Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Joss Whedon’

The Avengers (2012)

As those of you who read these reviews will know, I often pick a theme by way of introduction. This time, it’s the tried and tested idiom, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Some like to attribute this insight to Aristotle, others to some more recent philosophers. No matter. It represent a nice idea to chew on when you have a moment to ruminate. Essentially, you can take it at a metaphorical level and say that a watch is only a physical device but it has a higher purpose in telling you what time it is. Or you can use it to refer to a team. Individually, they may not be strong but, when you put them together in the right way, you get synergy. Well, starting off with the watch metaphor, this film is like someone strapping Big Ben to your wrist and then enthusing about how it not only tells the time but also has these great chimes. Having just sat through 142 minutes, the first word that comes to mind is ponderous. If you think this is a reference to the massive, if not lumbering, quality of the Hulk, you’d be mistaken. Almost everything about this film is laborious.

Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow

 

This is not to deny that parts of the film are actually very good. It’s just that, when it’s all put together and you have to sit through all the rubbish to get to the good bits, it all feels a bit tiresome. So let’s do a quick recap. Back in the land owned by Marvel Comics, Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and Captain America are renegades from WWII. While the Captain is snoozing under the ice, Nick is setting up SHIELD, the ultimate Get Out of Jail Free card to be played when superhuman threats are about to overwhelm our defences. Jackson is actually credible even though asked to do obviously silly things. He brings an unexpected gravitas to the role even when responding to Loki emerging into one of SHIELD’s secret underground installations, capturing the McGuffin and kidnapping two key people who will guard and use the McGuffin to open a portal and let in the alien army. To give his newly acquired minions time to achieve their allotted tasks, Earth’s enemy allows himself to be captured and then sets about trying to undermine the morale of the Avengers. None of them like to work as part of a team so, at one time or another, they all have to fight each other. Instead of disagreeing and holding a debate, they tend to settle arguments with whatever weapons are to hand. Except for Dr Banner, of course. It’s better not to make him angry.

Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye

 

So after a few impressive opening scenes, the first hour or so is all rather tedious except for one or two pleasing moments. I confess to being completely taken by Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow and, despite the fact the supply of arrows seems inexhaustible, Jeremy Renner makes an interesting Hawkeye. It’s a shame we’re not allowed to see much of him. I find the idea of mere humans outperforming all-comers intriguing and, just as Batman uses intelligence with technology in support, it’s the spirit that prevails. This would apply to Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark except he’s Tony Stark and an arrogant SOB. Chris Evans is very one-dimensional as Steve Rogers and, in the second half, that becomes the right dimension so he comes good by staying who he is. Chris Hemsworth is completely pigheaded as Thor and the most annoying of the heroes. Which leaves us with Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner. This is a big improvement on previous attempts at creating the Hulk on screen. As a walking-talking example of humility, he actually tones down Tony Stark in the scenes they share. Incidentally, the cameo argument with Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Pott is better than anything in the earlier Iron Man films. This almost makes the relationship credible. Which leaves us with Tom Hiddleston as a surprisingly pleasing Loki. He’s a good trickster but should not be seen dead in that horned hat.

Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner

 

The special effects are, for once, special. SHIELD’s helicarrier actually looks as though it might work although the invisibility shield is the usual silly project-a-picture-of-the-sky on to the hull variety. It’s far better than the equivalent in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. The jet fighters and transports are also beautifully rendered with VTOL and manoeuvring beating anything the Harrier jump jet has been able to achieve. The final battle is very well structured and beautifully paced. It could have become very repetitive, but manages to keep everything fresh as each hero is allowed a few moments to hold a position, fight a corner or try to disable the McGuffin. I was particularly impressed by the animatronic alien landing craft. They manage to look simultaneously impractical but, from the point of view of a mere human observer, completely intimidating. The Hulk’s leaping ability and smash-through-anything approach is hilariously over-the-top and through-the-bottom as well. The Iron Man suit yet again demonstrates a level of invincibility above and beyond the call of duty. Quite how Stark is supposed to emerge in one piece is beyond understanding. That made it good to get back to basics with the Black Widow beating those pesky aliens in hand-to-hand combat. As one woman said as she was about to be incinerated by aliens, Captain America can rescue me anytime he wants. He’s just dogged and, even though no-one asks him to take on the role, he makes a natural leader. Thor pitches in but, for someone supposed to have godlike powers, he’s rather cut down to size by the weight of numbers coming through the portal. Indeed, the heroes might have lost had Earth’s governments, in their wisdom, not decided to send a different kind of help.

Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans looking for more to fight

 

So The Avengers has good patches that increase in frequency as the film develops leading to a superior fight at the end. This means you should pack sandwiches and a flask of hot tea to see you through the opening section. You can break out the popcorn and coke nearer the end and so finish on a high. I suppose this film will make several tons of money. The marketing hype has generated the interest and, if the intended market is anything like the people who surrounded me when I saw the film, teen boys will flock to this like bees to a honey pot. It has their demographic most skillfully written all over it by director Joss Whedon who has probably done as well with the plot as anyone could. Once you have to have this crowd of principals assemble and then give each a fair amount of screen time, it’s going to get ponderous until they are forced to drop their differences and start fighting the real enemies. So if there’s an inner teen lurking inside you or, like me, you enjoy science fiction and fantasy, you should probably see this. Otherwise wait for it to come on television and enjoy the battle at the end.

 

For my reviews of allied films, see:
Captain America
Iron Man 2
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Thor

 

This film was short-listed for the 2012 Nebula Award and for the 2013 Hugo Awards for Best Dramatic Presentation.

Cabin in the Woods (2011)

Sometimes the world turns in a strange way. Last Thursday, I had a choice of three films. Sadly, the first two proved less than enjoyable so, today, I came to the third which has been much hyped. Indeed, it was the degree of enthusiasm in the marketing that has been mildly off-putting — regrettably, I’ve a slightly perverse streak and the more someone tries to sell me something sight unseen, the more resistant I become. However, given all the hoopla, I braved today’s rain and, with a few other stragglers, began the less than scientific experiment to see if “three’s a charm”.

Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Jesse Williams and Fran Kranz

 

Cabin in the Woods (2011) is being sold in two quite different ways. The first relies on the name of the screenwriter. Joss Whedon is currently fêted as the best thing to emerge from the television networks since JJ Abrams sprang fully formed from Lost‘s head. With the Avengers just a couple of weeks away, this man is going to do the superhero thing and rescue Hollywood’s bottom line with at least one major financial success this year. At the time of writing, Cabin in the Woods has apparently grossed nearly $36 million worldwide which, for an R-rated horror movie strikes me as a reasonable revenue in the first two weeks. We should note, however, that because of the occasional swearing and a few body parts on open display —some moving under their own steam — the family values police have been on a crusade to protect the young from moral corruption. Obviously, the rating limits potential audience numbers. The second touted virtue is that this is an example of meta-horror. Well, this I gotta see. If it was the usual slasher film with an inbred upcountry family hacking innocent young tourists to pieces, I wouldn’t bother. But this is a marketing strategy to break the mould. Actually using the meta prefix proclaims the film as potentially intelligent. Ah ha! So that’s why audience numbers are low. Horror audiences are notoriously conservative and only interested in gore. If brains are involved, it should only be as an appetiser, not the red-meat main course. Yet, I’ve seen an interview with Joss Whedon discussing the extent to which audiences can be manipulated. It all grows out of the blurring of the line between fiction, scripted reality shows and documentaries. As we viewers grow more sophisticated, we’re more difficult to please. Most reality is actually boring most of the time so, if a major studio was to bring a documentary about animals to the screen, it would have to create excitement and drama by editing moments taken out of context to build what appears to be a linear narrative. A group of animals comes under threat. Clever look-outs sound a warning. Mothers encourage their young into places of safety. You know the kind of thing. It’s the same with reality shows. Teams of writers suggest things for the participants to say and do as they try to survive. Everyone wants to come out of these television shows looking good — that’s what sells the advertising.

Anna Hutchison gets up close and personal with the wolf for a dare

 

So here’s a film that expects the audience to know and understand what’s supposed to happen to people in a horror film when they’re daft enough go to a remote cabin in the woods. After being introduced to the camera, they have to stop and buy petrol from Mordecai (Tim De Zarn) — a local who’s intended to inspire fear and loathing. More importantly, it focuses our attention on the choice. These potential victims are told to stay away, but ignore the warning and become complicit in the plot to make themselves victims. So far, so good. Yet it’s when we see the fate of the bird paralleling the RV that the extent of this film’s presumption is exposed. We accept the opening scenes as part of a puzzle, storing away basic questions: who are these pen-pushers, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford and Amy Acker with the usual middle-age hang-ups in their marriages and office relationships? what are they preparing? why are they spying on these five young people? and so on. Yet when the bird reveals technology on such a vast scale, this immediately takes us way beyond anything “ordinary”. This can only be one of the most powerful of corporations or it must be government. But that sharpens our new question. Why would such vast resources be deployed?

Richard Jenkins, Amy Ackers and Bradley Whitford shoot the breeze (or anything else that moves)

 

As an atheist, I’ve always been fascinated by the distinction various religions make between worship and propitiation. If we travel back in time to the groups worshipping the sun as a god, we see a balancing of expectations, hopes and fears. These groups have never known a time when the sun did not come up and then go down again. It’s as regular as clockwork. They hope it will always continue because they fear the world would be less pleasant if the sun failed to appear. So, they try to encourage the sun in its routine by offering gifts. It’s at this point that the priesthood gets involved. There will be times when mere prayers will be sufficient. But there may come times when gifts or sacrifices must be made to avoid losing the god’s favour. Even modern Christianity is based on the crucifixion of Jesus. It’s a potent symbol in our material age.

 

Having thought about the ending which, for obvious reasons, I cannot discuss in detail, I’ve decided that what the film lacks is a Sigourney Weaver character. In the Alien films, the quality we admire is her willingness to die in order to save the Earth. There she is, heroically standing toe-to-toe with one of the critters and it never occurs to her that there’s anything to think about, discuss or debate. She’s expediency on two legs. So as we approach the critical final moments in this film, it’s that ruthlessness we should be looking for. Somebody should just get the job done.

Tim De Zarn offers friendly advice on what to look out for

 

So that’s as much as I can say without spoiling the film. For me, Cabin in the Woods is the best film of the year so far. Not only does Drew Goddard satisfy us with a cleverly worked sequence of boo-moments to make us jump in our seats, but the script he co-wrote with Joss Whedon is also a highly intelligent take on horror tropes. For once, a film has genuinely earned the label of meta-horror. The five young people at risk are Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth (before he was famous), Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, and Jesse Williams. They are bright, sparky and immediately likeable. For anyone who has an interest in horror films, this is a must-see! As a final word, I’ll leave you with two things to ponder should you take my advice and watch the film. Exactly what are the office workers betting on and, why is it so pleasing to see a character continuously consuming cannabis?

 

This film was short-listed for the 2012 Nebula Award and for the 2013 Hugo Awards for Best Dramatic Presentation.

%d bloggers like this: