Archive for Aaron Taylor-Johnson

Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 4, 2015 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Age of Ultron

Earth’s Mightiest Heroes return to battle a foe of their own making in the latest Marvel behemoth to hit the big screen.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is a whirlwind of action from start to finish with a massive cast of characters from virtually all the previous films. So much so, that the story is propelled forwards at break-neck speed to cover the developments in everyone’s lives while also introducing new characters as well as set up the plot.

Sounds like a bit of a mess? It is a bit. Unless you’re a comic book aficionado it is becoming more and more difficult to keep up with who everyone is. Especially as there are so many cast members that enough time cannot be afforded to build them up enough to make them 3D.

The most obvious examples of this are ‘the Maximoff twins’, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver (though only known by the names Wanda and Pietro – Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, respectively). They are new characters, but their origins were actually revealed at the end of Captain America: Winter Soldier. Also, James Rhodes/War Machine and Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Don Cheadle and Anthony Mackie), although big characters in the Iron Man films and Winter Soldier, are marginalised to the point where The Falcon isn’t even referred to by name.

Credit where credit’s due, though, director Joss Whedon does a stellar job with the over-stuffed hand he has been dealt by the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He starts the film in the middle of a big action set-piece where we get to see all the Avengers from the first movie doing their thing side-by-side, evoking the big splash pages from the comics.

He then does a balancing act of slowing down to find some human interaction between certain characters, fleshing them out more, namely the scientist bromance between Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) and the burgeoning relationship between Banner and Natalia Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). Also, Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) has a massive expansion of character in Age of Ultron, he’s always been a B-list Avenger but finally gets a chance to shine here.

There are some stunning visual effects in this film, as we’ve come to expect, but the slower moments between the characters are needed, not just for a chance to breathe, but to showcase Whedon’s knack for writing great, naturalistic and witty dialogue. Some of the standout lines include Hawkeye proclaiming that his role in these apocalyptic battles is ludicrous, bearing in mind his weapon is a bow and arrow. His wife (yep, he’s a secret family man) saying “I totally support your avenging” and The Vision (Paul Bettany – who is a welcome return to the screen in physical form) riffing with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) about the balance of Mjolnir (yes, The Vision can weald Thor’s hammer).

James Spader voices the titular villain, Ultron, with real menace but, as with most Marvel villains, is a bit two-dimensional and is easily dealt with in the end. There is a cameo from Andy Serkis as a South African arms dealer, Ulysses Klaue, who will eventually link Black Panther to the Avengers’ roster, as well as the mention of Wakanda. But this is a digression.

It is clear that Whedon knows his stuff when it comes to these films. He knows what the fans want to see and how to write snappy dialogue as well as handle massive effects shots. The problem is, that there are almost too many characters to fit into one movie and after the addition of move characters in the coming years before the next Avengers film, Infinity War in 2018-9, has been split into two parts. However, the end of Age of Ultron introduces the idea that certain characters can be written in and out to solve this problem, something Marvel will, surely, have to think about. Bearing in mind that people coming out of the cinema today couldn’t remember the red bloke’s (The Vision) name or who that purple guy at the end is.

It’s a bit of a mess, but Whedon is the only man who could have made sense of it all, despite the fact it felt like Marvel’s marketing department were insisting on certain shots or the inclusion of certain scenes. If you’ve never seen any of the previous films you won’t have a clue what’s going on. The Marvel films are starting to get further away from stand-alone as they go. But, if you’re a fan of the comics you’ll enjoy it quite a bit. Can too much of a good thing be bad for you?

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Review: Godzilla

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 31, 2014 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Godzilla

Gareth Edwards is the latest in a long line of directors who have taken on the legendarily iconic building-bashing big-screen blockbuster beastie. Many will remember the God-awful Roland Emmerich version starring Ferris Bueller and wince that Hollywood has dared to have another go at the franchise. But, with Edwards, the British director of the amazing indie sci-fi/monster film, Monsters (2010), at the helm it seems like a sure bet. After all, he’s such a fan of the monster movie genre that he spent years on the visual effects for Monsters on a laptop in his room… for nothing.

