Posted in Movie Blog, tagged Black Widow, Captain America The Winter Soldier, DC, Guardians of the Galaxy, Iron Man, Iron Man 3, Jon Favreau, kidnapping as a plot device, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Lethal Weapon, Loki, Marvel, Marvel Universe, Movies set at Christmas, Natasha Romanoff, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, Robert Downey Jr, Shane Black, Steppingstone to The Avengers 2, The Avengers, The Avengers 2, The Justice League, The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Thor The Dark World, Tony Stark, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures on April 28, 2013 |
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I am not going to review Iron Man 3, why bother there are probably already three hundred reviews online, most of them by better reviewers than me and some of them who actually got paid for the privilege! However I couldn’t let the movie come and go without passing comment, after all, it is a significant movie in the history of Marvel and given the significance of Marvel in recent movie history that makes it a significant movie full stop!
When it was announced that Jon Favreau would not direct the third Iron Man movie no one would expect the chosen a director to be one whose only other movie was flop nearly a decade ago. However anyone who has seen the fantastic Kiss Kiss Bang Bang will know that Shane Black was the perfect choice. Possibly the first step in the resurrection and reinvention of Robert Downey Jr.s career. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was smart, funny and dark, the perfect movie of Downey Jr. just like Iron Man. Better known as a writer, Black is responsible for the Lethal Weapon movies, The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodnight as well as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It therefore comes as no surprise that he brings a lot of dark comedy to the charter, possibly even more than in the first two movies. This really works taking the movie to a different level, making it equally as good as, if not better than the first movie and certainly righting the wrongs of the second movie. It is also filled with other Black trade marks: kidnapping as a plot device, black comedy, set at Christmastime. But these are little more than window dressing and comfort blankets for the director. The real flair is the self awareness he brings to a character trying to rebuild himself.
I started writing something a few years ago (I don’t think I ever finished it) about how the characters in films (if they were real people in the real world) would go back to their daily lives after a significant event. For example, John McClane may be good at taking down a group of terrorists, but what’s he like as a detective doing a day to day job? This was touched upon in the third Die Hard movie but never explored. I didn’t expect to see it explored in a superhero movie through the eyes of the hero character, a brave and risky plot with a character that is seminal to the future of The Avengers franchise as well as the hugely profitable Iron Man movies. This is achieved through Stark’s inability to deal with the aftermath of the events of The Avengers. This along with a plot device that I won’t spoil, results in Stark spending a lot of time out of the Iron Man suit, this is a good thing and a brave choice. The film is at its best at these times. Without straying into reviews or risking plot spoilers, the villains are perfectly conceived and portrayed, there are also seamlessly intertwined with the stark/Iron Man plot. This is a movie written as a movie, a complete and integrated story and not one where a committee has listed all the elements and plot points that have to be shoehorned in.
Back to the significance of the movie. The first Iron Man existed as a sci-fi movie set on the edge of reality, this places the character closer to The Dark Knight than Thor (leading to the question how will Batman fit into DC’s hero collective, The Justice League?), whose introduction, along with the rest of the Avengers marked a movement more towards total fantasy. Where the Avengers dropped the characters, if not the audience into this new world without warning, Iron Man 3, drags us back, takes a look at what happened then lets us move on. This is an important step for the franchise to take to give it a future, it creates a neat bridge between the world of the first Iron Man and the future of the franchise. And that is the important thing. A film has to exist in a believable world that obeys its own rules or it risks alienating or distracting its audience by taking them out of the story.
So what next? The Avengers 2 is set for release in two years time and little is know about it yet. Before that Thor: The Dark World is in the can and will be in cinema’s towards the end of this year, early synopsis’ suggest a plot surrounding protecting Jane Foster from “the denizens of the dark world of Svartalfheim”. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is out next spring and is set to feature a prominent role for Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow. There is no sign of a further Hulk movie. This makes me wonder, where will the Avengers villain come from? Loki from the first Avengers movie had been introduced in the first Thor movie. Will the primary villain of the next movie be introduced in a similar way, in either Captain America: The Winter Soldier or Thor: The Dark World? I would suggest Captain America the more likely of the two simply for balance, and the balance of power in the collective. But then you have the curveball, Guardians of the Galaxy is set to go into production shortly and scheduled for release next year. It is being made by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (owners of Marvel) and not a co production, will it exist in the same universe or cross over with The Avengers? In comic books the Guardians of the Galaxy originally existed in an alternate universe within the Marvel Comics continuity but now exists in the mainstream Marvel Universe with Tony Stark/Iron Man as a member. Only time will tell, but based on what I have seen so far I am looking forward to finding out.
