Man of Steel (2013)

Man of Steel (2013)

Metals… there seems to be a lot of emphasis on them in films nowadays. Not that there are films out there about smelting and how steel alloys are crafted, but you can’t help but notice how the combination of metals and humans has made some serious money in the past few years. OK, this is a really odd and tenuous link / introduction to the review, but you get my point surely? Robert Downey Jr.‘s Iron Man and all of his related films have been a major earner in Hollywood. A major earner. They’ve taken comic book movies to the next level and showed the immense drawing power of these films. So what happens when you upgrade your iron? How about we put some steel into the mix? And switch from Marvel to DC? And add Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder into the mix? Let’s see how Man of Steel stacks up shall we?

Man of Steel (2013)

Man of Steel is of course the story of Superman. The superhero that flies, shoots heat lasers, has x-ray vision, is super strong, is near invincible etc. etc. This is one of the main reasons I’ve never had any affection towards him from a comic book fan’s perspective. He’s just got too many damn powers. And his weakness? Kryptonite… an asset that everyone seems to have in his world. I won’t lie; I’ve never read a single page or panel of a Superman comic, so this review isn’t coming at you from a fanboy perspective. What do you think this is? A Marvel film review!? Nor can I attest to being a fan of Christopher Reeve‘s outings as Superman. If I’m honest, the closest I’ve got to this franchise was Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman with Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher. Yeah, I admitted it. What of it?!

Regardless, this movie has been touted as gritty and grounded; due in no small part to the success of Christopher Nolan‘s Batman franchise. This also explains his involvement as an Executive Producer on this movie. Couple that with Zack Snyder and you should have something to marvel at. I must admit, I was dubious of Snyder being given the gig, as I’ve been less than impressed with him since 300. Watchmen was okay, and Sucker Punch? Well, let’s not speak of it. But I’ll hand it to him… Man of Steel is good. Very good…

Man of Steel (2013)

Man of Steel is the reboot the series has been yelling out for. It tells the obligatory origin story, but in a refreshing way. We see little Kal-El (Henry Cavill) on Krypton being sent away by his parents Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Faora-Ul (Antje Traue) as they aim to let him thrive off on Earth before Krypton implodes / he’s taken by the marauding General Zod (Michael Shannon). We skip a load of years and see his life with Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha (Diane Lane) Kent. What’s refreshing is that his life is filled in through flashbacks throughout the film, which allows the central plot to progress (him coming to terms with his powers, discovering the hero inside, yadda yadda) whilst also colouring in the background. I liked it.

The story is quite straight forward in many ways, and is probably a bit clich√© / has been done before. But what really sold Man of Steel to me was the sheer calibre of the acting on show. Everyone is pulling their weight and then some. Let’s, naturally, focus on Clark / Kal-El / Superman himself: Henry Cavill. This guy is perfect for the role – from his astoundingly broad-chested physique to his mannerisms and relatability. I was totally sold on Cavill‘s performance and can’t wait to see him return. My next favourites in the movie? Easily Costner and Crowe. I’m a big Russell Crowe fan, and once again he showed his acting chops off really well, as did Costner; giving one of his best performances in years. There wasn’t a single weak link in the line-up of main actors here. That’s hard to achieve!

Man of Steel (2013)

As I mentioned earlier, the flaws with the film – for me – were the plotting (fairly obvious) and sometimes very dry tone. I’m not expecting Iron Man-esque laugh out loud moments, but it was the inclusion of two or three obvious spoken jokes that had me cringing. They fell so flat and left me feeling awkward. Some have bemoaned the lengthy running time, but I’ll disagree with them; I thought it worked well at its current length. Sure, there was probably one fight too many in the middle section, but I was entertained and that’s what matters with comic book movies isn’t it? On that note, I also felt the climax of the movie – the “big bad event” was fitting and felt suitably menacing. I’d argue it was a far bigger threat than The Dark Knight Rises or The Avengers could muster. It’s nice to feel a true threat… even if you had no doubt about the ultimate outcome!

Man of Steel (2013)

Also, I need to mention just how it looked… fantastic. Snyder does have a flair for filming beautiful looking scenes and Man of Steel doesn’t disappoint. I felt the sheer scale of his universe and felt drawn into it entirely. As I say, I can’t wait for the already announced Man of Steel 2… although I hope it’s not called that!

Man of Steel is the Superman movie fans have been roaring out for for years since the weak Superman Returns. Finally, arguably the most famous superhero of all time has a film to be proud of. The reason this film works so well is the way in which it’s an origin story, but told in a nicely succinct way, and the sheer calibre of acting talent on show. Cavill is the perfect Superman and his supporting cast are all firing on all cylinders. Although the film’s not perfect, and arguably not as fun as Marvel’s current stable of characters, it bodes well for the future of the franchise.

