Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1.21 – ‘Ragtag’ Review

It seems strange to opt for a character-specific flashback episode so late in the season, but the writers go with it nonetheless.

Episode 21 is balanced between moving the main arc forwards and a set of flashbacks focused on Ward’s S.H.I.E.L.D. history. The thematic ties are all there – including finding your purpose, daddy-issues and loneliness – but it’s nothing we haven’t seen done before . . . and done better. For me, Skye’s backstory 1) came at a far better time (midseason) and 2) was far more mysterious and emotionally charged. Even the single reference to Skye’s past thrown into this week's episode was far more harrowing than any of the Ward stuff.

That being said, the flashbacks finally came into their own late on in a moving ‘will he, won’t he?’ moment. It’s just a shame it came 35 minutes too late.

All things considered, ‘Ragtag’ was a disappointingly weak lead-in to next week’s finale. But at least the final few minutes delivered.


Tuesday, 27 May 2014

X-Men: First Class – The Mutants Just Got Their Mojo Back

The X-Men franchise has had its share of ups and downs. The Bryan Singer-helmed original was one of the early bastions of the new wave of superhero movies at the turn of the century, and it still stands up to this day (it’s sequel, ‘X2’, even more so). Then Singer jumped ship with the disappointingly dull ‘Superman Returns’ and left the X-Men franchise to crash and burn with the widely ridiculed ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’ and, later, ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’.

So who better to bring in than Matthew Vaughn (director) and Jane Goldman (writer), the creative dream-team behind the excellent ‘Kick-Ass’. And they do a decent job of getting the whole mess back on track . . . at least enough to merit last year’s cartoony, but enjoyable, ‘The Wolverine’ and the newly released ‘Days of Future Past.’

Their most noticeable contribution is to warp the franchises timeline beyond any logical explanation. But playing fast-and-loose with the timeframe does provide a much-needed fresh slate. The action’s shifted to the swinging 60s and it turns out that it was a bunch of mutants who avoided starting World War 3 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s suitably bonkers, but never feels particularly well-integrated.

Individual elements are very effective, however, with Michael Fassbender’s Nazi-hunter a stand-out. His early scenes are brilliantly handled and truly terrifying (keep an eye out for some chilling, but exquisite, foreshadowing for the fate of one of the lead characters). In fact, Vaughn has a tendency to really ratchet up the violence. Alongside Goldman, he draws every last drop out of the darkest depths of some of these mutants’ powers. And, while it's mesmerising seeing Azazel tearing through ranks of soldiers in a way only he can, it’s really rather grim.

Fortunately, that’s more than made up for by the excellent ensemble cast, who look even more impressive three-years down the line. Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Bacon, Nicholas Hoult . . . the list goes on. They elevate what is an otherwise uninspiring X-Men story, and add a touch of class to the proceedings. Like ‘Star Trek’ back in 2009, the cast, if nothing else, are a brilliant set-up for an ongoing franchise.


P.s. And thumbs up to the creative team for pulling off the classic yellow and black outfits.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1.20 – ‘Nothing Personal’ Review

I’m not really sure what kind of finale we’re building towards, but episode 20 certainly had me enjoying the ride.

Skye knows about Ward and throughout the episode she has to attempt to play him like he’s played the team. All while waiting for Coulson and the gang to work out what on earth is going on.

Even though we all knew the team’s moment of realisation was coming, there was still plenty of room for surprise. Most of it stemmed from Fitz’ reaction, which was moving and fantastically well-played by Iain De Caestecker. The tension continued throughout the episode and there were a couple of well-placed twists and turns building up to the terrifically exciting final set-piece.

All in all, ‘Nothing Personal’ is quite the contrary and, although some of the set-pieces were fun and Deathlok was as chilling as he’s ever been, it was the delicate emotional core that really stood out this week. 


Friday, 16 May 2014

30 Minutes or Less – Zombieland This Is Not

My expectations were high for ’30 Minutes or Less’, Ruben Fleischer’s follow-up to the excellent 'Zombieland', but something’s not quite right this time round.

Gone is the wacky charm of his blood-drenched debut, and in its place we have lowest-common-denominator crude, and kind of nasty, ‘humour’.

Danny McBride’s Dwayne and his sidekick, Travis (Nick Swardson), come up with a master-plan to off his mega-rich dad. Their genius scheme involves strapping a bomb to pizza delivery boy Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) and giving him just 10 hours to rob a bank, so they can then use the cash to hire a hitman to finish the job.

But it’s all so remarkably unfunny. While the interplay between Nick and his best friend, Chet (Aziz Ansari), starts out promisingly enough, jokes about sleeping with each other’s sisters get real old, real fast.

Dwayne and Travis are even worse and they seem lost in some hopelessly out-dated frat-boy comedy . . . it’s strange, to say the least.

Things do start to pick up, though, and Eisenberg and Ansari grow into their roles a bit. But, everything falls flat on its face again when we finally get to the poorly executed robbery. If you think the movie struggles with the stoner comedy, the action comedy is a whole new level of hopeless.

While there are moments of enjoyment to be had, to go from such a well-measured comedy to such a fumbling one in a single movie . . . you really dropped the ball their, Fleischer.


Monday, 12 May 2014

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1.19 – ‘The Only Light in the Darkness’ Review

The action takes a step back for the second week in a row but, as oppose to 'Providence' last time round, this episode didn’t feel like it was lacking as a result.

For much of episode 19, the focus is set squarely on the characters, rather than S.H.I.E.L.D. itself - exploration over explosions, if you will - and it’s very successful, at times.

‘The Cellist’, so delicately played by Amy Acker, was a welcome addition and there were a couple of moments of genuine heartbreak, thanks in part to Clark Gregg’s (Agent Coulson) performance. There were also some devilishly simple, but brilliantly tense, sequences; most notably, the lie detector scene, which was impressively orchestrated and totally gripping.

But it wasn’t quite the action and intrigue hinted at during the Harry Potter-esque opening scene. Which brings us to the one major complaint for this episode; Marcus Daniels was utterly superfluous. His ‘darkforce’ powers may have looked cool, but he came and went without any sense of lasting consequence. In a show that exists almost entirely to provide a cohesive sense of action-reaction within the Marvel universe, that whole character felt shockingly inconsequential.

That issue aside, ‘The Only Light in the Darkness’ was emotionally satisfying . . . but surely things are going to start kicking on a bit, right?