Man of Steel | Review | Film

Man Of Steel 1A superhero story where the main character is practically invincible immediately leads to a conundrum – how can he lose? The answer, of course, is to put him in a situation where he (or she, this is the 21st century after all) is vulnerable.

It seems as if 2013 is the year Hollywood have realised this with Iron Man 3 in the recent past taking it back to his roots and The Wolverine on the horizon promising that when he’s most vulnerable…he’s most dangerous…

Hmm…

In between we have Superman, the original superhero, the all-American all star who stands for truth and justice and The American Way. Of course ‘The American Way’ is something quite different than what it was when the last Christopher Reeve donned the tights, and so the hero has changed as a result.

And so we have our reboot, grittier, more down-to-Earth and more relatable than ever before. If something like that sounds familiar, it’s because it happened a few years ago with DC Comics’ other killer franchise – Batman.

The plot follows Superman’s origins as he struggles through childhood into adulthood (led by Rusell Crowe as Jor-El and Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent), but this time around he barely gets into the grove before peril strikes.

Being smart business people, DC decided that the now legendary Christopher Nolan should be involved in kick-starting their other over-tired icon.

Nolan wasn’t keen to jump fully in bed with another potential trilogy so soon after The Dark Night though, and herein lies the first stumbling block of the film.

Despite being written by Nolan with oft-collaborator David S. Goyer, the film was, in the end, directed by Zack Snyder.

Snyder’s track record is troubled at best, from the heights of Watchmen and 300 to the unfocused mess of Sucker Punch, and in this – only his sixth film – the result is just as inconsistent.

Man Of Steel - General Zod
Kneel before Z….oh wait, that was the other guy.

In the action scenes, Snyder is in his element, and the plot takes a backseat as Supes tackles antagonist General Zod (Michael Shannon) at high speed and high CGI. In the slower moments, the film fights against the shakey cam and action scenes to stay grounded enough (literally) to connect with its audience.

One stand out scene sees Jonathan Kent sacrifice himself for his family, and its these rare moments which justify the films existence overall.

The action and drama are not un-inspiring, and the cast do a fantastic job of hanging everything together, but there are more than a few moments where the film tries to hard, and has a feeling of desperation to prove itself.

With an IP as widespread as Superman, it’s inevitable that there are comparisons. Is newcomer Henry Cavill better than 2006’s Brandon Roth? Or even the legendary Mr Reeve? Does Shannon match up to Terence Stamp’s Zod?

Quickly you find it doesn’t matter – this is a very different world. Although 2006’s Superman Returns was hardly a camp 80s affair, filming began before Batman Begins, and Batman Begins changed how people look at superhero films forever.

So, like Spider-man before it, Superman had a makeover and a harsh dose of reality, and it does him the world of good. Despite looking like a slightly more square-jawed Hugh Jackman when first introduced, Cavill does well to make the role his own and step out from the shadow of Reeve, something Routh chose not to do, and equally the rest of the principle cast follow suit to great effect.

The unexpected aspect of the film is that it isn’t really an origin story for Superman at all, in fact it’s the origin story for Clark Kent, beginning his journey as a reporter at The Daily Planet.

In the end, the film breaks through its shortcomings to exceed expectations and delivers an experience which is better than it had to be, but not quite as good as it could be.

Rating: 4/5

James Michael Parry

Advertisements

Despicable Me 2 | Review | Film

Despicable Me 2 - Gru and the girlsEverybody loves a villain, especially one with a sense of humour. From Hades in Disney’s Hercules to Syndrome in The Incredibles, it’s difficult to resist a wise-cracking, mischievous, (animated) evil overlord.

When Despicable Me’s Gru turns good at the close of the first film though (well, comparatively anyway) the character risked losing some of his charm.

Luckily, for the most part at least, Despicable Me 2 delivers about the same standard of dastardliness as its predecessor.

This time around the anti-antagonist is El Macho, a thinly-veiled, overly macho villain dripping with cliché (obviously), but nonetheless entertaining. Gru is recruited by super-good agency the Anti-Villain League, led by a fantastically reserved Brit Silas – voiced by Steve Coogan – to investigate a shopping mall where a stolen formula has been hidden.

No ordinary formula, this strange purple liquid has the power to…make minions terrifying!

Despicable Me 2 - MinionsBe warned, this tale is not for the faint of heart. The poor minions, as well as being used to brilliant comic effect (and, to be honest, stealing the show from a slightly mellowed out Gru), are twisted into horrible monsters which could scare little-uns. Luckily, they get their own film next year to restore smiles to any traumatised viewers.

Of course, as all good animated stories do, the story ties up neatly, but somehow the journey leaves you unsatisfied after the more definitive climax of the first film.

Steve Carrell continues to put on an excellent performance and Kirstin Wigg is upgraded from supporting character to starring role this time around and the happy-go-lucky Lucy Wilde.

Russell Brand as Doctor Nefario, who continues to sound like Ray Winstone’s best pirate impression, shows the extent of character arc that the film can allow and does it well but fails to make the character his own or add any hint of the verve or humour he is known for.

The kids, Agnes, Edith and Jillian, continue to buck the usual trend of being simply dull distractions from the action, and youngster Agnes (voiced by Elsie Fisher) succeeds in tugging on the heart-strings at the film’s close.

For a film clearly aimed at a family audience, there is a lot to like here, but at the same time, a lot of ideas could have been pushed a lot further. Undoubtedly enjoyable, but not one to convert those who dismissed the Minions first time around.

Rating: 3/5

James Michael ParryDespicable Me 2 - Gru and the girls

An internet monopoly?: Google’s products scrutinised | Feature | Cyberculture

Google logoGoogle’s recent I/O conference revealed a number of new strategies, consolidations and initiatives, but is the search giant’s vision exceeding its capability?

A wide range of services

Google Apps
There are some big names and brands in their own right under Google’s umbrella, including YouTube.

The number of plates Google have spinning is bafflingly vast, offering over 30 products through their main site and numerous first-party apps through their own android operating system for smartphones and tablets.

‘Search’, where it all began, is currently the top ranked site for traffic in the world (according to rankings.com), followed by YouTube, which Google bought back in 2006 for $1.65billion, and is a topic of popular news almost daily.

The rise and rise of Google

The company’s philosophy states its mission is to “organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Reading that out of context you could be forgiven for mistaking it for the motto of Wikipedia (which, coincidentally, is more related to the fact that the site is to provide information and not argue value judgements), but Google’s approach is far more widespread thanks to its targeted approach to every other internet-driven product on the market.

Though Google has created many of its biggest success stories, such as ‘Maps’ and ‘Gmail’, other products were acquired through the 2000s, such as Picasa and YouTube. Arguably only YouTube truly holds its own against the might of its parent company to have its own identity, partly because of how the business is run (as a subsidiary company), but most interactions surfers have with Google are with ‘Google’ prefixed products.

New-look Maps

Google Maps Beta
The new interface makes it quicker to find your house than ever before.

A redesign of the ‘Maps’ product was the most impressive innovation to be announced this year, using a vector-based interface to shrink loading times and improve accuracy.

Playing around on the beta version, the new interface is slick and effective, offering more transport options than before. Loading is undeniably snappier and the simplicity of the presentation helps things not look cluttered even in built up areas.

There are bugs to be ironed out, but it seems like a solid step forward which offers consumers what they had before quicker and more into the package as well.

One for all and all for plus

The company insists that ‘it’s best to do one thing really well’ and despite the diversification that is still true – search is clearly the strongest part of any one of their products, whether it’s tracking down a two-year-old email or picking out a restaurant you half remember from 2008.

Convergence is happening in all forms of media and the real drive for Google this year seems to be to unite their products, most likely under the banner of Google +.

The social media sharing platform has been steadily growing momentum through the past few years, and a recent tune up to the Hangouts feature has made the technology far more accessible (though not necessarily more popular).

The consistency and familiarity is something which will solve a lot of the companies brand loyalty in the long run, but the short and harsh truth is that change is hard for most people.

With nothing to compel them to switch, most users will continue with the messaging app they are familiar with, whether that is Facebook Messenger, iMessage or a third-party compiler like What’s App.

The writing’s on the cloud

Can the futuristic technology really deliver?
Can the futuristic technology really deliver?

The long-term gain may prove to be enough, but there needs to be imagination-capturing innovations such as the company’s fancy, though slightly unbelievable, ‘Glass’ product to keep people coming back to them for more than just ‘googling’ something.

In a way the company is a victim of its own success, being so synonymous with internet searching makes it difficult to really make its mark in other areas. This is despite the infrastructure of many other aspects of the business, such as Google Docs or Blogger, being more than up to their respective tasks.

Plus (pun not intended), there is scope within the ‘Labs’ area of development, but overall the company would do well to not spread their net too thinly and find holes starting to develop.

The power of brand

The operating system reportedly has a staggering 75% market share, thanks to its incorporation in a number of different brand's devices.
The operating system reportedly has a staggering 75% market share, thanks to its incorporation in a number of different brand’s devices.

Android is where the opportunity lies over the next few days, ironically because it has its own brand separate to Google, so consumers can feel more of a brand affinity than with the plain, cold image of a multi-national.

In-roads are being made in areas such as business, where the company is powering more and more companies from behind the scenes, but the ‘cool’ factor is still something which is clearly owned by the likes of Apple.

In short – Google is here to stay, but what it means to ‘google’ something might need to diversify to let the brand continue to make progress overall, rather than just in the more flexible, innovative and smaller-scale aspects of the business.

James Michael Parry