AN EMPIRE OF WORDS


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Wonder Woman (2017)

As DC tries to combat the ever-expanding Marvel Universe, they have begun by building towards the Justice League film. In the meantime, we are treated to their standalone backstories. Wonder Woman is the latest film to get the treatment with Gal Gadot returning as the legendary Amazonian.

What I have recently disliked about the comic book movies is that they all seem to be using the same framework. (mainly the Marvel Cinematic Universe) But what is more enjoyable about the DC Cinematic Universe is the darker and grittier undertones they have taken, which was present in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman even though the latter wasn’t as enjoyable.

Wonder Woman is continuing this trend, but referencing the picture that was seen in Batman vs Superman with Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) herself stood with four men during World War One. Before Wonder Woman leaps into how Diana found herself there, they divulge in the backstory and the mysterious land of Themyscira, home of the Amazons.

What was great about Patty Jenkins’ interpretation of this story was that there was enough in the narrative to allow for the audience to interpret things themselves, something that has been missing in my recent cinema outings. And there was some gorgeous graphics in the opening sequence as Queen Hippolyta (Connie Neilsen) reveals the origin of the Amazon race and of the battle between Zeus and Ares.

Zeus cast out Ares, and hid the Amazons from the world until Ares rises again. The rest of the Amazons and Diana train on the beautifully landscaped island of Themyscira away from the worlds view. That is all until Steve Travers (Chris Pine) crash lands on their private island.

And this is where the film really picks up the pace as Gal Gadot and Chris Pine come into their own as characters. Gal Gadot becomes the focal point of her scenes as Diana believes that the atrocities of war are at the hand of Ares, the God of war. Although he has found a new form in the body of General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) as his sidekick Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya) concocts a poisonous gas capable of killing everyone. Diana forces Travers hand in taking her to front line to help the war effort and she just looks fantastic whilst doing it.

It has to be said though that she isn’t objectified in anyway, she rather manifests Wonder Woman as a character in such a way that she is incredibly strong and rather independent, especially as she continually defies her mother and Steve. With Batman v Superman the film felt long, Wonder Woman on the other hand doesn’t. This could down to the enjoyment of the characters and the narrative actually being enjoyable instead of the usual cut and paste method Marvel and DC films are currently using.

As I mentioned, the DC Universe films like to be grittier and Wonder Woman has majority of the film centred around World War One. Patty Jenkins effectively manages to instil the atrocities of war and it really works from the dirt of the Belgian trenches to the empty celebrations of a victory for one evening.

My only grief is the overbearing music that is used. The musical cues aren’t established very well, as it clearly tries to evoke emotions at the correct times and at times this took me out of the picture and made the enjoyment considerably less-so.

Gal Gadot is truly a wonder as the titular character as the film progresses into it’s climax. The final third of the film looks as though it is going to enter the realms of similarity as with previous comic book films, it still tiptoes on those, but doesn’t dive head first into it. The chemistry between Chris Pine and Gal Gadot is electric, especially as Jenkins’ captures Steve Travers occasionally glancing at Diana with astonishment at her beauty, but not in that objectifying way that I mentioned earlier.

Just as I thought I was losing patience with comic book adaptations, Wonder Woman comes along and manages to give some life into a merciless machine. I realised after coming out of the cinema that Wonder Woman tried something new, it left the comedy (that has become a staple point for comic book films now) to a minimum and perfectly integrated it into the film. This worked and garnered appropriate laughs when needed, but on a whole, Wonder Woman was an enjoyable and terrific watch and this has to be down to the enjoyable narrative and brilliant characters that can be connected with.


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Logan (2017)

Wolverine has been the character from the X-Men to receive the most action, from his early days in X-Men to his own trio of spinoffs and of course Hugh Jackman returns to the character we are all so familiar with. However Logan takes on a different task, as it is seemingly set in a not so mutant-friendly world.

What is different to the Wolverine we all know and enjoy, is that he looks incredibly dishevelled, covered with cards and to some extent, broken. But it’s still the same old character as he gets locked into a battle with some Mexicans trying to steal the lug nuts of his car. Thinking we would be treading familiar ground with this battle, I was shocked as Wolverine’s claws slash through one of the unsuspecting Mexican arms, and before one can even process this, someone else’s head is pierced with the same claws.

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My favourite superhero franchise has always been the X-Men Universe and this still holds true with the never-ending onslaughts of films by the Marvel Cinematic Universe (ugh). The X-Men Universe housed some of the better heroes and villains during its seventeen-year franchise, but never exhibited this grotesque violence that was appearing on the screen.

But it was just so great.

You can almost feel the weariness of Hugh Jackman’s new-look Wolverine, as he cannot keep up with the speed of battle like he used to. But what becomes clear is that he also taking longer to heal as he pops out shell casings in a truck stop bathroom and wipes the pus from his knuckles. Part of this comes down to Jackman giving one of his better performances. We all know him as The Wolverine, but Logan is the first film since X2 that I’ve been impressed by the character.

As I mentioned previously, my thoughts are that the X-Men Universe has always housed the greatest villains, like Magneto and Brian Cox’s William Stryker. Logan keeps up this trend, as the antagonist is one of the most intriguing, hate-inducing and cocky characters I’ve seen recently. Boyd Holbrook is definitely in his element as Donald Peirce, the man intent on catching X23, or better known as Laura (Dafne Keen).

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The trailers seemed to ruin the big reveal of Laura and her use in the story, which was a shame, as I would have preferred the surprise that would’ve come with it. Her character is really enjoyable and the chemistry that she has with Wolverine/Hugh Jackman is just fantastic, as they become enjoyable to watch interact with each other.

James Mangold managed to take the film in a very different and intriguing direction over the two hours or so that the film was running for. Aside from the upping in the ratings of the film, it is a visceral and haunting look into our beloved hero Wolverine slowly dying before our very eyes. The method that he took the narrative in was not ground breaking, but the characters that he filled the story with were the perfect, without shoving anyone’s character into too much exposure.

Although the basis of the narrative was not very inventive, it was still laced with a couple of well-crafted twists including ones that were ruined by the trailers and ones that were not. Mangold managed to take this film and place it in this surreal future (as it was set in 2029) but leave you with enough intrigue about the past events. I wouldn’t say Logan needs required viewing of the previous instalments of his spinoffs, but it would help as it gives you more of a feel of the characters in terms of Wolverine and Patrick Stewart’s Professor X.

In amongst the rip-roaring action that unfolds in Logan (which is just superb) Mangold managed to create this surreal future with some beautiful shots of Mexico, making the world seem as though it has become a barren wasteland, echoing the word from Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s not often an out-and-out action has the ability to use stunning visuals and create an intriguing storyline that in some instances you really can become wrapped up in.

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Logan is a really enjoyable film, which doesn’t lean too heavily on the comics I felt (but then I don’t actually read them) but rather embraces the violent nature of Wolverine, especially in that first scene. In parts I thought it began to drag it’s feet through the two-hour viewing time, but the enjoyment of the characters mixed in with a few plot twists made me forget those parts quickly.

Mangold has managed to create something that hasn’t previously been attempted in the X-Men Universe and for my money it worked every step of the way. It’s grotesque use of violence was perfect and fitting for this aging veteran, but the antagonists worked perfectly as well. If you’re a fan of Wolverine films and X-Men in general, then this is the perfect film as you see Wolverine is all his glory, but also not so much in all his glory. It’s almost as if he’s human. Almost.


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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Okay, I actually approached this film from a unique, somewhat dodgy point. I have a confession. I hadn’t actually seen Captain America: The First Avenger all the way through. I mean I knew the gist of the storyline, but never actually committed myself to watching it all the way.

Of course, this is the second instalment of the Captain America solo franchise and predominantly features Chris Evans as Captain America and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, or Natasha Romanoff. The film, if you hadn’t of guessed, picks up after Avengers Assemble and Steve Rogers is trying to adapt to live again in the present day, this is played on by comedic ways when he meets with Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and he reveals his list he must catch up on.

I hadn’t watched many trailers for The Winter Soldier, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from this, but I originally thought the titular character The Winter Soldier was referring to an ally that Captain America would fight with against a new enemy. I was sadly mistaken, as a glance at the IMDb synopsis states that Steve Rogers is trying to come to terms with present day lifestyle whilst battling an ancient enemy in The Winter Soldier.

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As I mentioned in my review of Thor, Marvel have recently hit a decent stride with the mix of comedy and action that has been seen during their current surge of films. However, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, is different. Of course there is the comedy, none like that in Thor or Iron Man as the charming characters make the comedy betterCaptain America on the other hand is more stern, more to the point, but of course that’s expected of a 1940s character now stuck and adjusting to life in the present day.

This difference I saw in The Winter Soldier worked though. It’s close to being the favourite Marvel film as the twists and plot, however implausible and foreseeable they are, are different to what has come to be expected of a Marvel film. I’ll try not to give any spoilers away, but Captain America, when meeting with Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) learns about S.H.I.E.L.D’s efforts to keep threats at bay using these mahoosive sky planes (Similar to the one in Avengers, except there is three of ‘um) called Project Insight. He learns this after retrieving some data from a ship that is owned by S.H.I.E.L.D, but raided by some mercenaries led by Batroc (Georges St-Pierre) who is a complete nutter and badass. (Something fishy is a afoot) But not as bad ass as The Winter Soldier. Then it becomes a seedy web of lies and things happen. With a pinch of ass kicking from The Winter Soldier and Captain America.

So you're telling me he doesn't look like a badass?

So you’re telling me he doesn’t look like a badass?

Captain America discovers things aren’t what they are and it becomes a tale of corruption and deceit, which is different as it’s not the classic tale of finding oneself and then an exciting sequence of action, which kind of happened in Thor: The Dark World, but it doesn’t in Captain America. Sure I said it’s kind of foreseeable, it’s in no shape or form edge of your seat stuff, but it’s enough and keeps the movie chugging along at a decent pace.

The Winter Soldier (takes a while to show up, despite being a titular character) simply put, turns up and kicks ass every so often and seems to be a past soviet weapon as Romanoff seems to know about him. Sam Wilson on the other hand is not integral, but helps move the story along and of course by the end of the film you see the brotherhood that Captain America and Falcon have formed. I, for one, am looking forward to the third instalment (should there be one) because of this brotherhood. Anthony Mackie and Chris Evans don’t share a whole lot of screen time, but you can tell they are a dynamic duo, much like Black Widow and Hawkeye in Avengers Assemble. That being said, there is a certain chemistry between the two (Captain America and Black Widow), especially with the playful banter back and forth about Captain America trying to find a date as an on-going joke and is spoken about during a mission.

I haven’t really mentioned the characters because everyone has come to know the characters already present in the Marvel movies, but The Winter Soldier is still the most intriguing as I mentioned due to the story behind the character and Anthony Mackie is nothing special, but the film is a nice platform for his character and the introduction of him. This behind a not all too complex narrative doesn’t offer a mind boggling effort of story and overload of characters (which I found in Avengers Assemble, man there were an abundance of characters to deal with).

"Cool guys don't look at explosions, they blow things up and then walk away"

“Cool guys don’t look at explosions, they blow things up and then walk away”

It stands at just over two hours which has become the standard measure for a Marvel superhero film now, and due to the pace of the film, it doesn’t feel long and the filming is genuine, you can tell the use of CGI has been reduced, giving it a more natural feel. And of course, with this new angle of corruption and deceit, mixed in with the comedy that Marvel has now become as common as blood in horror movies. It’s different and I liked it. It shows Marvel aren’t prepared to dwell on a success and keep trying new things. And of course these solo films always provide a platform for new characters and characters to improve their own characters, which happened with Black Widow. (Although her hair really annoyed me throughout the film, I don’t know what it was)

If you go into the movie expecting to see a movie where Steve Rogers is trying to adapt to modern life, your in the wrong film, although it is sold like this, it turns out it’s nothing like this. Either way, it is really compelling and enjoyable for the superhero movies. I’m not going to lie, it might be my favourite modern marvel film, but alas, I pine for The Incredible Hulk instalment.

4/5

P.S. I have since watched Captain America: The First Avenger and although serving as a introduction to the character of Steve Rogers and Captain America, this one is much better for some reason. It’s a different approach to the movie as a whole for Marvel, and I cannot reiterate this enough, because it felt different.


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Thor: The Dark World (2013)

As most Marvel films open with a little bit of opening sequence relevant to the film, for Thor: The Dark World, it opens with a battle between the Asgardians and the Dark Elves that happened eons ago. The Dark Elves, led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) plan to cast the universe into darkness using a weapon called Aether, but met with Odin’s father and an army of Asgardians, they are stopped. However, Malekith, his right-hand man Algrim and a handful of Dark Elves escape and survive, lying in wait for the Aether to reappear, as the Asgardians took it from the dark elves.

Back in the present, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), after the havoc caused on Earth during Avengers Assemble, is being summoned to answer for his war crimes, where he is placed in the dungeons below the throne room in Asgard. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) armed with his henchman (and woman) are currently bringing order to the nine realms after the reconstruction to the bi-frost.

Meanwhile, Jane Forster (Natalie Portman) is in London on a scientific expedition with her assistant Darcy Lewis, are taken to an abandoned factory where means of gravity have been altered and kids are managing to flip over cement-trucks. This is down to an event called The Convergence being imminent, where the nine realms align, forcing the parameters between the realms become blurred. Investigating this anomaly, Jane is transported to where the Aether is being kept, and of course, she is infected with the Aether. This also causes Malekith to awaken from his suspended animation along with the other Dark Elves, to track the Aether.

Jane, now infected with the Aether, when nearly apprehended by the police explodes with the Aether. Thor thinks best to take her back to Asgard, with Odin’s disregard. Malekith, tracking the Aether, learns of it’s presence in Asgard, starts to prep for a battle on Asgard. With his last gem of Kursed, Malekith selects Algrim as his last Kursed to infiltrate Asgard and return the Aether to Malekith in time for The Convergence so they can cast darkness over the nine realms.

“I only ask for one thing in return; a good seat from which to watch Asgard burn!”

Thor realising this plan of Malekith, manages to escape Asgard with the help of Loki (the highly anticipated watching point of this film) to use a secret transportation to go to Dark Elves homeland after they escape Asgard. Much of this sequence is the trust issues between Loki and Thor and whether he is able to trust him, and of course Thor’s henchman keep saying ‘betray him and I’ll kill you myself’. Of course the Aether is taken back by Malekith to set up the final battle that is ever present in superhero flicks. Of course, anything that happens from this point onwards is crucial to the plot, so I won’t spoil it for you. But the ending is one of the better ones from a marvel film. As I’ve found recent ones to being very illogical, or frustratingly similar to other films.

As much as I enjoyed this film, don’t get me wrong, it is possibly one of my favourite recent marvel films, I can’t help but thinking that Malekith’s character was just there for Thor to fight and be a recognised villain. Regardless, I enjoyed the character and thought his right hand man Algrim, or the final Kursed was absolutely badass. Acting like a Minotaur and causing havoc in his path.

As for the storyline, I realised when recounting it, there isn’t much to it. But it works. At just under 2 hours long, the film doesn’t feel long, where I’m stirring in my seat, coupled with the brilliant battles, the intertwining storylines, it all works and being very enjoyable at the same time. Not forgetting about what has now become a regular feature in superhero films, comedy. There are the one-liners, the quips by Loki, which tie the film altogether, making it complete.

It’s been said by a lot of people recently, but I agree with the comments that at the moment directors of these superhero movies are striking the right chord with these movies and making them very enjoyable. Superhero movies although have come in their droves recently are becoming more and more enjoyable and Thor: The Dark World is one of those securing this idea. If you plan to see this movie, stay for the stings after the credits, and of course I am looking forward to the next Thor movie.

4/5


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Chronicle (2012)

The film being at a whopping 80 minutes, it’s hard not to think “I may as well give it a watch”. This is what happened and after hearing good things about the film from various people intrigued me more. It being on demand for my convenience too also helps things.

Chronicle begins with Andrew Detmer (played by Dane DeHaan) looking into a mirror through a camera which is filming and we hear his father trying to get through the door. He then films his mother, who is ill in her bed. Ultimately this first, 10 or so minutes are more about their characters, Andrew the one getting bullied at school, who avoids parties and drinking. His cousin, Matt, the one telling him about parties and what not, it becomes apparent that Andrew is a social reject so to speak, constantly getting bullied at school and getting into confrontations. At home, Andrew filming himself working on a light fixture, gets punched in the head by his father, showing his home lifestyle is no more glamorous than his school life.

After the party confrontation, Steve Montgomery, comes to find Andrew to film this hole in the middle of nowhere, with his camera. When in the hole, they find this crystal type structure which sends the camera into a distortion and makes the trio collapse and bleed from the nose. The aftermath appears to have given the three of them powers in the sense of controlling inanimate objects. Such as stopping a baseball mid flight directed at Andrew’s face. Not only this, they have become a close friendship group, which is apparent through a voice-mail left by Steve’s girlfriend. This show an improvement of life by Andrew, who is smiling and laughing with his new buddies and their powers.

Ultimately, this film can come under the superhero genre, because the three guys have these powers, of what is believed to be telekinesis. As expected, when the film wears on their powers get stronger, meaning they can control bigger things with more ease, and even begin to fly. Like in all movies with powers, there’s the good guy, there’s the bad guy. Unfortunately, Steve doesn’t fit into either category as he is killed by a storm. In the classic ultimate showdown, Andrew and Matt face off. Good vs bad. But I won’t spoil which one is which.

Also, I spoke to people about the filming of Cloverfield and many said they disliked it, I really enjoyed it. Chronicle is similar in the sense that everything is filmed via a handheld device or camera, or police car cameras (in the finale, anyways). All this, tied into the around 80 minutes run time, has what it takes to be a good movie. Although some of the film is cliché in the idea of superhero movies, some of it branches away with a different ideal. As they don’t really intend to save anybody, they simply just have fun with the powers they’ve been given, like an odd, but fun scene where they are playing catch whilst floating in the clouds.

3.5/5