Tag Archives: comic

Movie Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

Kingsman

Kingsman: The Secret Service is entirely bonkers. It’s also entirely enjoyable.

Based on the a UK comic book series created by Dave Gibbons (Watchmen) and Mike Millar (Spider-Man, Wanted, Kick-Ass), it tells the story of Eggsy Unwin (Taron Edgerton), a white trash Londoner who is recruited to a top secret spy agency headed by “Arthur” (Michael Caine) and “Galahad” (Colin Firth).

Like its source material, Kingsman channels the most famous spy who ever lived, James Bond, with loads of super cool gadgets and outrageous action sequences. It’s not quite Austin Powers — ie, it’s more tongue-in-cheek homage than parody — but it’s so deliciously over-the-top and unapologetically so that you can’y help but admire its audacity and sense of fun. The villain, for instance, is a lispy eco-terrorist played by a crooked-baseball-cap-wearing Samuel L Jackson, whose sidekick, Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), is essentially “Blade Runner” Oscar Pistorious with actual blades as prosthetic legs and Bruce Lee-like kung fu skills. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

What really elevates Kingsman above your typical action-comedy, however, is the direction of Matthew Vaughn, best known for Stardust, Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class. There’s a genuine energy to his approach that got my blood pumping, and he adopts a slick style that can only be described as cool. He’s a real talent who knows what works and has the skills to turn vision into reality on the big screen. One thing my wife said during the movie that stood out to me is that it doesn’t feel like a typically gloomy, drab British flick. And she’s absolutely right. In addition to the Bond films, Kingsman reminds me a little of the first Men In Black movie with the cool kid learning the ropes to be a new recruit angle, the innovative gadgets and the irreverent tone, as well as Kick-Ass for its stylistic — and shockingly graphic — violence. I’m sure there will be complaints about how violent it is,

The action is spectacular, as you would expect from the guy who delivered Kick-Ass, though here Vaughn takes it to another level with some of the best choreographed fight scenes in recent memory. One ridiculously complex set piece, forever to be known as “The Church Scene”, was a symphony of absolute mayhem executed with no rapid cuts and all swirling long takes. Epic stuff.

It doesn’t hurt that the cast is superb. Colin Firth looks and acts the part as Galahad, and the presence of Caine and one of my faves, Mark Strong, lifts the overall class of any film. Even Samuel L Jackson, who has been a “keep gettin’ ’em cheques” guys for a while now, appears to be having more fun than usual. I had never heard of Taron Edgerton before, but I’m sure I’ll be seeing a lot more of him after witnessing how he held his own against all these big stars without a hiccup. He’s equally convincing whether as a scared delinquent or a suave secret agent. Looking forward to seeing him later this alongside the likes of Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, David Thewlis and Christopher Eccleston in the true crime drama Legend.

It has already received fairly good reviews, though I have a feeling Kingsman will be looked upon even more favourably years from now. It’s adventurous, edgy, sharp, funny, and filled with energy and style. It’s acutely aware of the traditions of the genre, but instead of overturning them it plays along with a cheerful wink and throws in a couple of wild surprises so audiences can’t quite put their finger on what’s going to happen next. While it spirals into ridiculousness towards the end, the film’s complete lack of sense actually helps the kind of popcorn experience Vaughn is trying to achieve. When it’s all said and done, Kingsman could very well turn out be the best action-comedy of the year.

4.25 stars out of 5

DVD Review: Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010)

Man, then end of the year is almost upon us and I still haven’t had time to review all the movies I’ve watched over the last couple of months.

Scott Pilgrim vs the World is another one of those movies that I’ve heard great things about, though the reactions have been somewhat mixed.  After all, it is based on a ‘graphic novel’ and it runs more like a video game than a conventional movie.

Being a fan of graphic novels and video games, I thought I would no doubt fall in the category of people that thought Scott Pilgrim was one of the best movies of the year.  But as it turned out…well…it is funny, fun, original and unlike anything you’ve ever seen before (and I really mean that), but as a piece of entertainment it doesn’t quite get there for me.

The premise is simple.  Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a young unemployed dude in a band, dating a high school girl and living with his gay best friend.  He meets the girl of his dreams (literally), Ramonda Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and seeks to win her heart — but to do so, he must defeat her seven evil exes.

And man, there are some good ones, from former Superman Brandon Routh to Chris Evans to Jason Schwartzman to my personal favourite, Mae Whitman (who coincidentally played Cera’s girlfriend/ex-girlfriend on Arrested Development as Anne/Egg/Her?).  Each opponent is set up like a round from a beat ’em up like a Dragon Ball video game or something, with points scored for blows, etc etc.

If that’s turning you off already, then Scott Pilgrim is probably not the movie for you.  But if you have an appreciation of video game culture, then Scott Pilgrim could potentially blow your mind.

For me, the action and fight scenes were clever and fun, entirely and outrageously over the top, as they are intended to be — but it’s the pop culture references and the witty jokes and one-liners that kept me interested.  Even if you peel back all the crazy stuff, Scott Pilgrim is still a very good comedy.

