Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice Review | Film

Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Superhero films have had a hard time growing up. For years they weren’t taken seriously in the industry or by the mainstream film audience since they were just silly little stories ‘just for kids’ or just a load of action with no substance.

Now, in 2016, it’s been 23 years since Batman first hit the big screen (34 years for Superman) – and six years since Marvel kicked the industry to new heights, and demanded attention, with Iron Man in 2008 – so you’d think that if any two superheroes could show how far we’d come, it would be Batman and Superman.

Unfortunately, this film does not complete that mission.

From the outset, there’s plenty to be excited about with this film, and really many of its elements work really well, it’s just the overall experience which doesn’t quite meet expectations.

Taking up the cape and cowl from Christian Bale as Batman is Ben Affleck, an actor (and accomplished director) who has had a difficult past with superhero films but restores faith quickly here by giving the audience a character they can genuinely sympathise with.

Batfleck isn’t rampaging the city as some sort of wish-fulfillment, but because he is adamant that Superman is a risk to humanity and must be stopped, following the destruction of much of Metropolis in Man of Steel.

BATMAN V SUPERMAN

Superman on the other hand (played by a permanently scowling Henry Cavill), is still trying to find his feet after taking up his cape, and is struggling to understand everyone’s resentment, fear and even worship of him.

In many ways, if the main cast had stopped there, the film might have felt more focused and effective, but since DC grows increasingly jealous of Marvel’s extended universe, it’s decided to kick-start it by throwing everything it has into this film.

Enter Wonder Woman, who is fantastically realised by Gal Gadot, and acts as an interesting element in Batman’s investigations before turning up for the film’s climax. As exciting a character as she is, and she leaves us wanting more, it’s difficult to say she is essential to telling this story.

Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of JusticeThe villain of the piece is Lex Luthor (Jr., which immediately feels like a bit of a cop out excuse to make the character more edgy and set him apart from his predecessors), played by Jesse Eisenberg. In many ways there are some interesting ideas being thrown around with Luthor, but in the end his manor doesn’t feel like it has enough darkness behind it, bringing up memories of Jim Carey’s The Riddler when it would have been more impactful to have the character turn in a heartbeat from slightly quirky to outright sinister and malicious.

Louis Lane seems to exist purely to flip between being a damsel in distress to an irritatingly stereotypical love interest, responsible for not only the film’s catalyst but a horribly underdeveloped love storyline with Clark Kent. Jeremy Irons’ Alfred is really the only member of the supporting cast who earns his place in the film, and feels tragically under-used.

The film’s strongest suit is the action and spectacle, which sees some expertly choreographed Batman fights in particular, and the titular battle between DC’s two mightiest heroes is worth waiting for – though its resolution is the somewhat anti-climactic and obvious realisation that both Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent’s mothers have the same first name…

The biggest indication of where the film goes off the rails, apart from struggling to make time to introduce new characters for The Justice League films, which ended up being more arbitrary than a huge distraction, is that the tone is all over the place.

BATMAN V SUPERMAN

Fundamentally, Batman and Superman don’t have vastly opposed philosophies as the film tries to make out, and jumping from Batman’s grit, to Superman’s inner turmoil, to Lex Luthor’s evil villain stereotyping just feels like it can’t decide what it wants to be.

What may have been stronger, is if the film had stuck with Batman’s perspective on events, which is set up extremely well at the beginning of the film, and followed that through, only revealing Superman’s side of the story when Batman learns about it, meaning the entire conflict had a grounded, specific set of eyes which the audience is supposed to see everything from.

While there is plenty this film didn’t quite get right, it is still definitely worth seeing, but if you are expecting a film to make you seriously rethink your love of The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy or Captain America: The Winter Soldier, then you needn’t worry.

Now the dawn of the justice league beckons, but not on the back of a film DC fans need, or deserve.

Rating: 3/5

Inside Out | Review | Film

Inside OutInside Out PosterIt’s hard to ignore the voices inside your head, whether you’re struggling to not to laugh as your dad asks you what an Instagram is for the 18th time, or trying to resist procrastinating on a Friday afternoon. Inside Out dives into your brain head first to explain some of those moments where you just don’t know what to feel.