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Posted in Comic Book Movies, tagged Adam West, Art Deco, Batman, Batman & Robin, batman franchise, Batman Returns, Batman vs. Superman, Batman: DarKnight, Batman: Year One, Blade, Burt Ward, Catwoman, Christian Bale, Christopher Nolan, Clint Eastwood, Darren Aronofsky, DC, Following, Frank Miller, Guillermo Del Toro, Heath Ledger, Inception, Insomnia, Iron Man, Jack Nicholson, Joel Schumacher, Lee Shapiro, Marvel, Memento, Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert Downey Jr, Selina Kyle, Spider-Man, Stephen Wise, Superman, Superman II, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, Tim Burton, Warner Brothers, Wolfgang Petersen, X-Men on August 11, 2012 |
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Following last weeks thoughts on where the Batman franchise may go from here, I thought I would take a look how we got to where we are now. The Dark Knight Rises didn’t just happen, a comic book movie this big and epic but also this dark could not have been made in the 80’s or 90’s. Is the world in a darker place making such filmmaking a product of its time? Probably, but there is more to it than that. The billion dollar gross of The Dark Knight (2008) ensured that there would be a third film but things were very different before that. Batman Begins (2005) had a reasonable but unspectacular profit (it grossed around two and half times its budget). A few years before that would a big budget comic book movie have been made especially after Batman & Robin (1997).
When I started getting into movies as a kid the only comic book or super hero movies that had any credibility were Superman (1978) and Superman II (1981). Batman was best remembered for the Adam West/Burt Ward TV show from the 60’s that although it has gained a cult status now it something of a joke for a long time. Then things changed in with Tim Burtons Batman (1989). Although it is a long way from Christopher Nolan’s (very dark) Dark Knight version of Batman it was a million miles from the camp TV show. Gotham City became stylized Art Deco world that didn’t know if it belong to the future or the past. Futuristic gadgets existed alongside old cars and villains carrying Tommy guns. Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne is a gloriously awkward character, only just the right side of sanity and probably closer to Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark than Christian Bale’s Batman. The big name and star turn is Jack Nicholson as the Joker who has been unfairly forgotten in the shadow of Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. Batman Returns (1992) offered more of the same, it didn’t expand on the first film or offer anything new or different the way The Dark Knight did after Batman Begins but did boast an unforgettable Michelle Pfeiffer as Selina Kyle/Catwoman. But then it all went wrong when Joel Schumacher took over.
Before all of that Frank Miller wrote two seminal comic book series The Dark Knight Returns (1986) and Batman: Year One (1987). As well as introducing characters and storylines that their way into Nolan’s films, both books had a dark tone and themes of rebirth and redemption that we have come to associate with Batman. It also popularised the name “The Dark Knight”.
Then in a true comic book way, an unlikely hero came forward to save the genre, Blade (1998). After years of the rights to Marvel comics being sold off for TV shows and rubbish films (often with a tiny budget) Marvel studios first film was a co production with New Line Cinema. Not risking one of their big name comic books their first film and in some ways their most important was Blade. The character originated in the 1970’s as a supporting character in The Tomb of Dracula comic book. He went on to star in his own comic book as well as making appearances in various other Marvel Titles. Released in 1998 written by David S. Goyer (who also has writing credits on all three Nolan, Batman films), directed by Stephen Norrington and starring Wesley Snipes. Snipes is perfect in the lead role giving the right blend of stone faced killer, brooding hero and a little deadpan humour. The production had a relatively modest budget of around $45million and produced worldwide Gross revenue of $131million. This does not appear to be much when compared to the near $600million Iron Man took or the or the $2.5billion the three Spider-Man movies have made however without the relative success of Blade these films and the X-Men may never have been made. The sequel directed by visionary geniuses Guillermo Del Toro is even better and also introduced comic book audiences to a darker more melancholic view. Like many of his movies, there is an underlying question of who the monsters really are, and more importantly who are the real monsters.
