Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that I love comic book movies. What? You didn’t know? Where have you been hiding for the past year or so? Anyone that’s read Film Phage for a length of time knows that I positively gush whenever a comic book movie is released. Especially when they come out of the Marvel Studios lot. Sure, the Spider-Man, X-Men and Fantastic Four (OK, maybe not them… until their reboot in 2015) franchises excite me, as they feature some of my favourite characters, but it’s Marvel Studios that are storming ahead right now. Speaking of storms… it’s about time we heard from our favourite Norse god. One that wields a massive hammer, speaks in a semi-olde world tone… and enjoys taking his top off for at least one scene in every film. Yes, it’s the return of Thor in Thor: The Dark World

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

As is common across all of Marvel’s “Phase Two” films up to present, Thor: The Dark World, like Iron Man 3, picks up after the events of The Avengers. This will be something that we also see happen in next year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but probably not Guardians of the Galaxy. Essentially, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has returned to Asgard with his somewhat devious brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) after the latter tried to take over Earth (naughty, naughty!). So we see Loki sent to the dungeons whilst Thor attempts to deal with the latest threat to the “Nine Realms”… Malekith (Christopher Eccleston). Malekith is a dark elf determined to bring about the end of all worlds by ushering in a return to the darkness that prevailed in the universe before… erm… the universe by capturing the Aether. Ok, there’s a lot of oddness in the plot, but this is Thor – anything can happen! He’s a goddamn god… for god’s sake. God! Add into the mix Thor’s ongoing love for Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and we have ourselves a plot!

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Thor: The Dark World arguably boasts the strongest ensemble cast of any of the individual Marvel Studios movies. With the likes of Hemsworth, Hiddleston, Portman, as well as Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Rene Russo as Friga and Idris Elba as Heimdall. The cast is strong, and this film really showcases that. Each character has more room to breathe and develop. The first film, like so many origin stories, placed a lot of effort into developing who Thor was and how he would become the hero we know in this film. Now that that’s out of the way, Thor: The Dark World can show the Thor world we all needed to see… and it bloody well works!

This is a more fully-realised film than the original Thor. The Asgardian universe feels more fleshed out, the action is more frenetic and the set pieces are far bigger. I mean, who thought that the final showdown in Thor was impressive? It was just Thor versus a set of armour in a small town in the US. This was hardly the super showdown we would want! Thankfully, no battle in Thor: The Dark World is as dull… especially not the final battle between Thor and Malekith. Why did I like it so much? Well, not just because it was set in good old London, but because it was simply entertaining.

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Entertainment is high on Marvel’s agenda it would seem. For despite the subtitle of “The Dark World”, Thor isn’t a dark affair. Like April’s Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World features good slabs of humour in the mix. Not all of it hit the mark for me… not in a way that some critics would have you believe any way. This isn’t a comedy film. It has humorous elements (especially in the final battle), but they never distract from what’s actually going on in the film. This is a very good thing.]

I really have to come back to an earlier point to sum up why Thor: The Dark World worked so well: the cast. Chris Hemsworth has really grown into the role in a way that I’d now find it hard to replace him, just as I do with Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. I’m eager to see whether Chris Evans‘ turn in next year’s Captain America sequel will do the same for him, as for me, he’s currently the weakest link in the “core” group of heroes. But it doesn’t end there. Tom Hiddleston epitomises what’s so great about Marvel’s casting choices; he’s simply fantastic. Hiddleston clearly loves playing Loki and his chemsitry with Hemsworth is at an all-time high. We need more of this in the future. Please Marvel, please. I could volley the same sort of compliments to the main cast, but I’ll avoid getting carried away. Needless to say – it’s a great effort from Alan Taylor on directing this entry into Marvel’s canon. Just give us more Thor!

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Oh, and a sidenote? That mid-credits “stinger” teaser scene? Thank you Marvel. That’s much appreciated! Just as Thanos’ appearance at the end of The Avengers confused many non-hardcore comic fans, I feel that this one will totally throw you off the scent. But if you’re a comic book fan… and particularly are keen to hear a bit more of the Thanos mythos… it’s worth waiting around for.

Thor: The Dark World is another roaring success for Marvel Studios. Whilst it probably won’t attract the sort of audience that Robert Downey Jr. is capable of pulling with Iran Man films, it certain ranks as one of the best movies out of the studio. Sure, it has a bonkers plot, and Christopher Eccleston is criminally underused, but it’s a great piece of superhero action. Arguably, some might say, the comic book movie of 2013. So now… all eyes are on 2014… where we can expect Captain America: The Winter Solider, Guardians of the Galaxy, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Yes, 2014 looks like a tasty fight!

So, why see Thor: The Dark World? Well, see if you tick any one of these boxes: 1) You like comic book movies, 2) you like lightning, 3) you like Chris Hemsworth‘s massive pecs, or 4) you just like bloody good films. If you’re ticking more than one of those boxes, then why aren’t you at the cinema already? Or at least googling “Chris Hemsworth topless” to know why the ladies love this Austrailian! Oh… you’ve already done that haven’t you? Cheeky!