Riley is an 11-year-old American teen who has it all, great family, great hockey team and a great house. Of course everything changes when the family have to move and this sends Riley’s emotions into overdrive, which is where we meet Joy, Anger, Disgust, Sadness and Fear.

Like all Pixar films, the characters look incredible, the level of visual detail as they build this imaginary world in Riley’s head is astonishing, right down to the speckled, brightly-coloured outlines and other-wordly edge to the characters themselves.

Inside OutWhile the plot centres on Riley, it’s really Joy who is the main character here. It would have been easy to go for very basic emotional choices to describe the range of emotions in people, but going for Joy rather than Happiness immediately brings more depth to the character itself and makes her more relatable. Everyone knows someone who tries to see the sunny side of everything, and you immediately see them in this character.

Looking pretty isn’t enough to make Inside Out a good film though, and fortunately the Pixar gang also offer both a plot and a character arc which delivering the full spectrum of emotions (literally and figuratively, which is rather appropriate) without being obvious.

The cast work really well together, and no one outshines the rest or is so much of a talking point to make the others irrelevant. Parks and Recreation‘s Amy Poehler is passionate and likeable as Joy, while Phyllis Smith’s Sadness balances her out perfectly. Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader) and Anger (Lewis Black) all make a solid impression when the trio are left to their own devices and really it’s the human characters (as usual, you could say for Pixar) who come off as a bit dull.

The concept of Inside Out alone is enough to warrant your attention but as soon as it has it it will hook you in for good, and that’s a good thing. Once again Pixar, specifically Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen, who also directed, have created an entire world we never knew existed and as soon as you see it it makes perfect sense. It almost goes without saying at this point, but the film is fun for adults and children, and proves that there are plenty of good ideas left out there.

Rating: 5/5

James Michael Parry

Ant-Man | Review | Film

Ant-ManAnt-Man PosterA small film and an even smaller hero in the context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Ant-Man may be, but there’s no denying he knows how to make an entrance.

With a premise which stretches audience’s limits of what they are willing to believe (oddly more so than a virtually invincible god with a magic hammer) Ant-Man had its work cut out from the off. On top of that add the pressure of following up the tremendously popular Guardians of the Galaxy from the ‘oddball’ side of the Marvel camp and the excitement of The Avengers: Age of Ultron only a few months before.

Star Paul Rudd and director Payton Reed remain unphased and sensible focus their film around the character of Scott Lang, a crook fresh out of jail for burglary (not robbery) who has a daughter he cares about – a lot.

Being an ex-con is never easy, and immediately it’s easy to warm to Scott, who combines Rudd’s natural charm with some of the DNA of Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark and Chris Pratt’s Starlord to come up with something which somehow manages to feel fresh in a world filled with snarky heroes.

Watching him hopefully from the shadows is Hank Pym, played (frankly, quite suprisingly) to perfection by Michael Douglas, in many ways the polar opposite to the brash, showy scientist which Howard Stark was. Pym is under pressure as his own company is on the brink of not only being taken in a worrying new direction, but it’s thanks to some of his long-buried research – The Pym Particle.

Ant-ManIt’s this which brings us our titular hero, a moniker originally worn by Pym back in the day, and now passed on to Lang, along with a chance to make amends for his past mistakes.

Squaring off against our hero is the slightly disappointing Corey Stoll as Darren Cross. Stoll put on a fantastic turn on Netflix crown jewel House of Cards but here isn’t given too much to play with other than the broad strokes of Loki’s motivations, and sadly doesn’t stand up to them.

While Cross might fall short, he is more than compensated by the other supporting characters, such as Evangeline Lilly’s Hope Van Dyne and even more so Michael Peña as Luis, definitely the comedy stand-out of the film.

