well call him Robin Hood.

Whatever we call him, it’s a good first season for a show and gets better as it goes on. And it’s nice to see Marvel trying new things, but all the while building the MCU on the small screen. We’ve had Agents of SHIELD (decent and still going) and Agent Carter (had its moments but cancelled after two seasons), Jessica Jones and Daredevil (heard both fairly good but haven’t caught them) and now we have Luke Cage. It’ll be most interesting to see what happens in season two.

Suicide Squad: The Harley Quinn show

Film

We all knew it would work, didn’t we? Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. Arguably, there’s never been a better match of actor and character in a superhero movie (except maybe Jack Nicholson as The Joker, but that was decades ago).

And with the addition of Will Smith – reuniting them after their pairing in con film Focus – you know the lion’s share of scenes will have gone to those two. Not that that’s a bad thing. But when watching David Ayer’s Suicide Squad I did wonder – more than once – what the rest of the cast were actually doing there, other than to make up the numbers.

It’s a bit like the XMen films. You have so many characters that giving them all something interesting to do is a tall order. Although maybe that’s just an excuse and the filmmakers should really just try that bit harder. (After all, we’ve had a few great XMen films in the past.)

suicide-squad-trailer-deadshot-gun

But to backtrack, in case you’ve not seen the trailer or know anything about superhero films or have any idea what the Suicide Squad is, let’s recap.

‘They’re bad guys. The worst of the worst’, says Viola Davis’ shady Government official Amanda Waller. For it is she that pulls the strings of the squad, getting them to do her evil bidding. And she’s as cold as ice with it, sending them into situations where you wouldn’t want to risk your precious heroes like Batman and The Flash.

Essentially, they’re canaries down the coal mine and very much on the expendable side. Bad guys forced to do good. For example there’s a Hispanic gangster fire guy (Jay Hernandez), a crocodile (Addiwale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), an Aussie boomerang-throwing burglar (Jai Courtney), a master assassin with funky dress sense (Will Smith) and everyone’s favourite deranged-by-the-Joker psychiatrist (Margot Robbie). Plus some other walking clichés but I’ve given up listing them, you’ll just have to check IMDb.

lead_960

They’re tasked with rescuing someone from the remnants of a city that an ancient – and rather pissed off – witch called Enchantress (Cara Delivigne) has torn to shreds in a sort of Viggo the Carpathian from Ghostbusters kind of way. Plot wise, that’s kind of it. So somehow we have a film in which lots happens, but also, bafflingly, very little at all.

Furthermore, there’s been talk online of how the film starts about three times. Or that it takes maybe 20 minutes to get into the actual story. Either way, you could argue that – if you’re going to be tough to please like me – it never really does get going. Robbie does her best to lighten things up but it often feels like she’s in a different movie to everyone else.

Particularly Joel Kinnaman’s dour Colonel Rick Flag; who leads the group in such a gruff manner it’s as if he sucks the life out of scenes simply by turning up; like some sort of Dementor in army fatigues.

SUICIDE SQUAD

Then there’s the Joker. One of the best comic book villians ever to grace the screen and first made famous by Jack Nicolson, then updated for the modern age by the genius of Heath Ledger (the latter gaining a posthumous Oscar in the wake of his death).

So now we have Jared Leto giving us his take, going all method during the shoot; with stories of him sending dead rats to cast members there’s no doubt he got into character for the role. And really, this just added fuel to the fire getting us all revved up. His Joker would be something special. Even perhaps, whisper it, the best yet?

And then… what did we get? A couple of scenes here and there but largely diddly squat. Nada. Zip. Zilch. David Ayer took this great character and frittered him away on some meaningless encounters, giving Leto precious little to work with. But perhaps I am missing the point? Was this not a Joker movie? Is he not the biggest bad guy in the film? If not, then why bother to hype him up at all?

suicidesquad

If you’re going to focus on Smith and Robbie’s characters then why not give them some sort of combined backstory and shared history the actors can sink their teeth into? Play up to their chemistry. Or if you’re going to do a Joker and Harley Quinn film, do that. With the rest of the squad as peripheral characters. Maybe Deadshot could have taken it upon himself to free Harley from the Joker’s influence?

I get that screenwriting is a monumentally challenging thing to get into any semblance of something coherent that’ll engage audiences. But surely if in doubt, KISS right? Keep it simple, stupid.

