FILM REVIEW: FANTASTIC FOUR (2015)

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Sue Storm: Music is just a series of altered patterns. The musician creates the pattern and makes us anticipate a resolution… then holds back. Makes you wait for it. There’s patterns in everything and everyone.

Director: Josh Trank

Starring: Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell

Synopsis: Four young outsiders teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe which alters their physical form in shocking ways. The four must learn to harness their new abilities and work together to save Earth from a former friend turned enemy.

2015’s Fantastic Four had so much potential – an amazing cast, a hot new director, a dark and gritty new tone and the opportunity for Fox to create their own Marvel Universe with the successful X-Men franchise. However in the beginning of August 2015 this film was released and critics and fanboys alike all came out with their pitchforks claiming this as the worst superhero film of all time! The film was a commercial flop only making $25 million in its opening weekend and eventually only making $56 million in America against its $200 million budget. So what went wrong? There are many theories of the behind the scenes action with director Josh Trank tweeting on the opening weekend ‘A year ago I had a fantastic version of this. And it would’ve received great reviews. You’ll probably never see it. That’s reality though’ which was soon taken down. It’s obvious that Trank butted heads with the studio and they came in to reshoot most of the film. Unfortunately all of this does appear on screen with a disjointed narrative and a confusing plot, Fantastic Four, just could not compete in our over saturated superhero film landscape.

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The reviews are mostly correct this film is bad and could not compete with the excellent superhero films we’ve gotten in the last decade and even in 2015 alone. However I don’t believe it is the worst superhero film of all time. Or even the worst Fantastic Four film. I think what’s most disappointing is the potential in this film. Like I said these actors are in their prime Miles Teller hot off the popular and critically acclaimed Whiplash and Michael B. Jordan coming off the equally successful and critically acclaimed Fruitvale Station and about to blow up with the far superior Creed later that year. There was also Kate Mara coming off the popular House of Card’s Netflix series and director Josh Trank coming off the successful superhero found footage film Chronicle. This film should have been great with a whole new vision of the Fantastic Four spawning sequels and a new Marvel Universe. Instead what we got was a bunch of scientists hanging around a bunker talking science babble for half the film and then gaining powers without much explanation and a tacked on ending where the four are all of a sudden combat trained and ready for more adventures.

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The plot revolves around Reed Richards (Miles Teller) a young science genius who is recruited by Dr. Franklin Storm played by Reg E. Cathey (who has the best speaking voice) to join a company where they are exploring travelling to different dimensions. His childhood friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) joins him. There he meets Sue and Johnny Storm (Kate Mara and Michael B. Jordan) who are Franklin’s children. Sue is also a scientist and Reed is attracted to her immediately. However she does have history with another scientist working there named Victor Von Doom (classic villain name) played with intensity by the always interesting Toby Kebbell. They eventually travel to another dimension and acquire powers that change them all uniquely. The scenes involving them all exploring their powers is quite horrific and there are signs of a more interesting film here. The film cuts to a year later where they have gotten used to their powers and have combat training. They need to find Von Doom who is still trapped in the other dimension. However I could be wrong this film was very confusing.

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This film is ultimately really boring with no stand out performances or action scenes or even comedy. These characters are meant to be fun and I would argue director Tim Story captured that in his two Fantastic Four films. Those films weren’t that bad they had a fun vibe when most superhero films took themselves too seriously. I cannot recommend this film and it’s disappointing that everyone involved failed to produce an entertaining superhero adventure when Marvel Studios is doing it so effortlessly.

Rating: 1 Star

FILM REVIEW: THE AVENGERS AGE OF ULTRON (2015)

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Tony Stark: Shit!
Steve Rogers: Language.

Director: Joss Whedon

Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Don Cheadle and Samuel L. Jackson

Synopsis: As The Avengers defeat the remaining forces of Hydra a new threat arises as Tony Stark and Bruce Banner attempt to develop a new security system for the world. When their experiment backfires, Ultron is born. A computer program/robot who wishes to exterminate humans from earth.

With mammoth expectations from Marvel Studios after last year’s critical and box office successes Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers Age of Ultron arrives with slight disappointment from fans. It is an impossible task for Whedon to top his first attempt of combining Marvels favourite heroes in 2012’s The Avengers. It is also an impossible task to keep the Marvel brand fresh off last years quite surprising hits especially Guardians of the Galaxy. However with a deeper look you can see that Whedon actually has topped the original with better chemistry between the heroes, a better villain with James Spader’s sly Ultron and bigger and better action set pieces beginning with a snowy attack on Hydra’s base in the opening scene.

