Avengers: Infinity War (2018) – Movie Review

avengers infinity warAnd so begins the end of an era. Everything that has happened so far in Marvel’s shared universe that began in 2008, everything has led to this moment. Avengers: Infinity War is where this decade’s worth of narrative & world-building is supposed to pay off. And that makes this film more than just another instalment in the franchise. It’s an epic moment, no less than a cinematic event.

The 19th instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and first of the two planned Avengers films that will conclude their Phase 3 plan, Avengers: Infinity War follows the all-powerful Thanos as he travels across the universe looking for infinity stones that would grant him the strength to impose his will on all of reality and finally faces the Avengers in a battle that would decide the fate of all existing lives.

Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo, Infinity War begins where Thor: Ragnarok signed off and what unfolds in the opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the story. It’s no doubt an ambitious undertaking by the Russo brothers but Captain America: Civil War proved that it’s them who were best suited for tackling this massive assignment than anyone else. And for the most part if not all, they do a pretty neat job at it.

Having been teased only in small doses until now, Infinity War puts Thanos front & centre as if it’s his movie. There is more at stake here than previous entries and in Thanos we have a supervillain who lives up to the expectations. His motivation for the sick fantasy that he wants to turn into reality isn’t as strongly appealing but it’s still serviceable. However, the film actually lacks that smooth, perfect balance the first Avengers film exhibited in all aspects.

The VFX team deserves the maximum credit, for everything from the set pieces to numerous locations to changing backdrops & settings to characters’ appearances & outfits is an end result of their work. There are plenty of moments that will make the audience cheer at the spectacle they are witnessing but it could also be exhausting, for CGI-laden action segments don’t carry that lasting effect and may become tiring after a while, which is exactly what happens here.

Cinematography is splendid, utilising IMAX cameras to capture the images in sharp detail & crisp clarity, but it also fails to make the most of the available technology by operating them in conventional fashion. Editing is brilliantly carried out, making sure the action keeps surfacing regularly to keep the interest alive but there were several scenes that it could’ve trimmed from its already demanding 149 mins runtime. And Alan Silvestri contributes with a rousing score that effectively uplifts the film’s larger-than-life aura.

Coming to the performances, barring a few exceptions, the entire ensemble of the MCU return to reprise their respective roles of the Avengers, the Guardians & their allies but it’s Josh Brolin as Thanos who impresses the most. The years of careful threading that underwent into hyping him as the biggest & baddest overlord of villainy & darkness ultimately works out in the film’s favour, as Thanos makes up for one formidable supervillain who’s far more intimidating than past Marvel antagonists and Brolin’s conquering voice makes him stand out even more.

As for the rest of the cast, Robert Downey Jr. returns as Tony Stark (Iron Man) with all his charisma & magnetic charm in tact and delivers a confidently assured input. Chris Hemsworth is even better as Thor and is bestowed with the most interesting arc of all Avengers. Chris Evans as Steve Rogers (Captain America) is no slouch either and carves his own moments to shine. Tom Holland is effortlessly captivating as Peter Parker (Spider-Man) and steals almost every scene he appears in. Others do well with what they are given but every single one of them is overshadowed by Thanos’ imposing presence.

On an overall scale, Avengers: Infinity War is an enjoyable, entertaining & satisfying extravaganza that somehow manages to live up to its enormous hype. There are plenty of unexpected surprises & unforeseen tragedies in store, plus the ending is going to hit the fans hard, but all of it would’ve left a more powerful & unforgettable impact if we didn’t already know that much of it will be undone in the next Avengers film. All in all, Avengers: Infinity War nearly pays off 10 years’ worth of investment with an exhilarating action-adventure spectacle and signs off by setting up a perfect stage for the grand finale.

 

10 out of 10 stars

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Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) – Movie Review

avengers age of ultron

The original line-up of the Avengers are back for another go: Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow and a whole bunch of new heroes in Joss Whedon’s final turn in the director’s chair for Marvel’s ensemble franchise.

What’s the story about? Well it’s pretty simple, in the wake of Loki’s attempted invasion of New York City, Tony Stark attempts to create an artificial intelligence whose sole task is to protect Earth against future threats. Of course, this backfires and the Avengers end up creating their deadly enemy, Ultron. The rumors are true: one Avenger will die and it might not be who you expect.

Is it worth watching? Well, first the good stuff: the battle between an enraged Hulk and Iron Man in an unnamed African city is the highlight of the movie and it happens around the midpoint. Supporting characters in the first film like Hawkeye, Black Widow and the Hulk finally get center stage though at the expense of old stalwarts like Thor (who becomes an inadvertent comic relief throughout most of the movie) and Captain America (who turns into a one-dimensional boy scout). Iron Man is the Jimmy Neutron of the team- a tortured genius who tries to create a solution to a problem that has yet to exist and ends up creating a Frankenstein monster of sorts- it’s not that Tony Stark is the villain but this does tie in nicely with the upcoming Captain America: Civil War movie.