So structurally this film is somewhat all over the place and feels thrown together in a way which slightly vexes me. And it gives the audience very little with which to identify in terms of characters. Granted, ensemble movies are a tricky beast at the best of times and, whilst I’m loathe to use Marvel as a blueprint, they just do it so much better.

suicide-squad-will-smith-margot-robbie-0

Whether bringing together established characters (Avengers) or introducing entirely new ones (Guardians of the Galaxy) they make it seem much more seamless and, crucially, make us care about the characters involved.

So, anywho. Before it seems like I’m too down on this whole movie, let’s put things in perspective. There were some good performances to be had (Robbie, Smith, Davis, Leto) and David Ayer did a passable job of setting up the squad and it’s a reasonable enough Friday night popcorn type of watch. So there’s that. And it also seems to have done well enough to suggest a sequel isn’t going to be a big ask of the studio.

So for the second one I really hope they come up with a better structure and more credible story for the squad. Stick Smith and Robbie front and centre and, for God’s sake, keep the tone as far away from dark and gritty as possible. DC has more than enough of that going around and superhero films are supposed to be fun. Aren’t they?

Captain America: Civil War – review

Film

Let’s make something perfectly clear – or at least less muddy. This film is not an Avengers movie, it’s a Captain America one… inasmuch as he’s the focus and both antagonist and protagonist. But then, so is Tony Stark. So maybe it’s a Captain America versus Iron Man movie, with their respective teams in tow?

In any case, it’s all gotten a bit more serious…. more DC maybe, less Marvel. Perhaps this is right in this instance, for here the plot picks up strands from Steve Rodgers’ prior outings, as well as further mining the depths of Tony Stark’s inner torment, following everything he’s been through; including accidently creating Ultron as force for bad rather than good.

Captain-America-Civil-War-Trailer-1-Iron-Man-War-Machine

And so we have a bit of playing against type – or role reversal – in that rebellious playboy Stark supports legislation to make our heroes accountable to the U. N., but Rodgers – a man who you’d safely bet would be on the side of the establishment – is firmly in the opposite camp. Mostly because he wants to protect his friend Bucky – the Winter Soldier who keeps getting into trouble – but also because he feels legislation clips the wings of the Avengers, stopping them from doing what they do best without the need for red tape.

So we have some nice, meaty motivation for our two main dudes, pitting them against each other. Each a titan with his own loyal followers, and so with Civil War we get some old names (Black Widow, Hawkeye), some newer but fairly established ones (War Machine, Falcon, Ant-Man, The Vision, Scarlett Witch) and some fresh blood (Spider-Man, Black Panther).

captain-america-civil-war-pics-022

They fly, they swoop, they shrink, they grow and they scrap their little heart’s out.

And it’s a blast.

Then, on the periphery of all the infighting we have an actual bad guy (Daniel Bruhl) who goes rather unnoticed for the most part. But he’s not the main focus, so it’s ok. He does the job he needs to do at the times upon which he’s called, but it’s Cap v Iron Man we’ve come to see really… that and the interplay between almost all of Marvel’s superheroes (except Thor and Hulk who’ve gone AWOL and the Guardians of the Galaxy lot) in one giant dust-up, plus a few other skirmishes along the way.

To do this and not give the audience a headache is really quite masterful on the part of the Russo brothers; who are really getting into their stride directing these days.

captain-america-civil-war-super-heroes

That said, there’s a point where the movie is in danger of becoming too po-faced and serious for its own good. Thank God that, at that point, Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man turn up to take the edge off most pleasingly.

Lest we forget that Marvel’s strength tends to be in light-hearted banter amid the mayhem, so it’s good that they didn’t go too far down the DC path, past the point of no return at least.

CaptainAmericaCivilWar_Trailer2

At the end of the day we all know people in costumes are somewhat ridiculous, so it’s important to burst the bubble at regular intervals – and the final third of the movie moves into much more welcome territory. Overall, it may actually be the best Marvel film yet (I’ve yet to see Ant-Man, but from the scenes in this film it has to be on my ‘to watch’ list in the near future).

And as a final thought, props to the filmmakers for how they’ve portrayed Black Panther. With his cat-like reflexes, sharp claws and black suit he’s got to be up there as one of the coolest superheroes we’ve seen in a while. A solo film following this character would be a pretty savvy choice bet I’d say.