So these are the films that created the environment that made The Dark Knight trilogy possible but what about its director. Christopher Nolan’s first feature Following (1998) is a low budget, low key affair that is well worth a look. He really made his name with the innovative and brilliant Memento (2000) before making Insomnia (2002) a remake of a Norwegian. Both films made a decent profit received critical praise. Between the first two Batman movies Nolan made The Prestige (2006), another financial success that received largely positive reviews. After the success of The Dark Knight he embarked on what appeared to be an expensive vanity project, Inception (2010), but that too was a runaway success taking over $800million and appearing at the top of many people top ten movies of 2010 (including mine). The net result of each of these movies is the same, they prove Nolan to be a bankable director that studios what to work with.
This leads to the part Warner Bros. played in the production of Nolan‘s Batman trillogy. Ultimately they hired him to make A Batman film. Prior to that, there was always going to be a Batman film but which Batman film? Early ideas involved a fifth film in the existing series and a return for director Joel Schumacher. Schumacher preferred the idea of a reboot bases on Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One he was reported to have said: “[I] owe the Batman culture a real Batman movie. I would go back to the basics and make a dark portrayal of the Dark Knight.” This is the first suggestion I have heard of for both a reboot and a darker movie. Lee Shapiro and Stephen Wise pitched an idea to Warner called Batman: DarKnight. It involved the character Man-Bat as well a plot centred around Dr. Jonathan Crane and his experiments into fear (sound familiar). This idea didn’t get off the ground, the studio instead deciding to hired Darren Aronofsky to write and direct and adaptation of Batman: Year One. He quickly brought Frank Miller in on the project as a co-writer and approached Christian Bale for the role of Batman. This idea fell by the wayside along with Clint Eastwood’s The Dark Knight Returns and a Wolfgang Petersen directed Batman vs. Superman.
I’m not necessarily saying all of these movies or events had a direct influence on Nolan and his trilogy but they are all the building blocks that made the movies possible.
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Posted in Comic Book Movies, tagged Alan Moore, Bane, Batman, Captain America: The First Avenger, Catwoman, Christopher Nolan, comic book movies, Green Lantern, Jonah Hex, Kick-Ass, Robert Downey Jr, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, The Amazing Spider Man, The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Thor, Watchmen, X Men Origins Wolverine, X-Men: First Class, Zack Snyder on July 23, 2012 |
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The release of The Dark Knight Rises has got me thinking about comic book movies. With that in mind I give you my five favourite comic book based movies released since I started blogging in February 2009.
The Dark Knight Rises: I’m still holding off on an actual review of this movie but here are a few thoughts: it is the best movie I have seen so far this year. I don’t think it is as good or as complete as The Dark Knight but it is a more than fitting conclusion to what is possibly the best trilogy of all time. The use of Bane and Catwoman (never actually referred to as catwoman) is perfectly handled and end is measured thoughtful and fitting.
Watchmen: Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Alan Moore’s seminal graphic novel set in an alternate version of our reality on the verger of nuclear war circa 1985 has a unusual place in comic book movies. It was met with relatively positive reviews and word of mouth but very quickly had a backlash. The film looks amazing and is faithful to the comic book (except the end that achieves the same end with a tweak to the story) but more importantly, more than twenty years after the publication of its source novel it is still relevant. And like Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy it deals with flawed and imperfect heroes and complicated villains.
The Avengers: Possibly jumping up the list as I had low expectations of this movie. I liked most of the movies leading up to The Avengers without loving any of them the way I love The Dark Knight. The big problem is how you bring the disparate group together in a movie with just the right blend of action and comedy. The biggest problem is how to utilise Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man (the funniest, most entertaining character and has the best movie behind him) without marginalising the other avengers. Not only has Joss Whedon done the seemingly impossible but he also made the two least significant characters (Black Widow and Hawkeye) the best.
Kick-Ass: What would happen if an ordinary everyday person decided to become a supper hero? Not billionaire Bruce Wayne, but an ordinary kid. Haven’t we seen this one before, it was called Watchmen and it failed to find the audience it deserved. Kick-Ass has a lot in common with Watchmen but is also very different from it, it is these contradictions that make it so good. It isn’t really a superhero movies and it isn’t a spoof of superhero movies either. It isn’t a comedy and but it is extremely funny at times. It is a coming of age drama, a satire on human nature and modern society and a violent bloody action movie.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: On the surface Scott Pilgrim is a similar movie to Kick-Ass but it is very different. Lighter in tone but with a very dark side. Less grounded in reality but more directly concerned with everyday issues. Depending on your point of view it is either the very cool and hip (except cool and hip probably aren’t cool or hip terns to use) or a flimsy, flashy over edited mess that is trying too hard. The casting is spot on and the action brilliantly choreographed, the script is cutting and funny but above all it is great fun.
