DIR/WRI: Joss Whedon • PRO: Kevin Feige • DOP: Ben Davis • ED: Jeffrey Ford, Lisa Lassek • MUS: Danny Elfman, Brian Tyler • CAST: Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo
The first Avengers movie was always going to be a wonderful novelty geek fest, Hulk, Cap, Stark, Thor, Hawkeye, Black Widow and not to mention SHIELD getting together to kick some ass. It also had some good humor, pathos action, scenes that did not feel like they had been thrown into a Michael Bay blender. With those elements at its fore it is not surprising that it went on to be one of the most successful films of all time. Unfortunately, you can only do that trick once, the novelty is gone and the buzz of a Matrix style shot of the Avengers leaping through the air together to face the enemy does not have the same thrill as it did the first time.
And so it goes. The Second Avengers film is finally upon us and it looks likely to earn as much money as its predecessor. The plot has Tony Stark trying to reactivate an AI defense project to protect the Earth. But of course all he manages to do is kick-start the plot when instead he accidentally creates the demented Ultron, cheekily voiced by James Spader. Soon destruction of the Earth is on the agenda, which of course is not much of a surprise.
I really wanted to love this film but instead liking it is all I managed to do. There is sterling work on display and the best CGI Hulk thus far. The standout fight sequence was between Iron Man and Hulk but what’s with all the visual allusions to 9/11 or did I imagine it?
All in all this felt like the most expensive television episode I’ve ever seen, it even begins as if it were the continuation of an Avengers film we never saw. Its over-burdened roster of characters leaves no breath for the subplots presented and there is only so much superhero action/destruction I can take in a 141-minute running time. That said there are plenty out there that will love it.
DIR: Shane Black • WRI: Shane Black, Drew Pearce • PRO: Kevin Feige • DOP: John Toll • ED: Peter S Elliot, Jeffrey Ford • DES: Bill Brzeski • Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, Jon Favreau, William Sadler, Rebecca Hall
After making his name with his ground breaking screenplay for 1987’s Lethal Weapon, Shane Black went on to achieve writing credits on films such as The Last Boy Scout, The Last Action Hero and The Long Kiss Goodnight. He then disappeared off the Hollywood radar for close to a decade, before returning in some style with his 2005 directorial debut, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
Despite not being a major player at the box-office, this film re-established Black’s standing in the industry, and gave its stars Robert Downey Jr and Val Kilmer roles to die for. While Kilmer has only occasionally threatened to build on his performance under the stewardship of Black, the previously troublesome Downey Jr has seen his career going from strength to strength, to the point that he is now the face of two major franchises, Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes.
Along with last year’s Marvel Avengers Assemble, and his brief cameo in The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 3 marks Downey Jr’s fifth appearance as Tony Stark and his alter-ego, and with Black returning to the director’s chair instead of Jon Favreau, it is clear that the careers of both men have come full circle.
Having helped his fellow Avengers to defeat Loki and the Chitauri in New York City, Stark is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) when a mysterious terrorist leader known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) announces himself to the world by committing a number of atrocities across the globe. His relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) becomes strained as a result, and with figures from his past re-surfacing in the shape of Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian and Rebecca Hall’s botanist, Dr Maya Hansen, matters quickly become complicated for Stark and those close to him.
Taking its cue from the ‘Extremis’ (a highly advanced virus created by Killian) story arc developed by Warren Ellis, Iron Man 3 has a tough act to follow after the overwhelming success of Marvel Avengers Assemble. In addition, the last stand alone adventure for the wisecracking superhero (Iron Man 2) was somewhat disjointed, despite being enjoyable in the most part, meaning that there were some necessary adjustments to be made this time around.
With all that in mind, it is pleasing to report that the latest chapter in the big-screen adventure of Tony Stark is consistently entertaining and gripping, making it arguably the finest film of the Iron Man series thus far. As ever, the chemistry between Downey Jr and Paltrow is right on the money, and Don Cheadle now looks fully comfortable in the combine roles of Colonel James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes and War Machine.
Upon taking control of the film, Black talked about taking a step away from the premise of Iron Man facing off against another giant robot, and certainly the threat this time is an altogether more human and real-world based kind of threat.
It is also significant that Stark is taken out of comfort zone for a large section of the film, as circumstances mean that he is stranded in Tennessee (when he is presumed dead), where he has to rely on all his ingenuity to repair damage of his own making.
