Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Iron Man 3 Review

Back in 2008, Marvel Studios restored some pride and integrity back into the “Marvel superhero” genre with Jon Favreau’s Iron Man. Favreau’s feature showed that a great combination of engaging writing and characters, with exhilarating set-pieces and action, could create a highly successful and highly regarded blockbuster. 5 years later, Shane Black’s addition to the Iron Man franchise has to rectify the issues instigated by Iron Man 2 and manage to complement last year’s impressive The Avengers. 

After his near-death experience during events of The Avengers, Tony Stark is suffering from the mental anguish and subsequent anxiety attacks as his relationship with Pepper and his persona as the “Iron Man” is put under the test. Meanwhile the terrorist leader known as The Mandarin, is organising the destruction of the US through a series of bombings using Aldrich Killian’s unstable “Extremis” serum. 

Like its predecessor, Iron Man 3 suffers from fundamental problems in its writing, especially in its mishandling of characters. In hindsight it’s a real shame as Black and Drew Pearce have clearly tried to set a darker tone that attempts to balance the entertaining action with “human” drama. Rebecca Hall’s Maya Jansen, is a perfect example of the film’s unfortunate lapses in character development. Immediately introduced in the film’s opening, she’s given a context to the “Extremis” formula, the foundations of a charming personality and a “minor” romance with Tony Stark. She’s then completely forgotten about, managing to reappear midway through the second act for absolutely no reason or explanation, to then be rendered completely pointless. Similarly Don Cheadle only proves to serve as Tony or the President’s lackey for the majority of his scenes. Thus the fan-hype surrounding the Iron Patriot is defused into yet another suit with a paint-job that’s utterly redundant. 
Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin is a genuinely interesting character whose threatening menace is shown through his flamboyant appearance, ruthless actions and “unique” accent. Kingsley really relishes the freedom offered by the role and thrives with it. Yet some horrendous writing during the third act undoes everything he’s crafted and built into the character, merely reducing him into an insulting mess of insignificance. Even the lead protagonist doesn’t survive the rather problematic nature of the film’s script. Tony Stark’s “debilitating” mental anguish is conveniently solved by the philosophical reasoning of a child, rather than using this narrative element as a persistent source of tension and threat to the character, which would have been far more interesting.  Add the tiresome use of cheap pratfalls and slapstick humour, and the screenplay is a bit of a shambles that doesn’t have the intrigue or consistency of the first Iron Man. 

However even with the gaping flaws surrounding the characters and their intentions, the excellent cast manages to overcome some of the issues. Robert Downey Jr offers his same charismatic and enjoyable performance that flourishes under the name of Tony Stark. His romantic relationship with Pepper is far more prominent than in the previous instalments, and still maintains the charm and chemistry. Paltrow’s performance is an impressive one that shows the strengths and faults of her character’s bond with Tony. However I still feel that the couple faired better in The Avengers, even with their limited screen-time, and managed to form a cohesive and poignant relationship without the need for the “damsel in distress” methodology that unfortunately overpowers Iron Man 3’s last act. Supporting cast wise, the likes of Guy Pearce and James Badge Dale offer some intense and sinister moments even when their characters are deflated by the script in humorous ways. 

So what does Iron Man 3 do right? Simply put, its action and visuals. With a great mixture of small-scale brawls and large explosive fights, Black persists in the intensity and energy we’ve come to expect from the series and from Marvel’s blockbusters. The final fight is a fan’s wet dream as 30 Iron Men face off against the Extremis test subjects in a frantic “Battle Royale”. Even with some minor blips in the visual effects Iron Man 3 looks fantastic. From the snow-covered communities of Tennessee to Tony's accommodation in Malibu, the film has a stunning contrast of colours, tones and designs that really bring the look together. The sense of weight and speed to each confrontation is gloriously mapped onto the character models and the amount of detail on Tony’s battle-damaged armour is astonishing. By the end, watching him jumping between different suits is an exhilarating flux of fluid animation and meticulous arrangement. 

Iron Man 3, like its predecessors, has the scale and action befitting a superhero film. And while that and Robert Downey Jr. may be the sole reasons for people to flood their local cinemas, Black and Pearce have attempted to add something darker and human. Yet even with its intense set-pieces and impressive visual effects, the film can’t escape the problematic nature of its writing. Whether its the ill-structured narrative or the throw-away attitude to its characters, Iron Man 3 left a disappointing end to an initially promising trilogy. 