The other comic book movies I have enjoyed in the last three and half years but didn’t quite make the list are: X-Men First Class, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger and The Amazing Spider-Man. The worst comic book movies of the time are Green Lantern, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Jonah Hex.
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Posted in Movie Blog, tagged A Study in Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle, Benedict Cumberbatch, by Mark Gatiss, Dr. John Watson, Eddie Marsan, Geraldine James, Guy Ritchie, Jared Harris, Kelly Reilly, Mark Gatiss, Mark Strong, Martin Freeman, Rachel McAdams, Robert Downey Jr, Rupert Graves, Sherlock, Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Steven Moffat, third-person omniscient narrative, Una Stubbs, Without a Clue, Young Sherlock Holmes on February 3, 2012 |
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I’m not a diehard fan of Sherlock Holmes but have enjoyed the two novels and handful of short stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle that I have read. I didn’t actually read any of them until around five years ago, the problem? Put simply like a lot of people I came to the character via the screen not the page. This is possibly because there have been so many adaptations (beating even Dracula and Robin Hood he is possibly the most portrayed movie character ever), but despite the numerous incarnations I have never been satisfied with the film and TV versions. I have always found them to be just a little dull and full of undeserved self-importance. The mixture of first person narration (via Holmes’s friend and biographer, Dr. John Watson) and third-person omniscient narrative is an important part of books giving an insight into Holmes from the point of view from an everyman. This doesn’t always translate to the screen. There is also an issue of setting; whether on television or the big screen of the cinema, the Victorian setting is rarely convincing, probably because of financial constraints but more likely a twee vision of the past.
There have been attempts to make original movies based on the characters like Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) and Without a Clue (1988). They are both great ideas but the execution is only partly successful. Now after years of been under-whelmed by adaptations there have been two successful takes on the story in a short space of time. Firstly, the 2009 film Sherlock Holmes directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson. Then a year later came the BBC TV show Sherlock created by Mark Gatiss and Steven (Doctor Who) Moffat, with Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Watson. Changing the setting from the Victorian era to the present day is the shows biggest risk but turns out to be the greatest accomplishment. The reason it works so well is the way it plays with the character within its modern setting. How he interacts with modern society and technology is both interesting and amusing. It is also fun to spot the original plots and ideas that are shoehorned into the modern stories, some more obvious than others. The second (sadly too short) series of the TV show premiered just a couple of weeks after the release of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011), the sequel to the Guy Ritchie movie.
So why do these two adaptations work so well when previous incarnations have been so dull and predictable? Firstly I think I have to say diehard Sherlock Holmes fans will probably hate them and that is why I think they are so good. The biggest criticism of films based on books that I tend to hear is that they aren’t faithful to the book. What people who say this forget or aren’t willing to admit is that books and movies are very different mediums and therefore movies shouldn’t slavishly follow the books, especially when they are telling hundred year old stories that are well known. A perfect example of this is Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman. Taking parts of the plot from graphic novels (notably Batman: Year One) but essentially creating a new story from the mythology of the character. The same is true of James Bond, although there have been many missteps along the way, the story has remained up-to-date and relevant long after Ian Fleming’s original stories had dried up.
The thing that both the new film and TV incarnations have in common is a perfect balance of when to be silly and when to be serious. That balance is different in both cases in keeping with the dynamic of the version but works equally as well. As does the casting that is perfect in both. Getting the same things right also means they get a lot of the same things wrong. The constant bickering and reconciliation between the characters is overdone as is the overplayed bromance. These in themselves are minor criticisms but could get worse if they string things out for to many sequels/seasons. They also get the supporting cast right with Una Stubbs, Rupert Graves and Mark Gatiss is the TV show, Rachel McAdams, Kelly Reilly, Eddie Marsan and Geraldine James in the films. The films also boast Mark Strong and Jared Harris amongst their villains.
If you haven’t seen the film or TV show because of any preconceptions, I hope I have convinced them to give them a go. Similarly, if you are a fan of either version but haven’t read any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories, why not start at the beginning and pick up a copy of A Study in Scarlet (first published in 1887) and start reading.
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