Iron Man 3: snappy, fast-paced, and surprisingly vulnerable

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you will, no doubt, be aware of Hollywood’s latest obsession with superhero movies. Almost every second month, another one hits the big screen. But despite this now regular occurrence, cinema-goers have yet to tire of the genre, with each new creation raking in the mega-bucks. Iron Man 3 is no different.

Enter Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr); the witty, self-deprecating, bad-boy billionaire anti-hero. First introduced to the masses five years ago in the blockbuster Iron Man, Tony is as charismatic as ever, but, character-wise, is a long way from the carefree hero we once knew.

In Iron Man 3, Tony is still reeling from THAT final scene in The Avengers. (If you have’t seen it, I won’t ruin it for you. You can read my review of The Avengers here and decide whether or not to rent it).

Referring to it as the “New York” incident, Tony’s basically suffering from a bad dose of post-traumatic stress disorder — the sort of psychological damage that’s generally denied most superheroes and, in my opinion, what sets Tony apart from the others on this occasion.

The symptoms, which include panic attacks, insomnia, and night terrors, all take their toll on his relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) causing Tony to spend most of his time creating more Iron Man suits and leaving civilian-saving duties to Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle).

But when new threats are revealed in terrorist leader The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) and bitter scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), Tony must figure out a way to save himself, and the World, from the powers of evil.

Throughout the movie, Director Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), takes full advantage of Downey’s gift for snappy one-liners and fast-talking banter. He also does something not many other superhero directors attempt to do; he spends a lot of screen time focusing on Tony’s anxiousness and vulnerability. We see him as a man with real emotions, and a man who realizes what’s important — the people he loves.

All in all, a great movie that does nothing to make me tire of the superhero genre. Exceptional cast, breathtaking special effects, and many a laugh-out-loud moment. As with all the Marvel movies, stick around for the credits and you’ll find a final scene… which promises to tie in nicely with 2015’s sequel to The Avengers. I, for one, cannot wait.

Oz the Great and Powerful: if only it had a brain

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Victor Fleming’s 1939 masterpiece achieved excellence in both style and substance by wowing audiences with the first color motion picture and also telling a compelling coming-of-age adventure tale.

But alas, the current trend of exploiting such successes (instead of attempting to expand the zeitgeist with original thought) has only resulted in a catalog of needless remakes, prequels and sequels. Big studio efforts to capitalize on one box office hit in the hopes another will follow are now weaving their way toward once-untouchable standards. Sadly, The Wizard of Oz is no exception.

Disney’s first tentpole film of the year exemplifies this theory, as the origin story Oz the Great and Powerful blows into theaters with the tenacity of a Kansas tornado – and a price tag that would make James Cameron blush. Based on L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, this trip down the yellow brick road is set years before Dorothy’s famed journey and weaves a fantastical origin story about how the mysterious man behind the curtain arrived in Emerald City in the first place.

Unfortunately, the bloated budget and uninspired storyline make Oz the Great and Powerful a strangely hollow experience devoid of the enchantment of its predecessor.

James Franco stars as the wizard, a third-string casting choice after Robert Downey, Jr. and Johnny Depp both passed on the role. Franco initially presents an earnest, winking charisma, revealing the real Oz as traveling magician and petty con artist Oscar “Oz” Diggs.

Shot in black-and-white, the introduction of Oz as a small-town crook and sideshow buffoon establishes solid characterization and narrative curiosity as we witness his struggle with his selfish, womanizing tendencies. Oz does display a sleight of hand worthy of most turn-of-the-century stages, but one particular crowd balks at his inability to help a pleading youngster out of her wheelchair. The angry protests chase him out of the tent and straight into the path of a jilted strongman whose wife succumbed to Oz’s wiles. With his trusty top hat and bag of tricks in tow, Oz escapes on a hot air balloon, cackling with self-satisfaction at the shaking fists below. Then, the inevitable twister comes spinning his way.

Just like Dorothy herself, Oz is whipped into the whirling centrifuge and comes to a merciful landing in a Technicolor dreamscape. The saturated color palette and lush production design lend well to the film’s 3D presentation, but fail to evoke the same magic as Dorothy’s first glimpse of Oz.

Franco’s attempt to showcase a wide-eyed awe throughout the rest of the film isn’t nearly as successful as his carnival smirk, and his performance suffers as a result. He does perk up, however, when meeting Theodora (an also miscast Mila Kunis), a local witch who informs Oz he must be the prophesied leader they’ve all been waiting for.

The promise of a throne, riches and an adoring crowd has Oz conflicted between his greedy, deceitful nature and the ethical obligation to admit he’s all smoke and mirrors and not the real Wizard. After Theodora explains Oz can’t accept his new title without first defeating the Wicked Witch, the film sags under a strained second act not even the radiant Michelle Williams as Glinda the Good can fully salvage.

But thankfully, Rachel Weisz’s diabolical turn as Evanora, Theodora’s conniving sister, is a highlight performance and rounds out the players nicely to initiate the film’s long overdue climax.

All in all, Oz the Great and Powerful ultimately ends up suffering the same fate as Tim Burton’s similarly sumptuous but equally empty adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. Perhaps a pair of ruby slippers would have helped, but what’s missing most in Oz is the brains, the heart and the courage.

Undeniably a visual treat, but ultimately not worth the trip to the cinema.

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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