Phage Factor:

4 Star

 

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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

Rise of the Guardians (2012)

Rise of the Guardians (2012)

When I was a young ‘un I used to love the Christmas period. Well, I still do, but I used to love it even more and nothing signalled the arrival of Santa Claus (and the birth of some other dude… Ghandi?) than Christmas specials hitting TV and wintry films arriving at the cinema. There was Home Alone, Miracle on 34th Street and The Santa Clause to name but three. Yes, the early 1990’s were a golden age for Christmas films. It was also a golden time for The Santa Clause’s Tim Allen who was still enjoying his fame thanks to Home Improvement. Although since then, he donned a space suit and started yabbering on about going to “Infinity” (an impossibility), the loon has been unable to find regular employment. Nowadays however, I rely on Die Hard and Die Hard 2 to get me in the mood for Christmas. Nothing embodies Christmas like Bruce Willis in a vest. So how does Rise of the Guardians fare in bringing about some Christmas cheer… despite being set at Easter?

Rise of the Guardians (2012)

Rise of the Guardians is every child’s fantasy come true. Or I like to think it would be, as kids are a bit “too” mature nowadays and probably fantasise about semi-naked pictures of Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus more than true fantasy. Regardless, Rise of the Guardians follows the exploits of a superteam of Santa Clause / North (Alec Baldwin by way of Moscow), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) and the Sandman (voiceless) as they fight the resurrected evil that is the Boogey Man / Pitch Black (Jude Law). However, to stop the nefarious Pitch Black from eradicating the joy from every child on Earth and shattering their belief in the four heroes, they need the help of a newly selected Guardian: Jack Frost (Chris Pine). But Jack has issues. Cue the story…

The premise certinaly isn’t unoriginal. It’s also quite delectable timing considering how The Avengers have primed audiences for big team ups this year. And how do you get bigger than Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny teaming up? Well, I guess you could pursue South Park’s Super Best Friends route, but we all know how well that would go down nowadays considering who is in that team. He who shall not be named… No, not Voldermort you fool. Someone else. Anyway, getting back on track, the story itself has a nice set up and follows a tale of temptation and redemption. Sure, you’re not going to see a twisting Seven Psychopaths style storyline, and you can probably see every twist and turn coming (it’s a kids’ film after all), but it’s one of those movies that you can switch off and just enjoy for what it is.

Avengers Assemble! Or Guardians Garrison! Whichever.

Avengers Assemble! Or Guardians Garrison! Whichever.

Now I’m going to need to draw on a few other big animated films from this year in order to assess its quality. Namely, Ice Age: Continental Drift, Brave and Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted. I’m well aware that I’ve reviewed other movies that are “animated” this year, but I’m excluding the stop-motion brilliance of Frankenweenie and the creditable ParaNorman (let’s also forget about Wreck-It Ralph, as I annoyingly have to wait until February to see this thanks to a lapse UK release schedule). So how does it compare? Well, favourably. I wouldn’t say it’s better than those other films per se, but it is different, and is equally enjoyable. This goes for both adults and children. In fact, I’d argue that it’s far more enjoyable for the youngsters than any other animated film this year. Bold statement, but there we go. It combines those childhood fantasies with a superhero-esque team up. How can that not be enjoyable?!

Regular readers will know I never applaud actors for essentially just reading from a script to lend voices to a film and this will be no exception. All voice work is fantastic and I especially loved Alec Baldwin‘s North – beautifully Russian and beautifully funny too. It’s also nice to see Jackman in something a little more “cuddly” than late. I’m sure Les Miserables will alter his image in the public’s eye too (though to me, he’ll always be Wolverine).

Rise of the Guardians (2012)

What I’m more inclined to comment on here is the quality of the animation. Once again, it’s utterly sublime. At least to my eyes. Another fantastic job from the guys at Dreamworks. Hell, if you see Pixar or Dreamworks stamped in front of a movie, you know you’re getting a quality looking piece of work. It doesn’t always tie closely with the quality of the film itself, but is always a reliable gage of animation quality, which is no bad thing.

Although the film was fun overall, I just felt it was a bit vapid in places. It’s hard to put my finger on why this is exactly, but I didn’t leave the screen thinking it was as solid as it could have been. I was engaged, I laughed and I enjoyed it all, but something was lacking for me. Don’t get me wrong, Rise of the Guardians is a solid film and one that probably deserves to be seen this December, especially if you have kids, but it doesn’t leave me as spellbound as it should do. Or maybe I’m just still bitter about not having Wreck-It Ralph in the UK yet. Bah humbug indeed.

All in all, Rise of the Guardians is a beautifully put together Christmas film. It’s just one that’s lacking that biting edge and indeed lacking Christmas itself, despite the copious amounts of snow on show. Considering the film’s set at Easter there’s a hell of a lot of snow on show. I mean, where is it set? Siberia? Considering the thin smattering of Christmassy films on show this year, Rise of the Guardians should be your ideal choice to get you in the mood. Especially if you have children, who’ll simply lap it up.

But me? I’ll be going to Nakatomi Plaza again and “we’ll get together, have a few laughs…”, as Bruce himself says to me on an almost yearly basis. Because, as well know, nothing really represents Christmas like a load of guns, terrorists and Holly McClane ruining John’s December year after year. Yippee-ki-yay turkeystuffer!!

Die Hard at Christmas

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star