This photo provided by Disney/Marvel shows, Chris Evans as Captain America/Steve Rogers, in the new film, "Avengers: Age Of Ultron." The movie releases in U.S. theaters on May 1, 2015. (Jay Maidment/Disney/Marvel via AP)

Avengers Age of Ultron actually delivers what everyone wants; nothing more and nothing less. Perhaps that is the issue with the Marvel brand in general, with every film released we are teased with the next feature. In 2011 we knew with the releases of the original Thor and Captain America and the success of the two Iron Man films that we would have an Avengers film the year later. With the ending of The Avengers and the reveal of Thanos we knew we would get an Infinity Wars Avengers film coming up. With Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World we knew we would get an Avengers sequel in 2015. There are no more surprises in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even with the release of Age of Ultron we know next year we’ll get Captain America: Civil War. Marvel has even released their five year plan to the press so we all know what adventure our heroes will go on eventually. This takes the surprises and stakes out of the picture for Avengers AOU because we know Iron Man and Captain America will face off in next years Civil War and Thor will fight again in a further sequel in 2016. All we can do is try and enjoy this particular adventure on its own terms even through we know no one significant will die and nothing significant will happen that will alter Marvel’s five year plan.

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However sitting in the cinema and watching the action unfold, listening to Whedon’s witty banter come out of my favourite heroes mouths I can’t help but feel in love. I love Downey Jr’s snark and wit in Tony Stark, I love Evans naivety and stoic in Captain America, I love Hemsworth’s viking swagger as Thor, Johansson’s sexy Black Widow and Ruffalo’s brooding Bruce Banner. There is also Renner’s new and improved Hawkeye, Cheadle’s over-eager Rhodey and Anthony Mackie’s dedication to Cap in Sam Wilson. There are new surprises with Spader’s brilliant Ultron, Paul Bettany’s unique and amazing The Vision and Elizabeth Olsen’s sexy and scary Wanda Maximoff. Unfortunately Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Quicksilver/Pietro Maximoff is a bit of a letdown after last year’s superior version in X-Men Days of Future Past. As you can see I’m a huge fan of Marvel and even though I know where each franchise is going I can still enjoy this adventure on its own terms and I think in time people will look back at this as one of the better adventures in the Marvel canon. Even though there are multiple plot lines, too many characters and the novelty of the heroes coming together for the first time removed, I think Whedon still excels as a comic book film auteur. It is a shame he is leaving the franchise however I believe he will deliver another excellent film soon.

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With excellent performances, brilliant action set pieces and a great villain in Ultron, Whedon has delivered a worthy sequel to The Avengers and also paves the way for more adventures that I can’t wait to see.

Rating: 4 Stars

FILM REVIEW: BIRDMAN (2014)

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Riggan: Just find me an actor. A good actor. Give me Woody Harrelson.
Jake: He’s doing the next Hunger Games
Riggan: Michael Fassbender?
Jake: He’s doing the prequel to the X-Men prequel.
Riggan: How about Jeremy Renner?
Jake: Who?
Riggan: Jeremy Renner. He was nominated. He was the Hurt Locker guy.
Jake: Oh, okay. He’s an Avenger.
Riggan: F – k, they put him in a cape too?

Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough and Amy Ryan.

Synopsis: An aging actor who was once famous for playing the superhero ‘Birdman’ struggles to regain relevance when he attempts to adapt a play based on Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

A visually compelling and emotionally resonant motion picture from director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. I loved Inarritu’s first two films Amores Perros (2000) and 21 Grams (2003) however he lost me with Babel (2006). His first two films had a gritty visual style and fractured structure that resonated with the films themes of desperation, longing and failed dreams. However he went too far with Babel, which turned into two hours of depression porn. I’m happy to see that just like his lead character Riggan Thomson he has made a comeback with this important and relevant fable on celebrity culture, superhero/blockbuster cinema, arthouse cinema and his original themes of desperation, longing and failed dreams. The film is very meta not only for its director but also its lead character Riggan, who was once in a successful superhero franchise (Birdman 1, 2 & 3) just as its actor Michael Keaton (1989’s Batman and 1992’s Batman Returns). Keaton has always been a wild and charismatic lead actor and revealed a manic spirit in his first successful film 1988’s Beetlejuice. Keaton recaptures this manic energy and also adds a level of gravitas by knowing his history with the real life Batman franchise. He gives the character an extra level of reality with his casting.

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The film revolves around Riggan trying to make a comeback by adapting the Raymond Carver play What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, however his own hubris comes in the way as everything starts falling apart including the set, actors and his own fragile mind. Riggan continuously hears voices in his head from the character he once played, Birdman. Birdman believes that Riggan shouldn’t bother with this play, no one cares and he won’t be able to make it as a true actor. He tells him to take the check and star in another Birdman film which is what the audience really wants. No one cares about theatre and broadway. He may be right in this day and age of the superhero blockbuster. The film is a real time capsule of cinema in 2014 and is a savage attack on the entire superhero genre and how it is destroying true art. This is only one of the themes as the film also tackles age, father daughter relationships, art versus commercial, internet and viral marketing, actor’s egos, and the fall of success. It is a bold and powerful film.

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The real star of the film for me was cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. The film is made to look as if it is all one shot and this is breathtaking to behold. The amount of work from actors to crew (especially the stage handlers) is amazing as the camera pulls in and out of Riggan’s room, to the stage and to the streets of New York. The films distinct look is remarkable and will be talked about for years to come. I haven’t even mentioned the impressive performances from Edward Norton, Emma Stone and Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough and Amy Ryan. The film is quite the masterpiece and is clearly one of the best films of this decade.

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Rating: 4.5 Stars