Roll on the next one…

3058531-1280_captain_america_civil_war_black_panther

 

Deadpool: Never a hero

Film

It’s taken a while but Ryan Reynolds has finally been allowed to do what he wants on screen. More or less. And Deadpool is pretty much the perfect character for him. He IS Ryan Reynolds. Kind of. For his version is complete with pegging, teabagging and masturbation jokes, which all come thick and fast (pun intended) and half of which you’ll probably miss first time round but that’s OK, just see it again.

It’s not just the Reynolds show though, all films are a team effort and the more the filmmakers have pushed the envelope here, the better the results. And it’s clear, from the marketing materials pre-release to Reynolds’ take on the character, everyone was pulling towards the same goal. And, let’s face it, antiheroes are far more fun to watch than straight up heroes anyway. As Deadpool says time and again, he’s no hero and continually resists the call, but that’s kind of the point.

He also pokes fun at the whole superhero concept, regularly breaking the fourth wall to address the audience directly on how absurd everything seems to be. Meta and meta and meta some more.

Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) reacts to Colossus’ (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) threats.

One slight negative to note is that – despite this being very funny for large parts – plot wise it’s thin to say the least. And that’s as good a place as any to start, in terms of a review.

So we kick off with a scene on a freeway (seen in the trailer) where Deadpool lays into a host of bad guys, then flip to his backstory where, as former special forces chap turned mercenary Wade Wilson, he spends his time roughing up puny geeks. Clearly he’s coasting and rather aimless.

-Deadpool-2016-Promotional-Photo-deadpool-2016-38719908-1000-667

Then he meets Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), falls in (kinky) love and, before he can enjoy it all, gets well and truly floored by cancer. So he opts for an experimental treatment conducted by unhinged (obviously British) evil scientist Ajax (Ed Skrein) who – in an effort to release his mutant genes – tortures and deforms him and leaves him for dead.

It works, giving him extraordinary regenerative powers but leaves him horribly disfigured. And there we have our main character’s motivation: get his grotesque body fixed (only evil Ajax can fix him), win back his girl (somehow) and get revenge. Simples.

Deadpool-Official-Photo-TJ-Miller-Gina-Carano

And that’s about it… revenge tale 101. We jump back and forth in time a lot in the first third, mostly so Reynolds can lay on the jokes as if they’re going out of fashion (although most of them do land well), and we also get to meet a couple of lesser X-Men (Collosus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead) who he recruits to help him out, but ultimately there’s not much more to it.

deadpool-gallery-07-gallery-image

Plus, as usual – and as is often the case – bad guys in Marvel movies get a rather short shrift and Ajax (Ed Skrein) is no exception. His character is so thin you feel nothing for him (and you should, because all the best baddies make you care; in that you want them to die/lose but you’re having too much fun watching how they go about achieving their evil goals).

It’s probably not Ed’s fault. He gave it a go but had little to work with and ultimately Reynolds’ Deadpool occupied the space of both hero and villain, leaving little room for anyone else of real substance. How Deadpool would fit into a larger ensemble movie is a bigger (more difficult) question, but if they can make it work with the Avengers a la Tony Stark then there’s a way.

deadpool-gallery-05

I’m torn on whether Deadpool 2 is a good idea. It feels fresh now and, if anything, they could have pushed the adult nature of it further. But maybe, MAYBE, he’s better in small doses – unless there’s a cracking story to be told. (Although I have heard that a sequel is all but confirmed now.)

In 2010 Kick-Ass shook up the superhero format emphatically and felt needed, then in 2014 Kingsman: The Secret Service did a similar thing for spy-type superhero movies. And now, in 2016, Deadpool has given superheroes yet another kick up the spandex-clad backside. Where the genre goes from now is anyone’s guess, but please Hollywood (another warning), don’t roll out a host of copycats, it won’t work and it’ll bore us all to death.

Trailer park: Ultron, Tomorrowland, Crimson Peak and Aloha

Trailer park

To butcher Led Zeppelin lyrics a little, there’s a whole lotta love out there for a whole lotta films coming out in the next few months. Too many to go through in much depth, but here’s a few I’d like to briefly pick out for your consideration.

Avengers: Age of Ultron
Ok, not everyone is a fan of this current glut of superhero films, yet this one really does look impressive. And so it should, given the budget, cast and studio muscle. At one point or another it’s all going to implode, it has to. But for now, I’m on board.

