Marking the first of few belated reviews that will be hitting the page soon is Aronofsky’s Biblical epic, Noah. The films received some varied reviews, and I did approach slightly apprehensively. Though I’m a huge fan of Aronofsky, the sword-and-sandal historical epic starring Russell Crowe has had more than its fair share of duds, but boring casting aside I entered with an open mind and came out pleased with what had been produced.
Telling the famous story was never going to be an easy task, not least because of the minuscule length of its source material. Obstacle one would be to stretch this short story into a two-hour screen epic. What’s been added is a battle between two groups of humans, one led by Noah and including some giant rock monsters formed by angels and the other headed by Ray Winstone and a load a sinful heathens against the destruction of the entire planet. It is, as you’d expect, absurd and slightly mad but it manages to pull it off. The characters are very well drawn particularly Noah himself who is not shown as a holier than thou know-it-all but a troubled man battling internally with what he believes he must to for his God and what he feels is right for his family. He is far from perfect and as the plot bears on it becomes more and more apparent that he may, in fact, not be the hero his family once believed him to be. He’s held in place though by his wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) who provides the films standout performance in a challenging role. Emma Watson also performs as would be expected and the rest of the cast, though not brilliant, just about hold things together. I found though that what gives Noah is real quality is the pacing and build of tension which is kept throughout its run time. The fight scenes are given a sense of urgency from Mansell’s score which is repetitive but highly effective.
When every other blockbuster is a superhero movie and the ones that aren’t a sci-fi it makes for a nice change to have something Biblical and Aronofsky does a good job of keeping the action alive while honouring one of history’s oldest stories and injecting it with a style not many other directors would be capable of. While Aronofsky purist will be pining for a more artistic affair this delivers on the levels you would expect of something on this scale.
With director Neil Blomkamps debut, District 9, the South African sci-fi enthusiast immediately became the man to watch in the industry. It’s surprising then that it took a full four years for his follow-up, Elysium, to arrive. This time with a much larger stack of cash at his disposal and big name stars such as Matt Damon and Jodie Foster it was intriguing to see what he could do under pressure. Elysium is a new space station that floats above the world homing the rich and powerful humans while the poor suffer in slums on the polluted and dangerous Earth. Damon plays Max a former car thief who’s trying to earn an honest living is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation. When he is given five days to live he makes it his mission to find a way to Elysium in order to be healed but in return for his ticket up there he must retrieve some intel which could effectively bring down the evil rich folk of Elysium and save the world’s poor and struggling people.
The film bear a number of similarities to District 9, in particular it’s ideas and message about segregation. It’s depiction of poverty stricken life has the same feel, it’s ultimately a feeling of empathy that arises from Blomkamp’s film, he clearly cares for these people who are forced to do what they can to survive. And it echoes the problems of apartheid within SA as well. However, Elysium, is a much less direct film overall in terms of it’s message. Although it’s message is loud and clear this film isn’t ashamed to be a popcorn flick. While it is still a much more raw and brutal sci-fi than the majority of summer blockbusters, it does have flashes of Hollywood gloss to it, particular the love story sub plot that forms Max’s emotional drive to want to save the world but also leaves some questions unanswered about how much of a hero our protagonist really is. Before he realises how much he cares for this love interest his main goal is just to heal himself without any regard for saving the rest of the world. But then it’s this kid of inner conflict within the characters that makes Elysium a cut above the rest. While it may have these elements to draw in the mainstream it refuses to completely bow down to the usual conventions of those elements making it a film that deserves to be well received.
One of the summer’s more entertaining blockbusters that proves Blomkamp’s unique cinematic voice. A lot more grit than most is to be found but there is overall a feeling that Elysium is a more hollow effort than District 9. But nevertheless a promising, enjoyable follow-up that proves Blomkamp can be a breath of fresh air in the industry.
