Friday, 8 October 2010

Iron Man 2

(M) ★★

Director: Jon Favreau.

Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson.

This was the moment the International Whip Cracking Championships decided to introduce drug testing.

ONE of the biggest problems with superhero franchises is that in an effort to go one better than their predecessors, sequels get crammed full of more characters, more action scenes and generally just more of everything.

It's this method that sunk the pre-Nolan Batman movies and Raimi's Spider-man 3 and it's a worry that a similar rot seems to be creeping in so early in the strong-starting Iron Man series.

Having revealed he is Iron Man at the end of the first film, Tony Stark (Downey Jr) is now dealing with the consequences - the US government wants the suit and Stark is fighting a losing battle to stop the power going to his head.

The suit is also affecting his health but that might be the least of his worries thanks to the appearance of Ivan Vanko (Rourke), a Russian physicist who recasts himself as Whiplash to exact revenge on Stark.


Looking at Iron Man 2 objectively, it's not a good film. There are plot-holes big enough to fit Stark's ego in and the script feels like its key action sequences were written first and the rest of the story was forced to tenuously join the dots, with the worst example being the F1 race near the start of the film that serves as Whiplash's introduction. It's an exhilarating set-piece but its presence is frustratingly incongruous.

As the script struggles to latch on to a direction, the excellent array of characters flitter in and out, and proper plotting is supplanted by a messy story that stumbles from explosion to explosion.

Another downside is that positives of the first film have been amped up into negatives - the humour that made it so great now borders on cheesy and the sketchy hyper-reality of Iron Man's world is stretched to new levels of ludicrousness.

But...

Subjectively, as a fan of Marvel and the first movie, I really enjoyed it, in spite of the plotholes, the increased cheesiness and the extra ludicrousness. Stark is a great character wonderfully realised by Downey Jr, the supporting cast is great, particularly Rourke, the comic book's qualities shine through, and the widening of the Marvel universe reduced me to a giggling fanboy. I laughed in spite of the cheese. I was thrilled by the action sequences despite the plotting making little sense at times.

So I'm torn, as I was with Watchmen. My inner comic book nerd loved that movie, but as a film reviewer I could see the cracks, and Iron Man 2 has some pretty big cracks in its shiny metal suit. Fans will be satisfied, even if it doesn't match the nuanced and well-rounded brilliance of the first film. But many will be disappointed with this seemingly rushed follow-up.

Friday, 10 September 2010

The Other Guys

(M) ★★

Director: Adam McKay.

Cast: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Steve Coogan, Michael Keaton, Eva Mendes.


"It's Donnie from New Kids On The Block! I love those guys!
Hey jump in the photo, why don't ya?"
FIRST, the good news: the combination of Ferrell and Wahlberg is a great one and their chemistry elevates this comedy.

The bad news: the combination of Ferrell and Wahlberg is still not enough to save this misfire.

It's disappointing because the potential here is huge. After a rambunctious opening involving NYPD's top cops Highsmith and Danson - played with great cheek by Samuel L Jackson and Dwayne Johnson - the film pulls the carpet out from under the viewer by killing them off quickly in horribly tone-breaking and idiotically absurd fashion.

Their deaths pave the way for two other cops to step up and become heroes of the city, and disgraced short-fused officer Terry Hoitz (Wahlberg) and his mismatched accountancy-loving partner Allen Gamble (Ferrell) hope it will be them.

But to become the best of the best, Hoitz and Gamble have to solve a case, and the script has a hard time finding a straight-ahead one for them to investigate, leaving the plot to wander aimlessly for much of the running time as they chase a shoddy businessman (Coogan) and get chased by a number of shadowy forces.


One of the biggest problems is that The Other Guys is unsure of what kind of film it wants to be. After its promising opening, it seems destined to become a kind of buddy cop/action parody and this is when it works best - the real ramifications of being close to a huge explosion is one of the funnier moments, although the realistic laughs in the face of blockbuster conventions clashes badly with the unwieldly absurdist moments that are commonplace throughout.

The film also wants to make some kind of satirical comment about the Global Financial Crisis, as evidenced by its end credit graphics detailing corporate excess and how a ponzi scheme works, but aside from a handful of throw-away moments, this attempt at making a statement is almost non-existent.

What we're left with is an uneven comedy that has a major fail rate for laughs. Many potentially hilarious set-ups go begging because of botched punchlines and it seems as if Ferrell's best improvs have somehow been left on the floor (in fact, some of the trailer's funniest moments aren't even in the film or have been changed for lesser takes).

It's only when Ferrell and Wahlberg go head-to-head that The Other Guys sparkles and its unfortunate that such a good pairing is wasted. You almost wish for a sequel just so they can make the most of this chemistry second time around.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Inception

(M) ★★★★★

Director: Christopher Nolan.

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard.

Let's face it. We've all seen a hotel corridor do this after a big night on the booze.
YOU'LL need to pay close attention to keep up with the dreamworld machinations of this mind-blowing heist movie, which is one of the first blockbuster classic of the '10s.

But you'll want to pay close attention anyway, because you won't want to miss a second of this thought-provoking spectacular.

To say too much about the plot would be a mistake, as the pleasure of watching Christopher Nolan's unpredictable thriller unravel in unexpected and inventive ways is half the fun.

All you need to know is that Leonardo DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, the leader of a team of thieves that specialises in stealing ideas from people's subconscious by entering their dreams.


What follows is an elaborate cerebral actioner that delves into the power of the mind and blurs dreams and reality in exciting ways. It plunges the audience into dreams within dreams, resulting in some incredible sequences including a zero-g fight in a hotel corridor, a slow-mo explosion in a Parisian street, and the remarkable sight of watching the world fold in on itself.

But the film would be nothing without heart, but through DiCaprio's troubled Cobb and Cillian Murphy's billionaire heir Robert Fischer we get two emotional cores to help balance Inception's brainy concepts.

These concepts (which are Matrix-esque and then some) drive the movie, which makes it a bit exposition-heavy, but the ideas are fascinating and backed by great performances and jaw-dropping visuals so you won't mind the endless explaining.

This is not a movie for everyone. Comments heard while leaving the cinema included "I didn't get it - that was crap", "What a waste of time and money", and "It put me to sleep". But if you liked The Matrix and dig non-linear plotting, enjoy.

If you're looking for a big dumb actioner to switch your brain off to, don't bother. If you don't like actually paying attention to an entire movie, don't bother. If you don't like a movie to challenge you in unique ways, don't bother.

But if you're looking for a classic-in-waiting that will keep you guessing and thinking while you pick your jaw up off the floor, don't miss Inception.