Tomorrowland
This film started life as a theme park ride and whether it turns out to be a franchise behemoth a la Pirates of the Caribbean remains to be seen. What we do know is that Clooney is attached, and he rarely joins doomed projects, so it could be a blast.

Crimson Peak
It’s high time Guillermo del Toro got back to what he does best… inhibiting a niche genre perhaps only rivalled by Tim Burton. But where Burton comes at his stories from more of an oddball outsider perspective, del Toro opts for horror and macabre fantasy.

Aloha
Ah, the sweet and observant writer-director Cameron Crowe, who doesn’t love his films? His last beautiful little story was We Bought a Zoo in 2011, so he’s been out the game a while. This looks like a good return to form with a cracking cast to boot.

Guardians of the Galaxy: release your geek

Film

“Unruly geeks change the world” ― Alexandra Robbins, The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School

In a world… That’s how those voiceover guys (and gals, occasionally) do it right? At least for the big blockbusters they tend to. Let’s start again, shall we?

In a world where big summer blockbusters dominate the box office throughout spring, summer and autumn; in a world where superheroes we’ve known for decades continually get rammed down our throat; in a world where studios get accused of playing it safe, trotting out sequel upon sequel… It’s so damn refreshing to see something different that’s been given a big budget, but also allowed the creative team behind it a lot of freedom to realise their vision.guardians-galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy is doing great numbers at the box office. Audiences seem to be taking to it. Is it just the power of Marvel studios? Trot out any old half decent film and we’ll buy into it? I don’t think so. Modern audiences (especially comic books fans) are too savvy for that, their power to sway internet message forums is simply too strong.

To put it another way, Guardians is good. It’s entertaining, bright, breezy, moves along at a fair old pace but not an overwhelming one. Plot wise it’s solid. Not overly complicated, not too simple. And it’s funny, very funny.

Individual characters get some great lines, but when you team up this newly formed gang you don’t half get some zingers. Some of the best lines (or moments more accurately) come from a tree that can only say three words.Yondu-in-Guardians-of-the-Galaxy
The geeks shall inherit the earth. A phrase you’ve no doubt heard before. Well, with Marvel Studios and directors like Rian Johnson, Joss Whedon, J.J. Abrams, Guillermo del Toro and others, that happened a long time ago. Films like the Avengers gave us a team on earth. Some geeky (Bruce Banner), some cool (Tony Stark), all of them outsiders. And that’s probably a large part of why this film is doing well. It’s a ragtag bunch of outsiders. Loveable ones.

So where’s the next step after geeks inherit the earth? Space of course. If you’re not fully clued up on Guardians think of it this way: part Star Trek, part Galaxy Quest, part Star Wars. As a lead – the alpha male if you will – we have Chris Pratt, whose character is a kind of modern version of Han Solo, but a bit more of a goofball.

His performance really does drive the whole thing along. He’s practically in every scene and very compelling as a leading man. There’s no doubt he’ll be competing with Star Trek’s Chris Pine for future similar roles. God knows Hollywood is crying out for new leading men who are a bit different.
Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-Star-Lord-Gamora-kiss
There’s also Rocket, a raccoon like creature voiced by Bradley Cooper. We all know Cooper can do comedy but he works wonders with this character and gives him genuine depth and believability (as far as you can believe a machine-gun-wielding raccoon outlaw has depth).

Groot, the walking tree voiced by Vin Diesel, was one of the true surprises of the film, proving that you don’t need dialogue to have a profound impact. Then there’s Zoe Saldana’s Gamora. Switching from Avatar blue to racy space green she fitted nicely into this motley crew of galactic losers, sorry guardians. She even managed to maintain an effective bit of chemistry with Pratt’s Star-Lord. Will they? Won’t they?guardians-of-the-galaxy-rocket-raccoon-what-did-we-learn-from-the-guardians-of-the-galaxy-preview
Dave Bautista’s Drax the Destroyer made up the rest of the gang. Often acting as the dense one, taking comments as literally as you can for comic effect, his performance was, actually, surprisingly funny as a result. Not bad for a former wrestler. Where Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson leads, others will follow I suppose.

