Review: A Trilogy of Spring Blockbusters

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a film review, despite having been to the cinema several times in the intermediate months. So to make up for that, I’m going to give you three reviews for the price of one. But before you shout “Huzzah!” and sing my praises, I should warn you that I’m not that generous, so the three reviews will be quite short, especially when compared to some of my other, more loquacious, posts.

*

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) –  large_4

J. J. Abrams’ follow up to his own spectacular Star Trek had a lot riding on it. The first film still divides audiences even after all this time – while most cinema goers and Star Trek fans loved it, the die-hard trekkies were less than impressed – and while Star Trek Into Darkness is an unquestionably brilliant film, it will probably only serve to further alienate the fans who so disliked the first one. But that’s their loss.

Star Trek Into Darkness is a pure adrenaline rush of entertainment. With fantastic set pieces, brilliant action, and a truly meaty villain, the film certainly rises to the standard set by its predecessor. There are some great nods for the fans, moments that will make you laugh and cry, and just an all-round sense of epic splendour.

The returning cast all once again excel at portraying these iconic characters, and once again bring a little something extra to the roles. But the main talking point of the film (apart from Alice Eve in her skivvies) is Benedict Cumberbatch, who is truly breathtaking in his role as John Harrison. Cold, calculated, ruthless, brutal, he is a strangely compassionate and incredibly dangerous character, equally capable of breaking bones as he is outsmarting minds. He is a revelation, and brings a fantastic sense of gravitas to the proceedings.

What lets Star Trek Into Darkness down is its reliance on what has come before. While Star Trek respectfully homaged the original television series and films in smart and subtle ways, Into Darkness, apes entire plots and scenes, giving you an unnecessary sense of déjà vu. While it doesn’t exactly detract away from the film too much, you can’t help but wonder how good it would have been if they’d tried writing a completely original story instead.

It’s still a great film though.

*

Iron Man 3 (2013) –  large_5

It was always going to be hard to be the follow-up film to The Avengers, but who better to carry that burden than Robert Downey, Jr., Marvel’s most bankable star. The Iron Man films have always been great. The first one set a new benchmark for superhero films, and Iron Man 2, while not as good as the first, is still one of the better comic book movies out there. So I was confident that Iron Man 3 would be a great film. And everything I heard about it seemed to back that up – they brought in the Mandarin, they based the script on the well-loved Extremis comic book run, and they cast Guy Pearce, one of my all time favourite actors. What could possibly go wrong?

Then the posters and the trailers started coming out, and it became apparent that, while the film looked fantastic, Tony Stark was going to have an army of Iron Man suits at his disposal. That was when I started to worry. Was it going to be a case of too much of a good thing?

It turned that my fears were completely unfounded, and Iron Man 3 may well just be the best film in the trilogy. With a sharp and funny script, the film shocks, awes, and amazes. There are some brilliant action sequences, some excellently played character twists, and the whole film is grounded by that charming and sarcastic wit that RDJ does so effortlessly well. While Tony Stark might have grown a heart since The Avengers, he is still the lovable dick that he always was, and he is by far one of the most watchable protagonists I have seen in a long time.

The rest of the cast is just as strong (especially Guy Pearce), with not a single dud performance in sight – even the kid sidekick is great. Guy Pearce really lays on the smarmy charm as the slick and myterious Aldrich Killian and is a great new addition to the cast and a great foil for Tony Stark. But enough about my secret man crush, because the main focus of the film is on Sir Ben Kingsley.

Despite being teased at in both the other instalments, the Mandarin was always going to be hard to bring to the big screen. A borderline racist Fu Manchu stereotype with magic rings doesn’t really seem to fit into the Marvel cinematic universe, so the way that the writers brought the character into the 21st century is rather brilliant. By making him a very realistic and very dangerous terrorist leader, the threat he poses to Iron Man is made all the more potent, because it is a very real threat. There is nothing glamorous or magical about the Mandarin – he is just an ordinary man with a lot of guns and a large army, and that makes him all the more scary. And Ben Kingsley plays the part brilliantly, throwing himself into the challenges of the role with gusto. He is impassive yet threatening, his voice both completely calm and a menacing growl. It is an excellent performance and one that will be talked about for a long, long time.

Iron Man 3 is a bold, brave, and emotionally satisfying ending to the trilogy. With fantastic action, a sharp script, and unforgettable characters, old shell head has once again helped to set the benchmark for superhero movies.

*

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) –  large_3

After Sam Raimi was cruelly shafted during the production of the never to be Spider-Man 4, I have felt a certain obligation to go and support all his other films. It also helped that the trailers for Oz the Great and Powerful looked pretty good.

And it was a pretty good film. The main problem is that the original The Wizard of Oz is such a timeless classic, that it was always going to be a hard act to follow. While Oz the Great and Powerful looks stunningly gorgeous, especially in 3D, it never quite manages to recapture the magic of the original. But it’s not for want of trying – like I said, it is both technically and naturally beautiful, with Raimi getting the most out of his magical CGI landscape, and he certainly knows how to handle 3D as well. While he does occasionally throw things out of the screen, most of the time he just sits back and lets you enjoy the depth.

James Franco is great as the initially unlikable Oz, all smarmy smiles and exaggerated winks, but as he slowly comes to realise that he has to be a hero, the bravado and the swagger fade away, replaced by a genuinely charming desire to be a better person. Mila Kunis is great as the naive Theodora (although how they got away with those leather pants in a family film, I’ll never know…), as is Rachel Weisz as the elegant Evanora, and Michelle Williams as the optimistic Glinda. The three women all portray the witches with a slight otherworldliness that works wonders for the characters.

But the real stars of the film are Zach Braff as Finley the flying monkey, and Joey King as the China Girl. Both characters as brilliantly realised CGI creations, and both make up the heart and soul of the film. They both have great emotional character arcs and both manage to snag most of the film’s best lines. It also made me realise how much I miss seeing Zach Braff on the screen. I wish he’d do more stuff.

So while Oz the Great and Powerful can’t quite live up to the legacy of The Wizard of Oz, it is a more than welcome return to L. Frank Baum’s world. With beautiful visuals and a talented cast, there is still a lot to like here.

And yes, this is the first time I’ve given something a rating that was below four stars, but remember, three stars still means ‘good’, so watch the film if you get a chance.

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