So who wins out of steel and iron? Although steel is actually the superior metal, there’s no competition here in the fact that Iron Man is superior to Man of Steel. But it’s close. And you could argue that they’re incomparable owing to radically different tonality. Whilst one is stern, one is jokey. Can you imagine Robert Downey Jr. as Superman though? Can you? Now that’s something to think about…

Phage Factor:

4 Star

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Few films ignite as much of a passion in me as ones stemming from the Marvel Studios lot. I grew up reading those comics back in my youth, before neglecting them throughout my teenage years in favour of attempting (and failing) to bring the lady Phages running to me. They were dark times. Although I still don’t regularly read any of the comics, I’ve embraced that part of my past and really enjoy Hollywood’s attempts at bringing your comic heroes onto the big screen. And since you’re wondering – this also correlates pretty well with attracting the lady Phages too. See – comic knowledge is a pretty hot asset to behold! So, naturally Marvel’s build-up to last year’s Avengers Assemble / The Avengers was something that really drew me in and had me hooked. Every film, regardless of the relative absurdity and obscurity of the hero, landed a startlingly good direct blow! And so we come to the third instalment of the franchise that started it all: Iron Man 3. Can ol’ shellhead hold our interest for a third solo outing, or has he outstayed his welcome?

The short answer? No, Iron Man has not outstayed his welcome. In fact, he’s more than welcome and encouraged to put his feet up and get comfy. You see, I’d go as far as stating here that Iron Man 3 is perhaps the best instalment in the Iron Man series of films. It far out-paces Iron Man 2 and at least equals, if not surpasses the canned genius of the original Iron Man. A bold statement. But what makes it so good?

Iron Man 3

Fanboyism aside, Iron Man 3 really drills into a darker direction for the franchise, which is the key to its success. We’re all very accustomed to Tony Stark / Robert Downey Jr. cracking wise at every chance he gets. This film is, and isn’t, different. Let me explain. Much has been made in the trailers of this being a “personal” journey for Tony, who’s emotionally damaged from the events of The Avengers. Hell, he’s seen aliens, flown a nuclear bomb into space and met gods. He’s been through a fair bit! So not only does he have that to contend with, but he’s also dealing with a new terrorist threat stemming from someone known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). It all gets a bit personal, which leads to Tony being the target of the aggressor’s aggression!

Iron Man 3 (2013)

What’s so different in this entry is the fact that we see a lot more of Robert Downey Jr. and less of the shiny red and gold suit. A LOT more Downey Jr. This is a great asset to the film. With The Dark Knight Rises, some decried the fact that Christian Bale was only in the batsuit for a small fraction of the film, as he spent a lot of time with a broken back / being an old moany guy. This isn’t the same for Downey Jr., as we actually see him having to act and not just deliver quippy lines. He goes through a lot of hardship over the course of the film, and it’s great to see this emoted on-screen for perhaps the first time in all of Stark’s / Downey Jr.‘s appearances as the character.

Whilst I’m focusing on the actors, I need to give a lot of credit to both Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin and Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian. Both are sublime in their more “fiendish” roles. As regular readers will know, I’ve got a lot of time for Guy Pearce. I thought he was great in Lockout and Lawless; he’s a very versatile actor. This is no exception. And Kingsley? Well, I was worried he might be a hammy villain as his recent performances have left a lot to be desired on the big screen, but… well, it works. You’ll see what I mean. I’m being deliberately vague, but you’ll see why when you’ve watched the film!

The Extremis arc...

The Extremis arc…

Now that I’ve mentioned the name Aldrich Killian, I think it’s worth coming round to the source material that the film draws from. As I said at the outset, I’m still in touch with what goes on in the comic book world, even if I don’t read them any more. As a result of this, I’m fully aware of where Aldrich Killian and The Mandarin fit into the Iron Man mythos. Overall, the film draws heavily from the Extremis arc of the comics – Extremis is the name for a new form of weapon – essentially a way to weaponise one’s own body with untold abilities such as fire projection (seen here), or untold speed and strength. Imagine Captain America’s super soldier serum, but on a load of horse steroids. That make you breath fire. Now, the film takes liberties with this storyline in a way that involves The Mandarin and also drops some of the other interesting parts of the comic’s plot… but I won’t say what or how. I’ll leave that for you to see. So, although I’m a fan of the comic storyline, I thought it was handled really well here and adapted lovingly.

So, whilst I talk of the plot, let’s mention why I’ve been so deliberately vague in previous paragraphs… there are twists. BIG twists. Twists so big that no-one would guess them, regardless of how many issues of Iron Man you’ve read. It’ll catch you totally off guard. If I’m honest, I was a little bit peeved to see the major twist, but can also appreciate it with hindsight. Let’s just say that this film isn’t going to pan out the way you expected from the trailers. I’ll say no more, nor any less.