With one $15 million dollar film to his name before taking on this task, there were some question marks about how Black would handle the pressure of a film with such a major budget. His handling of the major set-pieces is extremely efficient, though, and in unison with co-writer Drew Pearce, he has maintained the sharp wit that has been synonymous with his work over the past couple of decades.
This framework was established by Favreau (who reprises his role as former bodyguard turned head of security Happy Hogan) in the earlier films, and blossomed under Joss Whedon in last year’s superhero team up, which makes the decision to hire Black for this film all the more obvious.
If there was a criticism to be labelled at the film, it does become slightly overblown in the extended finale, but considering all that gone before it, the filmmakers had more than earned the right to turn outlandish during the final act.
Stepping up to the plate alongside reliable regulars Downey Jr, Paltrow and Cheadle, Pearce and Kingsley offer plenty of menace, while the often under-appreciated Hall also makes the best of the screen time she is afforded.
With a sequel to Marvel Avengers Assemble (those who are intrigued by that prospect should wait around the end credits) very much in the pipeline, this will not be the last we see of Tony Stark in his iron suit, and on the basis of this film, that can only be a good thing.
DIR: Guy Ritchie • WRI: Michele Mulroney, Kieran Mulroney • PRO: Susan Downey, Dan Lin, Joel Silver, Lionel Wigram • DOP: Philippe Rousselot • ED: James Herbert • DES: Sarah Greenwood • CAST: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris, Rachel McAdams
So when we last left Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and director Guy Richie, the looming threat of the arrival of Holmes’ to-be nemesis Moriarty was on the horizon. And so here he is placed front and centre, played with devilish delight by Mad Men alumni Jared Harris. Such is the jump in villainy that it’s a disappointment that the rest of the movie can’t keep up.
As is the rule for sequels, bigger is better; and so instead of just staying in London this time, the olde time dynamic duo are hopping all over Europe to stop Moriarty’s dastardly plans. Downey Jr. and Law have fit snugly into their roles a second time around, with their homoerotic bromance dialled up to 11. New additions Stephen Fry as Sherlock’s older, smarter brother Mycroft, and Noomi Rapace as a fortune telling gypsy who somehow is at the centre of everything, don’t really make much of an impression.
The story is kind of confusing since only Holmes and Moriarty seem to know what it is, and only reveal it right at the very end. And once it is revealed, it’s vaguely disappointing considering Moriarty is supposed to be an evil genius but for some reason is stealing nefarious plot ideas from Z-List Bond Villains. The action sequences have also been ramped up in size and intensity from the original, especially during a blistering shoot-out in a German forest that sees our heroes on the run from a world-class marksman and an armada of tanks.
But Holmes was never intended to be an action film, and the scenes of verbal jousting between Holmes and Moriarty are without a doubt the highlights of the movie. More of those for Part Three, please.
Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details) Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is released on 16th December 2011
DIR: Joe Wright • WRI: Susannah Grant • PRO: Rikki Lea Bestall, Gary Foster, Eric Heffron, Russ Krasnoff • DOP: Seamus McGarvey • ED: Paul Tothill • DES: Jess Gonchor • CAST: Jamie Foxx, Robert Downey Jr., Catherine Keener, Tom Hollander, Nelsan Ellis
And so the summer ends, the kids go back to school and the weather (sadly) stays the same. Along with any hope of blue skies go the last of this year’s blockbusters – to be replaced by the equally formulaic Oscar® hopefuls. The first of these is The Soloist, complete with each of the award-winning boxes ticked – a nominated director in Jon Wright (Atonement); a Best Actor winner in Jamie Foxx (Ray); and an Oscar®-nominated screenwriter in Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich). On top of these credentials, The Soloist is a moving portrayal of the loneliness of modern urban life and the courage and nobility of homelessness, as depicted in the character of Nathaniel Ayers (Foxx). Ayers is a gifted musician but also a schizophrenic. As Downey Jr. crudely observed in his nominated performance in last year’s Tropic Thunder, ‘You never go full retard.’ Oh, and it just happens to be a biopic. The first of this year’s Oscar® hopefuls is shameless in its aspirations.
The Soloist is based on the book written by Steve Lopez, the film’s journalist, who is played superbly by Robert Downey Jr. Lopez happens across Ayers after hearing him playing a two-stringed violin on the street. He is initially drawn to Ayers as a potential case study for his newspaper column, but their relationship quickly evolves into a friendship.