So, those geeks eh? Not content with inheriting earth, they’ve aimed their sights at space. Still, this is hardly news. Star Trek – one of the true original geek shows – has been doing this for years. Now that Marvel have got in on the act be prepared for more space adventures. Not just from them as a studio, but probably others too. I’m sure DC will eventually catch up with their roster of space heroes and villains.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But as far as stepping in a new direction goes, Marvel has laid down the gauntlet pretty smartly with this film… And it’s paid off. Hurrah to them. And hurrah to the geeks and outsiders. We salute you.

Now where did I leave my light saber?

Move over Megan Fox… you have competition!

TV

There’s a conspiracy going on in TV at the moment. Or at least some sort of coincidence. There seems to be quite a few actresses knocking around that look rather like Megan Fox.

Ok, well, two that have caught my eye lately. In both cases, you don’t have to agree with me that the resemblance is more than a passing one, but let’s just say that they’re both stunningly gorgeous brunettes and leave it at that, shall we?

Chloe Bennet – Skye, Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Born Chloe Wang in 1992 in Chicago to a Chinese father and American mother, she moved to Beijing at an early age to pursue a pop career. So… landing the role in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. represents, by far, her biggest gig to date. Clever casting by the show’s creators too, as she plays a very Joss Whedon-esque character. Consider this: If this show is the natural evolution of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, then Bennet as hacker activist Skye (recruited into S.H.I.E.L.D. early on) seems very much in the Buffy mould. Smart, sassy, and achingly beautiful.Chloe Bennet as Skye in Agents of SHIELD
SPOILER ALERT: if you’re still watching season 1 the clip below should be avoided.


Jessica Stroup
– Max Hardy, The Following
Newcomer to season 2 of this show, Stroup – best known for her role in Beverly Hills 90210 – is the niece to Kevin Bacon’s dogged protagonist Ryan Hardy. She plays a New York detective who, in order to become closer to her uncle, helps him chase down factions of serial killer Joe Carroll’s (James Purefoy) cult early in the season. With her piercing blue eyes and gorgeous looks, she’s a welcome addition to the show. Her character Max also humanises Ryan Hardy, giving him someone to care for as they both chase down the killers as a niece-uncle combo.
jessica-stroup-the-following-interview

Can Disney save Star Wars?

My musings

Upon hearing the news that Disney have recently acquired Lucasfilm I asked myself this question. Good old George, the 68-year-old filmmaker sold Lucasfilm for $4.05bn (£2.5bn), my initial reaction was not exactly excitement, more tentative hope.

Lucas is more or less a pensioner and his heart went out of making these films a long time ago. In some ways I’m amazed he managed to get the latest trilogy off the ground at all. Selling to Disney at this point was perfect timing and great business sense. How many other pensioners do you know that increase their fortunes by $4bn a couple of years before they turn 70? No wonder he looks smug.

He has said he wants to pass the franchise on to a new generation of filmmakers, with episode 7 being set for release in 2015. Episodes 8 and 9 will naturally follow, completing a 9-film trilogy spanning decades. Quite a legacy.

The force is strong in this one
Some die-hard fans have been moaning that Disney without Lucas means the corporation will be butchering the beloved world Lucas has created. I think that’s unfair.

Disney has moved on in the last 10 years. It’s worth pointing out they have a savvy – albeit slightly bullish – track record of acquisitions, with Pixar in 2006 ($7.4bn), Marvel in 2009 ($4.2bn) and now Lucasfilm in 2012 ($4bn).

With Marvel and Pixar, Disney have – to their credit – allowed these studios to approach their films, characters and stories in a way that stays true to their philosophy.

For Marvel, they’ve also chosen wisely in terms of Directors: Kenneth Branagh (Thor), Jon Favreau (Iron Man), Joss Whedon (Avengers). When Disney and Pixar merged in 2006, it was explicitly laid out that Pixar would maintain its identity and creative control, allowing this has meant their philosophy of filmmaking has continued and given us films such as: Up (2009), Toy Story 3 (2010) and Brave (2012).

I see no reason why Disney won’t continue in a similar fashion with new Star Wars films. This cinematic franchise has been around a hell of a lot longer than Marvel or Pixar films, with an incredibly devoted fan base to match.

I don’t believe it. That is why you fail
Make no mistake episode 7 is going to be a massive challenge for whichever Director Disney put in charge. It will be a continuation of Luke, Leia and Han’s story, so it’s completely new territory. There has been brief – probably comical – mention of the original actors returning, but they’re all pensioners now and it’s not worth entertaining the thought.

I’m not going to start dictating the best way Disney should approach these films, I genuinely have faith they’ll treat the brand with respect – and hopefully take it back towards the look and feel of the original films.  Either way, Lucas remains a ‘consultant’ for the next trilogy, so his reign of terror is largely over. Onwards and upwards!

avengers natasha romanoff

Marvel – masters of the cinematic universe

My musings

For this posting I’d like to discuss the evolution of the Marvel universe. I recently – finally – got around to seeing The Avengers. Or, as it’s known in the UK, Avengers Assemble (damn you, Steed).

I have to say, having unavoidably seen and heard many reviews, I was worried I wouldn’t enjoy it and be expecting too much. Would it live up to the hype? Would it feel rushed/crowded with so many larger-than-life characters jostling for screen time? Well, much like everybody else, I found it thoroughly enjoyable. Great pacing, great action, great characters, great dialogue.

avengers natasha romanoffPlus all the Avengers were given – more or less – an equal amount to do, including the new characters: Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. The latter unsurprisingly well written, given writer/director Joss Whedon’s affinity for strong, female characters (Buffy et al).

So, before this becomes an Avengers review, back to the subject in question. I had a vague awareness of the fact there’s been quite a few films over recent years that have come out of the Marvel studio. However when you really look, it seems like an unstoppable wave. To name the live-action films we’ve had since 1998:

  • 5 X Men (2000, 2003, 2006, 2009, 2011)
  • 4 Spider Man (2002, 2004, 2007, 2012)
  • 3 Blade (1998, 2002, 2004)
  • 2 Iron Man (2008, 2010)
  • 2 Hulk (2003, 2008)
  • 2 Fantastic Four (2005, 2007)
  • 2 Ghost Rider (2007, 2012)
  • 1 Thor (2011)
  • 1 Captain America (2011)
  • 1 Avengers (2012)

I’ve left off the experiments that were Daredevil, Elektra and Man Thing, simply because they weren’t hugely successful and it’s unlikely there will be a follow up to any of these in the near future. Therefore I’m only including films where the characters have appeared more than once in the Marvel cinematic universe. So, from 1998 to 2012 (that’s 14 years, keep up), we’ve had 23 films. That’s 1.6 films a year! I’m not sure if what I’m expressing here is good shock or bad shock? Perhaps both.

snipes dorff bladeLooking ahead
I suppose, with this sort of prolific output, you’ll have successes and failures. In recent years, they’ve begun to have more of the former, both critically and commercially. For every mediocre Daredevil or Fantastic Four you’ll get a decent Spider Man or Blade.

Or, if you’re really lucky, strike complete gold and unearth Robert Downey Jr. A man born to play Tony Stark. Don’t believe me? Watch some of his early work, like Natural Born Killers. Check out this classic scene. For me, if you take his character there, throw in a little Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Tropic Thunder, you’ll get Tony Stark. Perhaps a leap but it makes sense to me!

Don’t stop us now
With recent successes of the Avengers’ characters, both in their ensemble film and stand-alone outings, the plan for Marvel films over the next few years is looking quite exciting. Next year we’ll get a second from the blonde Asgardian, Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 3.  In 2014 we’ll have, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, plus – most intriguingly – a massive departure from the norm with Guardians of the Galaxy. A film which has a sentient tree and a raccoon with a gun as main characters.

I can’t say I’m excited about this one…yet. Although I do approve of the concept art above. What I like is that you cannot accuse Marvel of resting on their laurels or playing it too safe. That, in itself, is reason to be quietly optimistic. But I guess we’ll see. Oh, and there’s also a second Avengers due out 2015, just in case Guardians doesn’t go as planned.

Defenders of the universe
So, on the whole, I think it’s great Marvel are mixing it up. Yes, they’re putting out films for a lot of their mainstream superheroes, but they’re safer bets. Keeps the money coming in. They could just sit on that but, like any industry, if you’re not moving forward you’re doing the opposite.

So introducing a new host of characters is brave, yet wholly necessary. Eventually we’ll get sick of superhero films and want westerns or zombie films for a few years or something. But, if Marvel keep freshening things up, maybe we’ll stay a while longer. Maybe a character called Rocket Raccoon is just what’s called for – long live diversity!