The mysterious Aldrich Killian...

The mysterious Aldrich Killian…

And that’s it… for Iron Man… for now. As many will know, this is Robert Downey Jr.‘s last contractual obligation to play Iron Man. I’ve no doubts that Marvel will throw money at him to secure him for The Avengers sequels, but what of Iron Man 4? Well, Iron Man 3 really does play out as the conclusion to a trilogy. Shane Black has lovingly crafted a finely scripted, well acted, well paced film that wraps up the Iron Man story in spectacular fashion. As much as I’d want to see an Iron Man 4, I very much doubt we’re going to see it in the next 5 years at the very least. I hope we see more of Downey Jr., and I suspect that we will… but more stand-alone Iron Man films? I’m doubtful, to say the least…

Oh, and finally… stay until after the credits. Yes, there are a TON of people listed as doing Digital Effects, but the final scene? Well, I quite like it. It’s a nice way of tying it all together.

Iron Man 3 is one of the strongest outings from Marvel since they opened their own studio with the release of Iron Man back in 2008. The film feels polished, lavish and complete. It’s got a lot of pay offs for fans and also doesn’t act as a “bridge” to another movie, which is one of the major critiques levied at Iron Man 2. It’s its own movie. Its strengths lie in the scripting, direction and acting… so pretty much everything. The twists won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but I can guarantee you one thing: “you’ll… neverrrr… see… them… coming…” (to quote The Mandarin).

My nerdish devotion to all things Marvel has again paid off with Iron Man 3, perhaps more so than any other movie spare The Avengers itself. My pre-teen self is elated by how good these films have turned out. And the post-teen me? Well, it’s been rewarded with a fantastic slice of modern day cinema that combines espionage, action and thriller qualities to make one hell of a film. Even the comic book geek in me is sated for now. So, back to more pressing issues until Thor: The Dark World in October… where all dem lady Phages at?

Phage Factor:

5 Star

Comic-Con 2012 Film Round-Up

Comic-Con… An event that used to be regarded as the time of year when pale, socially awkward creatures would gown up as their favourite science fiction character, brave the Californian sun, and make their pilgrimage to meet the stars of thatshowyou’veneverheardof and¬†itwasbiginthe80’s. You need look no further than that barometer of public opinion, The Simpsons, to see how these events were seen… Remember the baying hordes asking Lucy “Xena” Lawless the most absurd and nerdy questions in a scene from 1999’s¬†Treehouse of Horror X? Or for those less familiar with the intricacies of the series, you’re surely aware of Comic Book Guy, the rotund, sarcastic and single comic book shop owner? Well, fill a hall with people of this calibre and that’s how this event was rightly or wrongly seen back in yesteryear. No more.

Jump forward a decade and Comic-Con is firmly marked on every film enthusiast’s, entertainment magazine’s and large film studio’s calender next to the award ceremonies. Why? Well, it’s not to catch a glimpse of some of the¬†phenomenal Cosplay costumes, but to hear about the latest announcements on the current darlings of Hollywood: the comic book movie… and this year was exceptional.

Ant-Man: Coming soon to a cereal bowl near you!

The ¬†“House of M” (Marvel), coupled with the “House of Mouse” (Disney) really brought the goods this year; probably their best outing since the entire cast of¬†Avengers Assemble¬†was erm… assembled on-stage at the 2010 expo. It really is telling of how far Comic-Con has come in recent years that Robert Downey Jr. and Don Cheadle¬†– two of Hollywood’s leading men – were in attendance. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s take this sequentially as opposed to tackling this with the reckless chronological abandonment of Quentin Tarantino.

Proceedings were kicked off with the confirmation that¬†Edgar Wright‘s¬†Ant-Man¬†will indeed see the light of day. Yes, that’s right – that little punk from¬†Honey, I Shrunk The Kids¬†has harnessed¬†Rick Moranis’¬†awesome shrink gun powers and become a superhero. Ok, I jest… in fact, that little kid grew up and became, well, no-one. Last film? 1992’s Honey, I Blew Up The Kid. Not all film roles are kind to you. Funny that these two films perfectly encompass¬†Ant-Man‘s eventual powers: the ability to shrink to the size of ants (and control them) and become gigantic. Though if¬†Wright puts him in a bowl of Cheerio’s at some point we’ll know where the inspiration came from. Kidding aside, every comic fan worth his/her salt knows that the introduction of this hero into¬†Marvel‘s cinematic Universe could spark some very exciting film plots down the line… Tickle this Phage excited.