Foxx should be commended for his immersion in the role. He spent time with the real-life Ayers and took intensive cello and violin lessons to accurately recreate the gifted Ayers on-screen. Despite this, it is Downey’s portrayal of Lopez which is the real ‘soloist’ of the films title; Lopez is separated from his wife and living alone, out of touch with the city around him. While Ayers is the undoubted study of the film’s plot, it is Lopez who takes centre stage as he is himself altered through his attempts to help Ayers. The solid Downey Jr. and quirky but irksome Foxx are excellently supported by Catherine Keener as Lopez’s ex-wife and boss, Mary Weston, and Nelsan Ellis as David, a local community worker.
The Soloist is well carried by its cast and is visually striking (thanks to director of photography, Seamus McGarvey) but is let down by its misguided humour. While Wright attempts to show the spirit and lighter side of Skid Row – a dangerous district of Los Angeles that is predominantly populated by the homeless – these attempts fall on deaf ears. A few incidents involving Lopez and urine aside, the humour is repeatedly at Ayers’s expense – leaving the audience in the awkward position of being coerced into laughter at his mental illness. The joy within the story comes from Ayers’s pure passion for music; the humour is the unnecessary third string on his violin.
The customary pulling of the heartstrings in the final chapter of the film is undermined by the inexplicable humour that has preceded it, taking away from the film’s lasting impact.
Humour aside, The Soloist is a film worthy of your time on a rainy autumn evening, at least until the rest of this year’s Oscar® contenders begin to flex their literary muscles.
DIR: Jon Favreau • WRI: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway • PROD: Victoria Alonso, Avi Arad, Kevin Feige • DOP: Matthew Libatique • ED: Dan Lebental • DES: J. Michael Riva • CAST: Robert Downey Jr., Terence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow
Another summer, another superhero to whet our appetites for the heroic and the slightly imaginary. Amongst the nominees for ‘summer’s biggest boom’, Iron Man ranks slightly ahead of the crowd in being the first all-comic produced blockbuster to hit our screens. Courtesy of Marvel, and under the auspices of $140 million, Robert Downey Jr. assumes the daunting task of bringing the enigmatic steel millionaire to the public.
Cast with known names, but not huge stars, Marvel took a chance in allowing Downey Jr. the lead – a gamble mostly down to Jon Favreau – and a risk worth taking. Not only do we see a playboy millionaire as we have always wanted to see one – funny, fun, frivolous – but we also see a flawed hero in the making, brought wonderfully to life by the star (as we must henceforth refer to him).
Burdened with the obligatory ‘tale of the beginning’ weight all first-outings of superhero adaptations must carry, Iron Man does better than most in giving us much detail, but little boredom. Much of this is down to the easy manner Downey Jr. has with his part – he truly seems born to be Tony Stark. Not only does he nail the funny millionaire and the change-of-heart playboy but he is also a magnificent man of (steel) action!
And what is a leading man without a few side-players? Gwyneth Paltrow is a witty and clever Pepper Potts, giving credence to that staple of comic tales – the prim secretary who holds a torch for her philandering boss. Her role, though small, gives humanity to Downey Jr.’s humour – showing a Tony Stark capable of commitment and steadiness, despite his Iron-tendencies. Jeff Bridges grunts and minces onscreen as the villainous Obadiah Stane, and is perhaps a little too pegged into a stereotypical baddie role, but he rises above the mediocre script direction and gives enough growl to make him an obstacle.
The finale, as with most first-time tales held back by too much back story, is more skirmish than explosive, but it serves its purpose – Iron Man can hold his own in a battle. However, the lead-up to this ending is so fun and clever that you really don’t notice the time pass, as you enter into the strange world of a man in a steel suit.
Though his evolution from playboy to hard-boy can be viewed with a slight amount of incredulity – after all, it is just a tad farfetched that Tony Stark would make such a high-tech outfit in a cave in Afghanistan. But, come on – this is comic world, and such craziness should be overlooked. In fact, as comic-adaptations go, his abilities are much more believable than, say, nobody recognising Superman because of a pair of glasses, or a huge Bat Cave being built under a mansion with nobody any the wiser!
All in all, Iron Man makes it on every level – entertaining, exciting, and leaving you salivating for the next instalment. Marvel will be happy, Downey Jr. will be happy, and one hopes fanboys everywhere will be happy. Summer has landed!