This is evident from the start in this reincarnation as it feels a lot closer to the feel of the original, Japanese films. For a start, Godzilla and the MUTOs Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) are not created by man’s nuclear experiments but, rather, they feed on radiation and are throwbacks from the era of dinosaurs that have sat dormant for millions of years until the 1940s. This is shown during the opening sequence which re-writes what we know about nuclear bomb testing; instead of weapons tests the military was actually trying to destroy Godzilla in the unpopulated Bikini Atoll.

The point of Godzilla, that was totally lost in the Emmerich film, is that the giant lizard is actually a force for good, not a rampaging beast bent on destruction. Its role is to restore balance by despatching the true monsters, like the MUTOs, Ghidora or Mothra.

One of the best things that Edwards brings to this film is that he has given Godzilla a personality, in some films he has recognisable facial emotions, which was great to see. The design of the creature is classic as well, in that it almost looks like a man in a suit rather than an overly stylised creature design.

There are many things that are problematic about this film, largely the human characters and their acting. For a start, Aaron Taylor-Johnson doesn’t look like the father of a 5-year-old and Elizabeth Olsen, equally, doesn’t look like a mother either. Their relationship was pretty unbelievable and largely pointless for the most part. During the action sequences, Taylor-Johnson’s character is more believable. Ken Watanabe’s character serves just to tie the legend of Godzilla back to Japan, though he does bring some gravity to proceedings. The best acting comes from Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche, Taylor-Johnson’s parents, who worked at a nuclear power plant in Japan when it was destroyed in the 80s. Their chemistry was brilliant, even though their roles were quite short.

There are also some horiffically hackneyed bits of dialogue and even a dog that manages to escape from a tsunami wave, reminiscent of the dog in Independence Day.

People have also been complaining that the titular creature isn’t shown very much at all, which is curious as it appears quite a lot throughout the film. And, though you don’t see it in all its glory in every scene it’s in we get to see all of Godzilla for the majority of the final 20 minutes. Also, this is how directors build suspense for the big reveal: you get the spines down its back a few times, then a foot, then the whole side of the beast, then the head and finally you get to see it throwing MUTOs across San Fransisco and the pièce de résistance is the nuclear breath! It’s a master class where the monsters are nowhere near as vague as in other monster movies like Cloverfield, for example.

There are three amazing set pieces during the film, among many brilliant effect shots of secret mountain bases being ripped open, destroyed buildings and a simulated tsunami. The first is where a MUTO causes huge devastation at an airport, tossing airliners across runways and causing a chain reaction of exploding jumbo jets until Godzilla appears to chase it away.

The second involves a MUTO and the humans: The soldiers are delivering a nuclear payload by train across country and a thick fog has come down over a bridge, so soldiers have to go ahead and check that the bridge hasn’t been destroyed. Things go south when a MUTO shows up and it all goes to pot in a really tense and spectacular fashion.

The third, of course, is the final battle between both MUTOs and Godzilla which starts off with that halo jump we’ve all seen in the trailer and sees some breath-taking visuals mixed with some absolutely classic Godzilla-style fighting that looks like guys in suits fighting. There are easter eggs for both Godzilla and general monster movie fans, including a point where Godzilla tries to break the jaw of a MUTO in the same way King Kong kills a T-Rex in most incarnations of his story. the switch up here is that Godzilla holds the MUTO’s mouth open and breathes its atomic breath down the creature’s throat.

These encounters were thrilling and, better than that; you can tell what was going on, unlike a lot of other modern monster or action movies of late. This is what sets Godzilla apart. Gareth Edwards’ direction mixes the human and monster elements together with clear visuals and dialogue which has been his calling card thus far and why he has landed the directing role on one of the upcoming Star Wars spin-off movies.