This brings into focus the central weakness of the movie: namely too many characters and not enough screen time for each one to be fleshed out. The movie not only serves as an origin story for Ultron as well as new Avengers Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and the Vision but it ends up making the story a paper thin pastiche of short character building vignettes around huge swirling chaotic battle scenes- many of them too enamored with fast editing to the point that they are almost too quick to follow with the mind’s eye. Additional cameos by the Falcon, War Machine and Nick Fury only adds to its ad-hoc nature and myriad narrative.

In the end, Avengers Age of Ultron is ultimately satisfying but if you look closer, it seems to be nothing more than a placeholder for future plot lines in the upcoming Marvel Universe movie franchises.

 

7 out of 10 stars

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The Avengers (2012) – Movie Review

avengers

A colossal wave of fevered anticipation preceded the arrival of ‘Marvel’s The Avengers’, the culmination of five incredibly successful standalone films. Not only has helmer Joss Whedon weathered the immense scrutiny, he has amazingly managed to surpass the loftiest expectations with a movie that towers over the rest that have come before it, combining jaw-dropping action, tongue-in-cheek humour and poignant drama into a dazzling piece of summer blockbuster entertainment.

Proving that the whole can be so much more than the sum of its parts, Wheedon has distilled the best elements of each of the preceding movies into this assembly of Marvel superheroes- Iron Man is wiry and snarky as ever; Thor is just as Godly in his might but human in his compassion; and Captain America is still appealingly old-school. The Hulk, or Bruce Banner in his human form, is quite something else altogether though (being the only character to have a change of actor from the previous films) and all the better for it.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the one movie which ‘Avengers’ is most intimately associated with is ‘Thor’, given that both share the same villain- Thor’s adopted brother and fellow Asgardian Loki (Tom Hiddleston)- and that Wheedon did shoot the post-credits scene with Loki and S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Opening with a recurring character from that movie, Dr Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) is now assisting with experiments on the Tessaract which has quite unexpectedly displayed a life of its own.

Turns out that the fallen Loki has been drafted by an alien race to lead its invasion of Earth, using the same Tessaract as a portal to cross over from their universe to ours- and his arrival not only leads to the decimation of the S.H.I.E.L.D. base, but also the takeover of Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Dr Selvig to do his bidding. With the fate of the world in the balance, Fury activates his ‘Avengers’ initiative to gather this group of heroes, including two S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives – the Black Widow and Hawkeye.

From the outset it’s clear that there is relative poetry in Wheedon’s storytelling as he expertly weaves together the recruiting exercise by Fury and his trusted agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). The best he saves for last, so even though Thor only first appears half an hour into the movie, his is a spectacular entrance befitting a God, crossing paths with Iron Man for a thunderous one-on-one clash in the middle of the woods.

True to the spirit of the books, the assembly of these superheroes begins on a fractious note- chiefly due to Stark’s distrust of Fury and disdain for the star-and-stripes outfitted Captain America. Instead, Stark teams up with the only person he deigns as his intellectual equal- Bruce Banner- to locate the Tessaract and uncover what dirty secrets Fury has been keeping from the rest of them. The answer to the latter isn’t all too unexpected, but kudos to Wheedon for tying this little detail nicely with the events in ‘Thor’.

It will take a colossal event to bring these disparate heroes together, resulting in the first of two action set pieces in the movie that will undoubtedly qualify amongst some of the most spectacularly thrilling stuff you’ll ever see on the big screen. And just when you think it couldn’t get any better, Wheedon tops it with an even grander and absolutely breathtaking climax set in the heart of New York City.

The reason why the finale works so brilliantly is that Wheedon loves and respects each and every superhero character just as much. Wheedon gets the action pitch-perfect through reinforcing the individual powers of each one of the superheroes before uniting their strengths to form an even mightier coalition. It is nothing less than pure ecstasy when they join forces as a team, and you’ll find it difficult to resist getting up from your seat and cheering for them at various points throughout the remarkable finish.

This review however won’t be complete without a special shout-out for the Hulk, many fans of whom have been disappointed by both the Lee Ang and the later Louis Leterrier iteration of it. Here, Wheedon has finally gotten it right, blending both the character’s brains and brawn to crowd pleasing effect- even more so through some clever plotting that ensures Banner’s eventual transformation from man to beast is as rewarding as it should be.