The story doesn’t take a massive leap from what we’ve seen before in the MCU and, one imagines, has been toned down from Edgar Wright’s original vision, after he left the project (though proudly maintains Executive Producer and Story credits). It seems like a missed opportunity to have tiptoed outside the box a little further than we’ve seen before, but given the scale of what Marvel are building, it’s no surprise they are taking a few safe choices.

Reed and the cast deliver a film filled with a nice blend of comedy and action, differentiated from the likes of Guardians by feeling more grounded and relatable and more intimate than The Avengers from its narrower scope.

Visually the film plays very well with 3D, so much so that it actually enhances the experience as advertised, and both the action and maintain the sense of fun which is threaded through the film.

The heist vibe is also nicely played in, particularly with the theme and score which build a feeling similar to the intricate-yet-relatable plans from the likes of Ocean’s Eleven.

The fun to be had here is massive and Marvel has handled a difficult property with precision, excitement and heart which is all-too-often lost in some of the more ambitious franchise films.

A great time for kids and adults alike, we’re looking forward to seeing Ant-Man play with the Avengers in the films still to come.

James Michael Parry

The Theory of Everything | Review | Film

The Theory of EverythingThe universe is a fairly large thing to fit into a film. Filled with sciencey mumbo-jumbo or not, it’s difficult to escape the fact that Stephen Hawking is one of the most respected and accomplished scientists Britain has to offer, but his story is not an easy one.

The Theory of Everything PosterDespite the headline drama of Hawking being struck with motor neurone disease, the real story is the relationships he had, which is hardly a surprise given the film itself is based on his wife’s autobiography rather than a dusty old textbook.

Leading man Eddie Redmayne completely loses himself in the character of Hawking, who is by no means exaggerated on screen, genuinely being in equal parts just as eccentric and brilliant in real life. It’s not only Redmayne’s physical transformation, as Hawking’s disease takes hold, which is stunning, but the intensity and sensitivity he shows in even the early stages, establishing a character the audience can feel like they know. His Golden Globes win is surely a sign of future award successes to come.

Good to see some familiar yet often overlooked faces in the supporting cast too, such as Game of Thrones and Doctor Who alum Harry Lloyd, who makes a suitably preppy turn as Hawking’s school chum Brian, and Harry Potter’s David Thewlis (that’s Lupin to you Pot-heads) commands respect as Professor Sciama.

It’s Felicity Jones though, who plays Hawking’s wife Jane, who you really feel for. To find yourself in her shoes could only be the most bittersweet of circumstances: falling in love with an adorable genius, only to watch him slowly waste away, despite his mind staying as sharp as ever.

The film follows Hawking from his university days through some of his greatest discoveries
The film follows Hawking from his university days through some of his greatest discoveries

No one would find such a situation a walk in the park, and the film does a good job of presenting the story without taking sides or casting judgement.

Much like The Imitation Game (an almost equally excellent journey), The Theory of Everything’s pace is the area most likely to make some attention’s drift, with a run time of just over two hours and slowing down at a few points, but really it would be unfair to mark down a filmmaking team giving such delicate moments a fair airing.

The important role of Hawking's family is central to the film
The important role of Hawking’s family is central to the film

Director James Marsh crafts his audience’s experience to the smallest detail, jumping you between the shoes of both Stephen and Jane, and ramping up the emotional impact gradually, almost without you noticing, until one critical dream sequence sees Hawking rise from his chair, as if cured, and scrape the knife across your heartstrings with expert care.

The film leaves you with an unshakable feeling of both consideration and inspiration, just as you imagine the man himself would approve of – not putting himself on a pedestal nor gushing with pity or undue tears. No amount of science can explain the impact such a against-all-odds tale can have.

Rating: 5/5

Game of Thrones: Episode 1 – Iron From Ice | Review | Gaming

Game of Thrones: A Telltale Game SeriesPeople die. One fact anyone familiar with either the book or TV adaptations of Game of Thrones will already know. The real trick is, can a game trick you into caring about its characters as much as the ones fans of the show, in particular, know and love?

An episodic game, very much brought into the mainstream by Telltale themselves, this incarnation of Game of Thrones is very much part of the world, with the familiar characters (even voiced by their respective actors on the show) being positioned on the edges of its central narrative, rather than relying on them.