RespawningCouch Podcast: Audio Review: Iron Man 3

This week I review the highly anticipated sequel in the Iron Man franchise. Does Shane Black manage to bring back the charm and enjoyable impact of the first? 

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Favourite Film and TV Characters: The Dark Knight Rises’ Bane

While The Dark Knight Rises remains a film that has split the fans, Tom Hardy’s Bane has been universally met with approval. I’d go as far as arguing that he was the most notable character of 2012. From his strong physical presence to his unique voice, Bane offered a significant challenge to the Bat that was evident during his screen time. The original character of Bane is a complex one that, as with the very nature of the comic book industry, has a variety of backstories and personalities. The initial creation of the character had been for the sole purpose of breaking Batman’s back during the Knightfall storyline in the early 1990s. However the sheer popularity surrounding him resulted in the character becoming a regular villain in the Batman franchise. 

My first exposure to Bane was through Joel Schumacher’s horrendous Batman and Robin. Subsequently and understandably, the character cemented himself as a Luchadore with an terrible case of uncontrollable rage. It was only through reading Knightfall and Bane’s other comic appearances that he revealed himself to be a more engaging and profound individual. While the general populace see him as a giant brute with the capability of toppling buildings and picking up cars, there’s a tragic angle that distinguishes him from the likes of Killer Croc and Scarecrow. Surprisingly I’m not a massive fan of Knightfall, primarily because it’s rather dated. The writing and the art obviously resonates with hardcore fans of Batman, but the comic never clicked for me. This was Bane’s first appearance and while it was an intriguing one, it left more to the imagination than the series was actually capable of showing and facilitating, which inevitably was the problem of his original purpose. Nolan’s Bane, on the other hand, offered a realistic perspective that was genuinely more interesting and confounding . 

After Heath Ledger’s Joker stole the entirety of The Dark Knight, Rises was always going to have a tough time replicating the sheer impact and presence that he brought to film. The choice of Bane was undoubtably a challenge for both the film’s writers and fans to wrap their heads around. Taking a drug fuelled, “mexican wrestler” and framing him within the context of Nolan’s gritty and realistic world wasn’t an easily comprehendible notion. Yet the end result offered both a clever and physically impressive adversary that was distinctive and undoubtably inspiring. 

At the heart of my love for the character is Tom Hardy. Hardy’s performance, both physically, vocally, and especially through his eyes, was a captivating one that managed to surpass the impact of much of the film’s cast. His physique silenced some of the hardcore fans, but more importantly was the fact that he and Nolan used their freedom with the character to bring something different. This villain wasn’t simply a fully-charged brute, but like the comics he was an highly intelligent and formidable antagonist.

His voice, while criticised, has a menace and bellow that resonated throughout the film. Apparently Hardy drew inspiration from Bartley Gorman, an Irish traveller and boxer known as the “King of the Gypsies”. Other sources have linked him using the likes of Richard Burton and other British actors to formulate the voice. Either way it still remains distinctive and effective. The distorted and mechanical mix and various inflections resulted in simple chit-chat and breathing seeming a lot more threatening and fierce. Meanwhile, his appearance channels a militaristic but constricted look. The mask and the general abundance of straps showed a character restraining his descent into sheer pain-induced rage, but one that’s visually striking as he stand over a crippled Batman. The physical prowess is there through Hardy’s toned physique, and so too was the scarred mien from his tormented ordeal in “The Pit” and his past. 