Calling it the perfect summer blockbuster is probably not enough to do justice to just how brilliant it is, and it certainly ranks as one of the most- if not the most- entertaining and exhilarating experiences you’ll have at the movies.

 

9 out of 10 stars

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Thor: Ragnarok (2017) – Movie Review

thor ragnarok

The ultimate cinematic dilemma is how to make the next comic book movie stand out from the (many, many) others? The brilliant answer comes from director Taika Waititi and co-writers Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost – a screwball superhero action film that delivers not only intense action scenes, but also a compelling villain for the ages in a movie that may be the funniest of 2017.

For those who prefer their superheroes dark and brooding, you’ll be in for a shock. Prepare for Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster – the most polite villain we’ve seen in awhile, and one who looks to be straight out of the 1960’s “Batman” series. Chris Hemsworth as Thor is one of many returning actors/characters, only this time he really gets to flex his comedic timing on top of his Thunder God biceps. His love- hate, trust-no trust, see-saw relationship with brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is in full force, as is the rivalry and banter with The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). It’s certainly more in line with Guardians of the Galaxy than the previous Avengers installments.

As much fun as Goldblum brings to the party, this is really Cate Blanchett’s show. She is the frightening Goddess of Death, long-lost sister of Thor and Loki, and daughter of Odin (Anthony Hopkins). With a costume which is very faithful to the comics (and we get a few versions throughout the movie), Hela’s enormous powers are powerful enough to destroy Mjolnir with little effort, not to mention much of Asgard and key players within.

Of course, with that title, we know that the story revolves around what could be the end of Asgard. Joining in the fun are: Idris Elba who is back as Heimdall, Tessa Thompson as a master of one-liners Valkyrie, Karl Urban as Skurge – rewarded with a wonderful exit scene, Ray Stevenson returns as Volstagg, and rocky alien Korg who is voiced by director Waititi. Fans of the series will be happy to know other familiar faces pop up periodically – one especially magical sequence teaches Loki a quick lesson.

In addition to the main rescue story line, the powerful villains, and crazy aliens, there are numerous nods and tributes to well known storylines from the comic books (notably Planet Hulk, and Fantastic Four), and a hilarious early stage play with three cameos that sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

Special acknowledgment goes to director Taika Waititi for adeptly taking the comic book film world down a different path. While he’s mostly known for his comedic projects like Hunt for the Wilderpeople, What We Do in the Shadows, and his work on the brilliant but short-lived “Flight of the Conchords”, this is still very much a Marvel movie, with the visible fingerprints of Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby. It’s also a fantastic adventure film that sets the stage for 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War, while also featuring the best use ever of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”. This is without a doubt a great addition to the MCU.

 

9 out of 10 stars

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Begin Again (2013) – Movie Review

begin again

Rolling Stone continues to praise pretty much any movie out there that revolves around the music industry (most likely due to its slow departure into oblivion). This particular movie gets it right in a lot of ways though. The perspective of the musicians is true to life and the written music was nominated for an Oscar: it’s some of the best songs written for a movie since Almost Famous. The recording scenes are inspiring and the musical energy is palpable to the audience.

As far as the rest of the movie goes, it’s has warmth and truth in the relationships with great performances–suffering mostly from an inexperienced, yet decent, screenplay writer: it is obvious that this movie was written by a musician and not a novelist.

This movie is great If you’re looking for a romantic comedy that’s easy to watch and isn’t over sexualized to make up for the lack of drama. We all love movies like this: they’re cute and fun and about perseverance in dealing with inadequacy.

 

7 out of 10 stars

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Foxcatcher (2014) – Movie Review

A film that takes its time presenting its case, Bennett Miller’s wickedly brutal “Foxcatcher” entices audiences to learn more about the questions around us, and where they could lead. Seated firmly in the center are a trio of dazzling performances from Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, and Mark Ruffalo, all of which make a compelling case for their career best works.

Written by Oscar-nominee Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye, “Foxcatcher” tells the story of Mark Schultz (Tatum), an Olympic wrestler who befriends billionaire John Du Pont (Carell) in the mid-1980’s. Along with his brother Dave (Ruffalo) and his wife Nancy (Sienna Miller), that new relationship leads to unforeseen consequences.

At the core of this morality tale is Bennett Miller, the Oscar- nominated director of “Capote” and “Moneyball.” He allows”Foxcatcher” to study its subjects, and give the audience an in-depth understanding of all the motives involved. With the help of Cinematographer Greig Fraser, and composer Rob Simonsen, the movie’s melancholy atmosphere is truly compelling. Miller’s brilliance isn’t in things he chooses to show, but in the things he chooses not to. He draws out scenes that offer so much to the narrative. There’s still so much left on the table that we do not know, which in itself, is perfectly acceptable. Life never gives us all the answers we seek. Miller, Futterman, and Frye understand this. Material like this calls to be made into a film. I’m so glad that these three answered the call.

What Steve Carell achieves as John DuPont is not just a performance by a full embodiment. With strength and precision, he understands DuPont, a man with an extreme outlook on reality. Carell doesn’t just ask us to sympathize with John, between his awkward behavior and his constant yearning to impress his family’s legacy, he demands our understanding. If I didn’t already know about the film for the past two years, I wouldn’t have recognized him. His performance is completely focused and profound. Looking at the way he carries himself through the film, you are witnessing one of the purest creations of a character this year. When he’s not on-screen, you’re secretly wishing he was.

When it comes to Channing Tatum, I have to admit that I never FULLY understood the appeal. Discovered the young ferocious actor in Dito Montiel’s “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints” nearly a decade ago, and afterwards was only mildly entertained by his presence in films like “21 Jump Street” and “Side Effects.” What he does in Miller’s film is something beyond anything I could have ever thought he could do. Tatum doesn’t just do an imitation, he channels the inner workings of a man desperate for more. His peculiarities are richly on display as he yearns for a father figure outside of the shadow of his more successful brother. He embraces the odd DuPont, against all logical instincts, but you can see exactly why he would feel so compelled to do so.

Mark Ruffalo gives Dave the ticks and beats of an original creation. Picking at his beard (something I know all too well), constantly engaging in team leadership, and hugging his younger brother whose more of a son than anything. Ruffalo mounts himself on the perch of a loving brother just trying to create success for himself and his family. This is another solid outing for him.

Co-star Vanessa Redgrave, as John’s fragile mother, is marvelous in her short scenes while Sienna Miller adds a needed dynamic to understanding both Mark and Dave. The two women both offer compassion and balance.

“Foxcatcher” is terrifying, disturbing, and utterly engaging. A slowly unraveled piece that is risky but pays off immensely. It’s cautious yet strictly well-defined as a character study. Like all great films with great performances, its element of truth is plainly apparent. On the gray-skied farm, we will get to know three interesting men, some of which, we’ll never truly understand.

 

8 out of 10 stars

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Now You See Me – Movie Review

They say a good magician never reveals their tricks. Well, such a notion is one painfully dismissed in Louis Leterrier’s unrelenting crime thriller Now You See Me, a picture that lays all of its cards on the table, only to uncover one or two jokers in the pack.

When a collection of four aspiring magicians J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) are brought together by a mysterious individual, they unite to create the Four Horseman, revelling in the media attention surrounding their daring and unexplainable magic stunts. However following a trick whereby they rob a bank in Paris – they catch the unwanted attention of FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and colleague Alma Dray (Mélanie Laurent), as a dangerous game of cat and mouse transpires; a game that springs many surprises along the way.

If there is one aspect to Now You See Me that you simply can’t fault, it’s the entertainment value on offer, as the audience are taken on a ride along with the hapless pair of law enforcement officers, all of us equally unaware of exactly how the this seemingly nonchalant collective are committing such grandiose crimes in the name of magic. Although trashy at times, Now You See Me is relentlessly good fun, keeping the audience completely captivated right up until the bitter end, as we desperately try to figure out how this picture may conclude.

Unfortunately, however, it is the very conclusion that completely lets this title down, and given the nature of this film – one that builds up dramatically to the finale – there are simply no excuses for offering such a lacklustre and anticlimactic ending. Due to the intricate story and the excessive narrative at hand, it was always going to be an immensely challenging task to tie this story together triumphantly, which begs the question; why bother?

Now You See Me is effectively one long magic trick, and we don’t need to discover how it all works, as this defeats the object somewhat. Given the immoderate and surrealistic nature of this film, combined with the prevalent theme of magic, Leterrier has earned himself the right not to have to tie up all loose ends. However instead we are mistreated to an ending so convoluted it simply devalues what came before. It’s not often this is the case, but perhaps an air of ambiguity would be preferable, because to an extent we are actually better off without clarity.

In the meantime, the stellar cast  – which also includes Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine – ensure that this tantalising story is brought to life, with both Ruffalo and Laurent sharing the majority of the finest scenes. The one performer who seems out of place however is Eisenberg, who fails to be truly believable as our charismatic lead. In the past this young actor has excelled in roles somewhat more inadequate and endearing, masterfully depicting the diffident intellectual in the likes of The Social Network and Zombieland. He simply doesn’t seem naturally at home with this confident and obnoxious role, resulting in a handful of cringeworthy sequences.

That aside, Now You See Me is certainly good value for money, and although bearing a disappointing end, everything that comes before is exciting and enjoyable to say the least.

 

6 out of 10