Ramsey Snow (or Bolton, as he becomes in Series 4 of the show at least) is a definite highlight, with Iwan Rheon relishing every syllable of his utterly contemptible character, and even new characters managing to make a good first impression.

Ramsey Snow has some fun, horrible horrible fun
Ramsey Snow has some fun, horrible horrible fun

Later episodes may dictate how significant some characters can be, since Telltale’s talent for tailoring the path of story to every player’s decisions is present and correct, but based solely on the opening chapter the narrative, and its protagonists, are interesting and diverse enough to leave us wanting more.

In action scenes the style creaks a little, with the slow motion quick-move-the-cursor moments proving frustrating at times when you ask yourself things like “Is he really only going to swing that sword twice?” Whether Telltale can keep the variety going through the rest of the series remains to be seen.

In all an ideal first stab, especially for fans, with plenty more blood left to spill.

James Michael Parry

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies | Review | Film

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five ArmiesIt all comes down to this. With the Tolkien estate calling time on further films (for now), The Battle of the Five Armies, or BOFA as it shall henceforth be known, is our final visit to Middle Earth.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five ArmiesWith such expectations, you would be forgiven for hoping for an exciting climax which raises the bar for the series, or at least makes it shuffle in its seat a little. Instead, even the promised spectacle of seeing five armies battle it out leaves us wanting more (plus, I’m concerned that I only count four…)

Matching the standards set by The Lord of the Rings in the first place is already a colossal task of course, Return of the King alone took home 11 Oscars and sits at #9 on the IMDb top 250 films of all time. But they wanted to go back to Middle Earth, and so did we, and so off we went on Bilbo’s quest.

Looking back at the first installment, there was much promise. There was a memorable song (and, admittedly, an annoying song), good actors and after a while away from Tolkien’s fantasy-verse, we were keen to dive back in. Unfortunately the sad fact is that the story doesn’t suit film as well as LOTR did.

The fellowship’s quest can be explained in a sentence – take the ring of power to Morder to destroy it and save Middle Earth. In The Hobbit though, it gets complicated, who is the main character? Who is the main villain? Why on Earth have they made Billy Connolly into a dwarf using entirely CGI?

The song doesn’t remain the same

Can you count five armies? By our count there's four.
Can you count five armies? By our count there’s four.

Thankfully in BOFA the story is simplified quickly. Smaug, though fantastic, is quickly pushed aside, as is the largely unnecessary Sauron sub-plot, a story in itself so dripping with foreboding that even those unfamiliar with LOTR at all will cry fowl immediately.

Once things get going it’s enjoyable, the dwarves have their home back at last, but what of Bard and the people of Laketown? Thanks to some stubbornness from Thorin a conflict springs up where there needn’t be one, but magic is the cause and so he is powerless to prevent it. This is a shame as Thorin was always the most fleshed-out of the dwarves and for much of the film ends up coming off as a stubborn teenager.

The fellowship of the Hobbit

How many can you name from memory, be honest...
How many can you name from memory, be honest…

The fact that even now the names of the fifteen dwarves, let alone their personalities, are too hard to remember is something no other film could get away with – at least seven of those dwarves would be on the cutting room floor. The few we do recall though, do their job well, and credit to those actors for standing out from the crowd.

While sweeping landscape shots of New Zealand never get old, the scale of the film isn’t quite as impressive as Return of the King and the use of slow-motion in particular can very jarring, on more than one occasion it grabs the audience out of the action completely, whereas in ROTK it is seamless.

A half-a-man show

Martin Freeman undoubtedly makes an excellent Bilbo Baggins
Martin Freeman undoubtedly makes an excellent Bilbo Baggins

But what of the Hobbit himself? Martin Freeman has always been the perfect casting for this role, but, like most of the film, he is a passenger in this story. He is likeable and fun, but this installment of the story probably has the least comic relief (particularly if you exclude the oddly thrown in escapades of Ryan Gage’s Alfrid), and as a result you are left longing for the lighter, more fun moments of the earlier installments.