The season of summer blockbusters is well under way now and one of the most hotly anticipated films of the year was Zack Snyder’s Superman reboot. Produced by Syncopy, the Nolan company behind the Dark Knight trilogy it was planned that DC’s other big property would get the same treatment Batman did. But it was never going to be easy, Superman is a very different character and one that is much harder to get right since there are so many potential pitfalls. The biggest issue with him is he’s far too over-powered, it’s very hard to care for someone who’s so perfect. He’s also a lot less cool than Batman, he zips about the sky wisping women off their feet, saving the world, caring for his parents, being ridiculously handsome and wearing bright blue tights. On it’s release man of Steel has received one of the most mixed critical receptions in recent memory, leaving the question of whether Snyder did a good job very much up in the air.
I have to say that in retrospect he really did not. As Man of Steel begins we spend the first fifteen minutes or so with his parents as they try defend his home planet of Krypton from Michael Shannon’s General Zod. The opening battle is alright but it leaves you waiting for at least half an hour before any kind of ‘Superman’ antics begin to happen, we spend a lot of time up on Krypton and even more time watching young Clark not retaliate against bullies. It gets pretty frustrating and annoying having to spend so long on his origin story which literally everyone in the world already knows, but then that is the problem with a reboot. A few years ago they were all the rage, this is the first origin we’ve had to deal with in a while so we’ll let it go. But then things don’t get much better. As Amy Adams’ Lois Lane is introduced we flit back and forth through different events in Clark Kent’s life and it’s often not clear what period of time we’re in, not to mention the fact that we see the exact same situation of young Clark getting pushed around and having to try really hard not to hit back. We got the message the first time, he’s perfect, he won’t snap back. There’s not a single scene in the whole movie that isn’t completely over-dramatic. I think Henry Cavill’s eyes must have constantly had some kind of dew producing contraption hidden behind them so he never stops looking like he’s about to cry, in fact every character looks like they’re about to cry all the time. When we finally get through the under-written, hammy plot we are treated to some great action. Michael Shannon is probably the strongest performer of the film although in the end General Zod’s defeat is completely underwhelming. Zod and Superman being flung around Metropolis provide us with the film’s best moment but even that eventually drags on, I thought it had ended about three times before it actually, finally did and by the end of it all it feels like you’ve just been seeing the same thing over and over. Zod throws Superman, he skids along the concrete. Superman throws Zod he collapses a building and repeat.
I did find myself enjoying it for a short while during the final fight but overall this is Snyder all over, looks nice but is completely lacking in anything else. If a different director helms the sequel perhaps Superman may have more life in him but, in my opinion, Snyder is not the man for the job. Chances are if the second ones good Man of Steel will be easily looked over.
J.J. Abrams follows up his hugely successful re-imaging of the Star Trek franchise with Star Trek Into Darkness. Following the further exploits of Kirk, Spock and the rest of the Enterprise crew Into Darkness sees them face their biggest threat, Khan. Not being an old Star Trek fan at all I had no idea who Khan is but in Into Darkness he is revealed to be the greatest threat to the Enterprise ever. Where the first film was a bit slower paced and spent more time setting the scene, this sequel is relentlessly fast paced stuff with huge action set pieces every five minutes.
In my opinion Into Darkness takes all the good elements from the first film and multiplies them. Then the worst parts of its predecessors are either scrapped and cut down significantly. There are still the odd nerdy jokes, some absolutely awful lines from Bones (Karl Urban) there’s another Leonard Nimoy cameo all of which keeps the old Trekkies happy but is not as present as it was in the first so, for me, I preferred that stuff cut down. Then in terms of everything else everything is on such an epic scale that it would be impossible to get bored. The casting of Benedict Cumberbatch is the most inspired choice, he sizzles and snaps in the role bringing a similar but much more evil character than in Sherlock. Zachary Quinto really shines through here as well, although Chris Pine at times seemed melodramatic or a tiny bit hammy. It’s two hour ten minute run time flies by with probably the best CG I have ever seen, every shot looks as close to perfect as it could get and when you’re treated to one of the many, many action scenes it’s impossible not to be completely consumed in the movie.
The plots slightly simpler than the first one and there’s less character development but its counteracted with stunning action sequences and one of the greatest movie villains of recent years. It may not please the Trekkies quite as much but for a new fan like myself Into Darkness could not be better. If this is what Abrams can do with Star Trek I can not wait to see how he revives Star Wars in 2015. A far better movie than Iron Man 3 let’s hope the rest of the summer blockcbuster’s are up to this standard.