Now You See Me: smoke and mirrors

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The Prestige and The Illusionist were great films. Mainly because they were almost like magic tricks themselves – constantly keeping the audience guessing until the very end. Now You See Me obviously draws from the same genre, but with too many sub-plots, characters and the added heist element, it is ultimately little more than a poor man’s Ocean’s Eleven.

At the start of the film, four magicians are recruited by a mystery man to put on a big show in Las Vegas, subsidised by a wealthy businessman (Michael Caine). Calling themselves The Four Horsemen, they are cocky sleight-of-hand artist Jesse Eisenberg, psychic trickster Woody Harrelson, Harriet Houdini Isla Fisher and pickpocket Dave Franco.

Somehow or other — the script isn’t strong on explanations — they are headlining the MGM Grand in Vegas within a year. At the show, they bring a Frenchman to the stage as a volunteer, “teleport” him to the vault of his bank in Paris, and get him to steal millions from the vault.

The FBI then selects one of its agents (Mark Ruffalo) to investigate the crime, and he’s assisted by a French Interpol agent (Melanie Laurent) and an annoyingly smug ex-magician (Morgan Freeman) who has dedicated his life to working out how tricks are done, and spoiling them for the audience.

The result is a cacophony of big-name actors all vying for screen-time amidst overlapping and often nonsensical storylines. Most of the acting is underpowered, and the normally excellent Ruffalo gives the worst performance of his career. To top it off, the director can’t even decide who the main characters are. Is it the gruff and confused FBI agent and his suspicious colleague, or the four illusionists?

Unsurprisingly, the man behind the camera is none other than Louis Leterrier, whose last creative act was to inflict the 2010 3D remake of Clash of the Titans upon the world. His new film is smaller in scale, but equally short on sense. Definitely one to avoid.

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The Avengers: an absolute Marvel

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With Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises and Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spiderman still to hit cinemas, it’s looking like a definitive year for superhero movies as The Avengers storms the big screen and wins over critics across the globe.

The premise of the movie is simplistic – bad guy Loki hatches world-domination scheme, petulant but kind-heated good guys swoop in to save the day, Scarlett Johansson in leather looks damn hot. But somehow, somewhere along the way, it becomes a lot more than that.

Six gifted and special people, Iron Man (Downey Jr), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), have to come together despite their differences to stand against Loki, a Norse deity hell-bent on ruling the earth with an iron fist.

Usually, movies that feature an abundance of big name stars are not to my taste. Take, for example, New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day – lots of stars, not a lot of substance. The Avengers, I’m happy to report, is nothing like either of those films.

The cast, which features Hollywood A-listers such as Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Samuel L Jackson and Gwyneth Paltrow, meld fantastically with each other and with the storyline.

Prior to The Avengers, we saw Iron Man 1 and 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America. Each of these films, while not to be seen as prequels, did indeed do the job they were created to do – they gave the main Avengers depth, backstory, and character while being box office success stories in their own right. Granted, Black Widow and Hawkeye were left out of this process and, as such, weren’t developed as much as they could have been, but I see that as an unfortunate casualty of an otherwise fantastic development process.

Though I do genuinely love this new method, I have to note that some of the previous Marvel Movies weren’t quite up to scratch. It seemed as if the Captain America installment was not as thought out as either Iron Man or The Hulk and that it was only there to fill the gap until the 2012 release of The Avengers. I also thought that Thor, though it was a joy to behold 114 minutes of Chris Hemsworth, was a bit of a let down in places.

But whether it’s down to the previous films, the stellar cast, or Joss Whedon’s scriptwriting prowess, The Avengers itself is clearly the best
Marvel Movie to date. The acting is near impeccable, the action is raw and the jokes are hilarious. Stark is his usual cheeky self, Bruce Banner is broodingly deep and Thor is just as beautiful as he ever was. There’s also something disturbingly attractive about terrifically entertaining Asguard bad boy Loki played by the fantastic Tom Hiddleson who, according to many critics ‘steals the show’.

Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk was also a breath of fresh air in this sneakily unique heavy hitter. He gives his character more depth than either Eric Bana OR Edward Norton (something I never thought I’d admit) and is both endearing and heart-wrenching in his portrayal of Bruce Banner. Instead of going for the “woe is me, I get angry and smash things” angle, his manner and acting style hint towards a deeper, more depressing self-loathing.

What I like about the film, is that it deviates from the traditional ‘Good vs Evil’ trend just the right amount. There’s the bad guy, obviously, and the quest to save humanity… but there’s also some interesting in-fighting and tension between avengers. It’s clear that they all come from different moral standpoints, and I think Joss Whedon did a great job using that to his advantage.

I also like the fact that it does exactly what it says on the tin. Here’s a Marvel Movie for people who like action movies, for people who like Marvel Comics, for people who always played the “Who would win in a fight…” game and, of course, for people who want to drool over Chris Hemsworth and Scarlett Johansson.

If you see nothing else this month, go see this. You won’t be disappointed.

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