Next up, we’ve got Tony Stark¬†Robert Downey Jr. – a man who needs no introduction, but this doesn’t stop him giving himself one courtesy of Luther Vandross. If this man wasn’t so damn charismatic, talented and infectious you’d want to tell him to come off the pompous juice every now and again. Downey¬†(himself / Iron Man), Cheadle¬†(James “Rhodey” Rhodes / War Machine), Shane Black¬†(director) and Jon Favreau¬†(Happy Hogan / exec. producer) of course were on hand to show off footage from the Iron Man 3 film. As The Phage is a bit wet behind the ears and not based in California, we weren’t there to explain the footage to you, but needless to say it sounds¬†fantastic. Notably, it was confirmed that¬†Ben Kingsley will indeed be the Mandarin, although I think the only people unaware of this casting are those that are holed up in bunkers awaiting the nuclear fallout caused by the Millennium Bug to clear in 2023, or you know, they have a life that’s not based on the internet… It’ll be nice to see Kingsley¬†flexing his serious acting chops again after whatever The Dictator was. Due in May 2013 (April for the UK), this is sure to be one to mark on the calender.

In a back-to-back onslaught, the final announcements from the Marvel stable caught some off-guard for polarising reasons. Firstly, the good. We find that the uniquely named¬†Thor 2¬†and Captain America 2¬†have been morphed into Thor: The Dark World¬†and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Although the Thor title has left some room for ambiguity in what’s to come in November 2013, ol’ Cap’ doesn’t. Expect the return of Bucky Barnes, who was last seen falling off a train in an Arctic looking Germany, in 2014.

Oops, there goes the neighbourhood! That, or Marvel’s current run of form.

Now, I like to think of myself as a bit of a comic book fan (see The Amazing Spider-Man review), but the confirmation that¬†Guardians¬†of the Galaxy¬†wasn’t just some ludicrous rumour was… well, imagine the feeling you’d get if you’d just woken up in an alternate reality where¬†Keanu Reeves doesn’t act like a soulless robot from the planet “Woody Woody Wood Wood” and Justin Bieber now fronts¬†Napalm Death… Sure, it might seem like a pleasant surprise on the surface, but it’s just odd. So with Marvel soon introducing an intergalactic Peace Corps led by a talking raccoon, we can expect the “grounded” take on superheroes to evaporate quicker than that punk from Honey, I¬†Shrunk The Kids‘ career. Here at the Phage, we can see the connection clarifying the *Avengers spoiler* Thanos appearance in Avengers Assemble, but do we really crave these heroes…? “They may be the ones the Marvel Cinematic Universe deserves, but not the ones it needs right now… ¬†Because they’re not known heroes. They’re unknown guardians, watchful protectors… a difficult sell to the public.”¬†Speaking of which…¬† ¬†

Ok, DC didn’t launch in with a Batman quote, nor clips from the imminent¬†The Dark Knight Rises… Nor does it need them as that particular hype machine is in danger of exploding amid reports it could topple ¬†Avengers Assemble‘s¬†opening weekend take and that negative reviewers are being cyber-lynched left, right and centre.

Man of Steel. Not shown practising Blue Steel. Just moody.

No, DC had but one film to show for what is arguably their poster boy: Superman, with Man of Steel. Both Henry Cavill (Clark Kent / Superman) and director Zack Snyder (thankfully at a normal frame rate) were on hand to show off some footage and answer fans’ questions. Once again, The Phage was overlooked for a press pass, so no in-person viewing (this will have to wait for The Dark Knight Rises trailers), but the main thing we learn is that yes, General Zod is the villain. Yes, that’s right – the same villain from Superman II back in 1980. Hopefully they’ve updated the General’s fashion sense since then; although they say the 80’s are back in fashion again so maybe he’ll still be sporting some high rise black trousers. Reports on the frames-per-second of Snyder‘s Superman are still pending. Expect to see the return of the other¬†guy who sports red and blue in June 2013. Thankfully, this¬†shouldn’t be an origin story…

I wish there was more to balance out the weighting of Marvel vs. DC Comics in this report, but DC doesn’t have that many burning franchises, aside from Superman and Batman, who’s soon to be retired and rebooted following¬†Chris Nolan‘s trilogy. Rumours abound about a Justice League movie (like the Avengers’ ensemble cast), as well as a¬†Green Lantern reboot (yes, just 2 years after the original), but nothing concrete has been announced.

There really was something for every comic book movie fan at Comic-Con this year. The Phage won’t dip into the reams of other announcements regarding non-film franchises such as The Walking Dead, but needless to say it stood out in so many areas.

So whether you’re a fan of men flying around wearing a cape, Norse Gods with washboard-like ab’s, or talking racoons from space, there was something to get excited about.

And there’s always next year for “that punk” from Honey, I Shrunk The Kids to make his unexpected and unneeded return to the silver screen…

“Bring back Nick!” Campaign 2012