But where Hardy’s performance surprisingly succeeded was the manner in which he captured Bane’s human side. Behind the “swagger” that persists through his taunts and general laid back attitude as he watches Gotham fall, there was a mysterious and emotional angle to the character. His origins and early existence are all shrouded in ambiguity, with his adoption into “The League of Shadows” and his relationship with Talia Al Ghul providing an more ardent exploration into his psyche than was previously expected. His expulsion from the League and dismissal by Ra’s Al Ghul hinted at a darker and vindictive expansion of the character that went beyond the intentions and notions the group stood for. Meanwhile the tears he sheds towards Talia proved to be an unexpectedly, fascinating divulgence that offered a touching moment showing a robust chemistry between the two. In some respects it’s pretty impressive to see a character suddenly exposed in an almost sympathetic light. And this is where Bane differed from the previous antagonists of the trilogy. While Ra’s Al Ghul and the Joker offered a constant state of unpredictability throughout the course of the films, their onscreen persona’s did little to change from the madness and panic that surrounded them. Here for this solitary scene, we’re shown the tragedy and frailties of Bane’s character. And that proved to be more intriguing then the rest of the film and his anti-climatic exit. 

I really like The Dark Knight Rises even with its flaws and problems. But Bane in particular stood out. From a great idea in concept and writing, his comic book persona caught an interesting balance within Nolan’s perspective. Bringing him back to a more “human” character with more of an emotional stake in the narrative and characters, Bane offered a distinctive looking and sounding adversary to the omnipotent Batman. Tom Hardy’s great performance managed to add something other than a physical presence, and less of the stereotypical hulk many understand the character to be. Even with the endless parodies and impersonations, Bane still remains captivating to watch and undoubtably one of my favourite film characters. 

Monday, 22 April 2013

RespawningCouch Podcast: Film Stuff and Injustice: Gods Among Us Game Review

This week I talk a bit about new releases and recent film trailers. I then review Netherrealm Studios latest fighting game Injustice: Gods Among Us.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Bullhead Review (2011)

Released back in 2011 and nominated for the 2012 Foreign Language Film Oscar, Bullhead only arrived in UK cinemas this February. Losing to Iranian film A Separation, the film’s director Michael Roskam has already been heralded as “One Director to Watch” after his debut feature film and it’s easy to see why. The plot centres on Jackie Vanmarsenille, a cattle farmer with an unhealthy addiction to hormonal medication and steroids. He is persuaded into the illegal dealings with corrupt West-Flemish traders and soon finds himself being investigated by the police. 

My main issue with Bullhead lies in its narrative structure. Michael R. Roskam has written a film that on the surface, is a character study of Jackie’s troubled existence within the context of the cattle “mafia”. The film really hits hard during its exposure of Jackie’s childhood which leave a lasting impression that personifies the turbulent final acts. Themes of drug abuse and sexuality build on his character’s young tribulations and manage to provide a semblance of empathy and humanity in an otherwise emotionally stern tale. However Roskam tries to implement too many additional story elements. A shallow romance, an undercover police investigation and a murder are pieced together without any substance or cohesion. The film simply feels conflicted. While it successfully develops an engaging and thought-provoking lead character, it fails to substantially invest in its encompassing drama and story. 

Matthias Schoenaerts’ performance is minimalist but manages to capture the inner torments and the fragility of his physically brutish character. His incapability to interact with other individuals and general volatility creates an unpredictability to his actions that lingers until the end. Meanwhile the supporting cast is a mixed bag, with the majority unfortunately fading to the background and rarely proving to be anything interesting.

Visually, overly long establishing shots and pretentious imagery are a minor faults in an otherwise stellar looking film that captures both the quiet nature of the Danish landscape and the contrasting neon glow from its “red light districts” and clubs. Simultaneously, the film’s music successfully accompany the sweeping shots and harsh emotional tones. 

Even with its narrative faults, Michael R. Roskam’s first feature film proves to be a strong debut and a respectable nomination for the 2012 Oscars. While a general lack of humanity squanders its attempt to build a consistant emotional investment, an engaging lead and truly distinctive character study presents Bullhead as a tough but powerful film that’s definitely worth a watch.  


Saturday, 13 April 2013

RespawningCouch Podcast: Audio Review: The Place Beyond The Pines

This time I review Derek Cianfrance's latest film The Place Beyond The Pines, starring Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

RespawningCouch Podcast: Audio Game Review: Bioshock Infinite

After numerous delays does the long awaited addition to the Bioshock franchise live up to the hype. Is this yet another "Game of Our Generation"?  NO SPOILERS

RespawningCouch Podcast: Audio Game Review: Tomb Raider

Leaning towards the "Gaming" side of the podcast. I review Crystal Dynamic's reboot of the well-established Tomb Raider franchise. Does it succeed?