It isn’t just the visuals that are amazing, the sound and soundtrack are equally interesting. Instead of the more common electronic soundtrack Godzilla‘s soundtrack uses a more standard orchestra and choir, choosing to use electronic elements for the sounds of the creatures. These creature sounds really do enhance the effects and add to a truly immersive experience. In some cases the background sound effects fade right out to indicate the fact that they are so loud that the character’s brain can’t process them or the onset of a fainting spell.

This is not your standard modern monster movie, in many ways it harks back to classic monster movies of the past with cutting edge visual effects with great characterisation (especially on the part of the creatures, less so some of the human cast who were a bit one dimensional) and imparts an eco-friendly message which has become the latest thing to hit the Hollywood blockbuster of late. It’s well worth a watch and you really need to see it on as big a screen as possible.

Review: Kick-Ass 2

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 16, 2013 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Kick-Ass 2 poster

When Kick-Ass came out in 2010 it stood out. It was a film based on a little known graphic novel about a boy who wanted to be a superhero, but who discovers he’s woefully unprepared and was also beaten to the punch by a young girl and her father. In the course of the film he inspires a bunch of copycat heroes to don masks and fight crime. Sound a bit familiar? Well this film did it with the worst language and most horrific violence yet seen in a comic book movie, and this is what set it apart from the Marvel and Dark Knight films that were dominating the box office at the time. It was invigorating and not for the faint hearted.

Kick-Ass 2 picks up with our heroes two years on and Hit Girl/Mindy Macready (Chloë Grace Moretz) has joined the same high school as Kick-Ass/Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) after her Dad’s death in the last film. She is being looked after by her Dad’s old partner from the police, Marcus (Morris Chestnut) who is trying to give her back her childhood by making her act like a normal 15-year-old girl. Mindy is finding it very difficult to make friends and stop acting like Hit Girl, especially as Dave is into the idea of bringing Kick-Ass back as her sidekick after two years off.

The majority of the first half of the film concentrates on Mindy’s shift from Hit Girl to teenage girl and is a little slow going. There are some funny scenes after she gets shunned by the ‘cool’ girls in which she hits them with a ‘sick stick’, the effects of which need no explanation.

Meanwhile Chris D’Amico, Red Mist from the last film (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) has become obsessed with the fact that Kick-Ass killed his father with a bazooka and vows to become the world’s first super villain, The Motherfucker. The reason you haven’t seen much of him in the trailers and TV spots is because there isn’t a line where he doesn’t swear like a trooper. Oh, and his costume is, essentially, a gimp suit he found in his Mum’s wardrobe! He is assembling a team of super villains with names like The Tumor (Andy Nyman), Genghis Carnage (Tom Wu), Black Death (Daniel Kaluuya) and Mother Russia (Olga Kurkulina) in response to Kick-Ass joining a group of super heroes including Dr. Gravity (Donald Faison), Battle Guy (Dave’s friend from school Marty – Clark Duke), Night Bitch (Lindy Booth) – the eventual love interest for Kick-Ass and their leader, Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey).

Colonel Stars and Stripes seemed to have been set up to be quite a major character in the initial spots and trailers. However, possibly because of Jim Carrey’s recent shunning of the film because of the gratuitous violence, the character seems to have been cut out quite heavily, which is a shame, but I suppose is understandable from the filmmaker’s point of view. Strange career choice there, Jim, and it’s a shame because this is possibly the most enjoyable role he’s played in a while.

Just like the first film, Kick-Ass 2 is a bright, vibrant, fun, shocking, breath of fresh air of a movie. It is slower paced and has long sequences that revolve around the development of the characters, but it still packs in some amazing action set pieces a lot of which centre on Hit Girl or the woman mountain that is Mother Russia, whose big finishing move is to break people’s necks with her legs. The climactic fight between these two is gruesome to say the least! The story is brought to an, almost, definite close but leaves the door slightly ajar to spin-off into Hit Girl movies or even further Kick-Ass ones. It would be a shame if these characters never got an outing again, so fingers crossed for some more in the future.