Tuesday 23 April 2013

Iron Man Three review

Iron Man Three (12A/PG-13, 130mins)
Director: Shane Black
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Iron Man Three finds itself in a unique position in the annals of comic book movies. In following on directly from the most successful superhero movie of all time, Avengers Assemble, this first of the so-called Phase Two of Marvel adaptations has a lot to live up to.

But by also following up a lacklustre and poorly received second part in the Iron Man story, there’s certainly room for improvement. And improve on what has come Iron Man Three undoubtedly does. It’s a superhero movie as concerned with the man as the Iron Man, and that’s where it finds its angle, its freshness, its reason to exist.

That’s because Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is struggling in the aftermath of what the Avengers went through, unable to sleep and prone to panic attacks. He’s obsessed with working on new upgrades to his Iron Man technology, to the detriment of his relationship with Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) and to the extent that he can’t separate himself from his suits.

Boldly, there’s almost no action at all during this long opening period of setup. It’s the investible characters and their wisecracking that keep it going here, because it can occasionally be a slog, especially when Pepper and Stark are separated for a lengthy spell.

The arrival of new terrorist super-villain, The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), triggers this. He’s on a crazed mission to target the US president, destroying Stark’s home in the process and leaving him for dead. There’s also Guy Pearce’s dodgy businessman to contend with and the matter of bombs made from a powerful heat source that are being used in the Mandarin’s attacks.

Thankfully there’s Downey’s impeccable performance to guide us through the slower passages, and he’s the major contributing factor in what makes these films tick. Stark’s sharp, expertly delivered lines and no-nonsense dealings with everyone he encounters are enormous fun, but Downey can also find depth and darkness when required. And Kingsley is a revelation, with a turn that’s a million miles away from what on the surface looked like a re-run of his villain from the daft Thunderbirds film.

But this is also a movie capable of being sober, able to take a step back and smart enough to be more than men in suits hitting each other. Tapping into a seam of self-reference that never becomes smug, it touches on how people react to superheroes and celebrities, while the Avengers are referenced frequently but not beholden to.

And there should be no cause for concern that it fails to deliver on its promise as a fantasy blockbuster, because the second half is a triumph, providing surprises and sensational set pieces on top of the existing fun and games, and relying on the skills and ingenuity of Stark rather than just whatever powers the Iron Man suits have.

New-to-the-series director Shane Black, who must be due a good percentage of the credit for the resurrection of Downey’s career with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, integrates himself smoothly, handling explosive action and characters stuff with equal ease.

Once it gets up to speed, Iron Man Three is as good as anything the series has yet offered and this is a fine finale to a trilogy. Make it through the protracted setup and it delivers just the payoff required.

Sunday 14 April 2013

Evil Dead II Blu-ray review

Evil Dead II (15, 84 mins)
Director: Sam Raimi
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Part sequel and part remake, this delirious horror comedy sees Bruce Campbell return as Ash, as he and his girlfriend head to a secluded cabin in the mountains. The Book of the Dead features highly again, this time with added backstory as Ash listens to the tape recordings of the professor who found the book, through which evil spirits can possess the living. It doesn't mess about for a moment, with Ash’s girl possessed within the first five minutes and he forced to decapitate her. But that's only the start of his problems, and he's soon possessed himself while the daughter of the professor and her companions make their way to the cabin to add to the fun.

Director Sam Raimi creates a demented funhouse and manages the extremely rare feat of being terrifying and hilarious at the same time. Through quite astonishing camerawork, this is a movie that’s endlessly inventive and witty, with wonderful makeup effects making for sequence after sequence of breathtaking fun. In the pre-digital days in which it was made, this meant puppetry, stop-motion and sheer ingenuity, along with some lovely matte work.
It’s all driven by the human punching bag that is Campbell, as he gamely and masochistically bashes and smashes, chainsaws and chops his way through Three Stooges routines, and it’s a remarkable performance. This is horror by Looney Tunes, and it's a masterpiece.

Blu-ray: Evil Dead II has never looked or sounded this good on home video, and with over two hours of in-depth documentary and behind the scenes material plus a fun commentary with Raimi and Campbell, this is a package not to be missed.

Wednesday 10 April 2013

Oblivion review

Oblivion (12A/PG-13, 125 mins)
Director: Joseph Kosinski
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

In 2077, Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) has memories of earth before the alien war that wiped out most of humanity, the remnants of which now live in a space station in orbit. Along with Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), Jack remains on the surface as maintenance crew, cleaning up Wall-E style, in preparation for a move to Saturn’s moon. The arrival of a crashed spaceship containing a survivor Jack recognises from his dreams (Olga Kurylenko) coincides with the entry of Morgan Freeman’s possible baddie, and it’s clear from the start that there’s a deeper mystery at play in this derivative but well put together sci-fi adventure. How this develops is generally watchable enough, even if at first it seems to lack a clear objective and narrative drive, though familiarity and predictability are its main problems. Inspiration is evident from The Matrix to Moon via Total Recall and many more, and you can see the finale coming from outer space. It also lacks the ideas that inform the best sci-fi, driven more by plot machinations than having anything particularly groundbreaking to say. But visually it’s breathtaking, the crisp and clear CGI making it otherworldly without ever seeming cartoonish, and the infrequent bursts of action are solid, if hardly revolutionary.