When coming to a verdict on part three, you can’t help but reflect on the franchise as a whole, and in that The Hobbit comes off well. The emotional payoff of seeing a story come to a close and the bookended story leading in to LOTR is immensely satisfying. Whether you think that splitting the story into three films was a good idea or not, each of them has something to offer which is worth watching and if you have sunk almost six hours into this story, you are going to want to see the end, and it’s a good end.

Rating: 3/5

Interstellar | Review | Film

Interstellar

Interstellar is not 2001: A Space Odyssey, so get that out of your head right now. Christopher Nolan’s space-bound, more than featured length epic certainly shares some DNA with Kubrick’s classic, but in reality what you get is something quite different.

Interstellar poster

One similarity is that you can explain the basic premise without telling you much about the film at all. In a nutshell, Interstellar follows Cooper, a former pilot and engineer who exists in an age when the human race is grinding to a halt as it is running out of food. Despite culture debunking the Apollo moon landing as a hoax, to focus people on solving the problems on their doorstep instead of looking to the stars, in the end it is the stars which present the only real chance of saving humanity.

This time it’s personal

Coop's family and their battle with blight on their crops feels close to home at times
Coop’s family and their battle with blight on their crops feels close to home at times

Cooper’s own journey, and his relationship with his family is the real story though, with sci-fi merely providing the crisis to put things under pressure. Matthew McConaughey, who plays Coop, is very much the star here, delivering a very relatable and likeable performance in what was a critical role to sell the concept of the story to the audience.

The supporting cast keeps going and going, with the introduction of each new character bringing another “Oh it’s that guy” moment, though this is by no means a bad thing. Jon Lithgow and female lead Anne Hathaway stand out as the strongest performances, as the former fulfills a Jiminy Cricket-type role to Coop before he leaves Earth, while the latter jumps between believing in science and love as the increasingly head-scratching plot progresses.

Matthew McConaughey drives the film as engineer turned astronaut Cooper
Matthew McConaughey drives the film as engineer turned astronaut Cooper

From Nolan past films you may already have an idea what to expect here, leaving the somewhat more obvious Dark Knight Trilogy to one side, there’s always a cerebral element to his films, particularly Inception. You can almost watch the film in two ways: trying to make sense of the science and sci-fi or taking each thing as it comes and focusing on the human element. Nolan does a good job of balancing the two, meaning there is enough to keep a wider range of film fans engaged.

Despite Nolan’s experience though, the final act does require a bit more brain power and could easily lose some, particularly the open-to-interpretation final shot. Not thinking about it all too much is the best way to enjoy it, although a lot of the science is actually fact, even if it is baffling. The perceptive may pick something up early on which reveals more about the finale than Nolan may have intended.

Style or substance?

Without a doubt the film is a visual feast more often than not
Without a doubt the film is a visual feast more often than not

Visually the film certainly lives up to the recent depictions of space, particularly Gravity – in fact the film could be described as a more action-packed version of that very film in some ways, and that’s by no means a bad thing. The depiction of the wormhole, which provides the celestial doorway to far-flung planets, and the black hold found on its far side are particularly stunning, and give you a real sense of scale.

As usual, the silent depiction of space itself (due to it being a vacuum) is incredibly striking, and adds another dimension to some of the action set pieces. The score too does a lot to add to the atmosphere too, with Hans Zimmer stepping away from the somewhat distinctive sound of the past few Nolan films to something more soft and quite haunting in places.

Providing you have the patience for a three-hour film, which can slow down at a couple of points, but not quite enough to lose your attention, then Interstellar is an impressive film with a good sense of scale and solid characters. That said, it won’t set your world on fire, particularly is Nolan’s style of filmmaking has struck a nerve in the past. Much like Gravity it’s a film worth watching for any film fan but only the committed will jump in again to unpick it’s layers.

Rating: 3/5

James Michael Parry

Film, Music, Gaming, Technology and Cyberculture

%d bloggers like this: