Tuesday Trailer: Pacific Rim

pacificrimMonster movies have become something of an anachronism. With classic Harryhausen-era flicks confined to passive slots on Sunday afternoon telly, their impact has dulled over time, and these days modern monster movies tend to be either vaguely postmodern (Cloverfield‘s found footage/Monsters‘ understated existentialism) or defiantly shit (Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus and all the output from plucky turd merchants The Asylum).

Thank God, then, for Guillermo Del Toro, who seems to be single-handedly keeping the genre’s flame lit. The first trailer for Pacific Rim, which had Idris Elba “cancelling the apocalypse”, whet our collective appetite, but this second teaser goes some distance further. Robots-fighting-with-ships further. Perhaps one day this will be Sunday teatime fodder, and our grandchildren will scoff at the laughable effects. For now, this is shaping up to be a proper, gleefully bonkers, geek-friendly treat – the film Transformers could have been.

Watch the second trailer below; Pacific Rim comes to a drive-in theater near you on July 11th.

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Iron Man 3

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If The Avengers were the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young of superhero supergroups – a mismatched and occasionally volatile bevy of talents whose whole was invariably greater than the sum of its parts – then Iron Man is Neil Young. Like Young, Tony Stark’s charisma threatens to overshadow the group, and so it seems fitting that Iron Man is the first to head out alone – just as Young did in 1970.  (In this scenario, the Black Widow is probably drummer Russ Kunkel and Hawkeye is occasional touring bassist Calvin ‘Fuzzy’ Samuels, but alas I fear the folk-rock analogy is cumbersome enough.)

The Avengers earned fairly staggering $1.5billion at the box office (roughly the GDP of the Republic of San Marino, FYI), so Marvel’s first solo effort out of the gate would always have to be a big, brazen, balls-out, blustering affair, proving they could still steady that wobbly balance betwixt the commercial slaverings of their Disney overlords, the foam-mouthed expectations of the comic book fanbase, and the discerning wider audience, many of whom expect grown-up themes sewn into the childish costumes in this post-Dark Knight world.

Much of this must have been going through the mind of new director Shane Black (who gets a $200million budget for only his second film as director), and many elements from the Jon Favreau era have been appropriately culled. Gone is the moshy AC/DC soundtrack; gone, generally, is the sloppy freewheeling dialogue; and gone is Tony Stark’s sense of invincibility. The gun-ho rock-star hero is here at his most vulnerable, stricken with a surprising spate of panic attacks stemming from his near-death experience during the events of The Avengers.

Garnishing some depth upon a famously shallow character is certainly commendable, but it didn’t really work for me here. Robert Downey Jr (who, it should be said, continues to be on lightning form in the role he was born to play) spends more time out of the suit than in the previous two films, and while this acts as a vaguely interesting exploration of Stark’s motivations and fears, it makes the first hour lag, badly. Let’s not mince around – we all came here to see Iron Man wisecrack and kick substantial amounts of arse; anything less serves as a quiet disappointment.

And Tony Stark’s anxiety issues go largely unresolved. We are granted a brief wrap-up in a cute post-credits sequence with Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner, but should narrative strands really be limited to saddos like myself willing to sit through fifteen minutes of VFX artist credits? For all his talents as a screenwriter, Black’s script felt oddly bloated, with at least half an hour that could have trimmed, and yet somehow, plot points go unfinished or under-nourished.

The Mandarin, for example, is a character entirely squandered, with a bizarre comic twist that serves only as an anti-climax. Sir Ben Kingsley camps it up with aplomb, but not in the way you might expect, and he’s not as funny as he might think. That leaves villain duties to Guy Pearce, who delivers a straightforwardly reliable performance, but like his iron-suited adversary, the crux of the combative performances is delivered via CGI, and his ‘Extremis’ powers – breathing fire, exploding when angry – are ambiguous and sketchily outlined.

But still. Once things get going and the irreverent charms of a fun-loving millionaire superhero are given room to breathe, it’s as indulgently entertaining as the original film, and the final battle, involving forty-two AI-powered Iron Mans, is a fiery delight. The success of The Avengers as a behemothian multi-pronged franchise continues to be assured. But I’d strongly contend this is not quite the four-star triumph that the critical consensus seems to have settled on.

Olympus Has Fallen

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For the second time in as many months, a film depicts North Korean terrorists attacking US mainland, only to be defeated by a plucky American underdog. Last month’s Red Dawn was indefensibly shitty enough to give Kim Jong-Un a legitimate reason for military escalation; Olympus Has Fallen is similarly jingoistic, and formulaic to a fault, but at least it manages the feat of being rigorously entertaining, rather than painfully stupid.

This is, as plenty have noted, ‘Die Hard In The White House’, possibly the most succinct film synopsis since Hot Tub Time Machine. Gerard Butler is the meatheaded John-McClane-by-any-other-name, right down to the sweary banter with the bad guy over the walkie-talkie, and he is somehow single-handedly the last hope of the largest military in the world. It’s perhaps a testament to the Antoine Fuqua’s gripping action scenes that such a preposterous scenario could almost seem plausible. Perhaps the recurring images of explosions and gunfire gently massaged my brain into obliviousness. No matter – it did the trick. Fuqua has, as Training Day proved, a pretty solid handle on suspense, and a knack for well-timed conflagration-based fun. As an action film, it out-Die Hards the most recent Die Hard.

And it’s frequently hilarious, whether intentional or not. Symbolism in Olympus Has Fallen is, for example, beguilingly transparent. This is a film which doesn’t so much wear its patriotism on its sleeve as it does tattoo the stars-and-stripes to its arm with a rusty compass. Never mind the copious and gratuitous shots of the US flag, bedaubed in bullet holes or falling to the ground in slow-mo: the standout scene for amateur psychoanalysts appears early in the film. A North Korean plane crashes into the Washington Monument, that most conspicuous of phallic symbols, and lops the top clean off. How’s that for potent imagery? America, the dick-swinging alpha male of the geopolitical universe,  just had the biggest circumcision of all time.

Fortunately by the end of the film some hasty scaffolding has been erected around it and the implication is that the country’s genital reconstruction will commence immediately.

Evil Dead

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Few 80s horrors have escaped the unflinching gaze of the ruthless Hollywood remake machine. But some thought The Evil Dead, Sam Raimi’s scrappy, much-loved debut, too sacred a cow to receive such treatment –especially since Raimi effectively remade it himself six years later with Evil Dead II. And yet here we are.

Fede Alvarez’s re-imagining, flat and witless, doffs a deferential cap in all the wrong places. Present and correct is the bloody chainsaw, and that aggressively libidinous tree. But gone is the innovative camerawork and B-movie charm; instead we get slick, dull production values and glossy over-lighting. Gone, too, is the cheeky sense of humour; in its place, a peculiarly po-faced script. And most conspicuously of all, gone is Bruce Campbell.

A bland cast of expendable twenty-somethings are scant substitute for Campbell’s angular jaw, arched eyebrow and groovy one-liners. Like most remakes, Evil Dead makes a miserably weak argument for its own existence – especially when stacked against a superior original.

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