Michael Cera is essentially the same in every movie, but he’s actually pretty suited to the role.  Everyone else is fairly decent too, and I know Chris Evans is constantly ridiculed for his acting, but the truth is, he’s not that bad.  I found him adequately funny in this one.

My problem with Scott Pilgrim is that there’s not enough real substance for a 108 minute film.  You know he has to battle through the exes — he just has to — and even though they attempt to mix things up a little (instead of having the same fight every time), it does get a little tedious after a while.  Maybe I’m just getting too old.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed Scott Pilgrim for what it is — a quirky, action-packed romantic video game movie based on a comic.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Kick-Ass (2010)

Regardless of what I or anyone thinks of the teen superhero action flick Kick-Ass (based on the comic of the same name), one thing is for sure — I’ve never seen anything like it.

It’s so different from any other superhero or teen movie that it doesn’t really deserve to be put into a specific category.  It’s funny, insightful, crude, and outrageously violent, to the point where it has caused a lot of controversy amongst conservative groups.

Stuff that and stuff them.  Be warned about the film’s content, the over-the-top, brutal violence involving teenagers and pre-teen children, and the nasty language they use.  If you don’t like it, fair enough.  Don’t watch it.  Don’t take your kids to see it.  Advise others against it.  But please, let less uptight people enjoy it for what it is — an original, strangely poignant action film where the blood and violence is so crazy that it is obviously comical, and disturbing — but in a good way.

The premise of the film is rather straightforward.  A typical teenager, Dave Lizewski (played by Aaron Johnson), wonders why ordinary people don’t help others in need, and why there aren’t any “real” superheroes out there.  So he takes matters into his own hands and becomes Kick-Ass, a masked vigilante who gets more than he bargained for when he stumbles across truly dangerous criminals (led by Mark Strong) and “true” superheroes (played by Nicholas Cage and Chloe Grace Moretz).

If you think Kick-Ass is a cookie-cutter superhero parody, you’re in for a nasty surprise.  From the very first scenes where Dave gives us an insight into his life, and the introduction of Cage’s “Big Daddy” and Moretz’s “Hit Girl”, I could tell the film was going to be a lot darker and much more uncomfortable than your ordinary superhero flick.  You just don’t normally see films like this tackle the type of issues and subjects that Kick-Ass does, you just don’t see 11-year old girls use those sorts of words (!), and you certainly don’t see them slicing people up and shooting them in the head.  But these are the things that keep Kick-Ass fresh and compelling to watch.

Like all superhero movies, Kick-Ass requires suspension of disbelief, but director Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Stardust) makes the world in which the characters inhabit about as believable as it could be.

However, Kick-Ass is far from perfect.  The tone was very uneven — the mix of regular teen comedy jokes and extremely dark, unsettling violent comedy, plus actual serious plot/character development scenes made it a difficult ride on the emotional roller coaster.  Further, at 117-minutes, the film was and felt too long.  And while I liked Dave’s friends, the whole love interest subplot was lost on me.  Not enough attention was given to it (in my opinion) to make it work.

Having said that, I have little doubt Kick-Ass will go down as a cult classic.  Moretz’s “Hit Girl”, of course, steals the show, even though Aaron Johnson manages to portray Kick-Ass as a highly likable protagonist.  The truth is, the action scenes in Kick-Ass are simply phenomenal, better than most “pure” action films out there today.  It’s heavily influenced by John Woo’s films (especially the earlier flicks), and the film itself recognises this.  And I loved the tributes to classics I won’t spoil by mentioning.

Yes, Kick-Ass is confronting and unsettling and controversial.  But don’t we want more films like that?

4 out of 5 stars!

Movie Review: Watchmen (2009)

I had been importing my short Flixter entries for all my movie reviews up to now, but I thought if any movie deserved a full review, it would be Watchmen, possibly the most anticipated movie of the year for many (unless Harry Potter 6 or Transformers 2 is more your thing).

Disclaimer: I will preface this review with two comments: (1) I am going to stick to my convention of not revealing much about the plot or what happens in the movie; (2) I have not read the Watchmen graphic novel yet (thought it might ruin the movie experience if I read it beforehand).

watchmen-poster

Watchmen (2009)

Director: Zack Snyder

Main cast: Malin Ackerman (Silk Spectre II), Billy Crudup (Dr Manhattan), Matthew Goode (Ozymandias), Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Comedian), Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl II), Carla Gugino (Silk Spectre I)

Rating: USA: R, UK: 18, Australia: MA

Running time: 163 minutes

4 out of 5 stars

Watchmen is likely to be one of the most unusual films you will ever see.  It’s about superheroes, but it’s not your typical superhero movie.  Most of the superheroes don’t display any obvious supernatural abilities (which really just makes them people who like to fight crime and have costume fetishes).  It’s often difficult to discern who is good or evil, right or wrong.  Probably all of the main characters exhibit some form of mental disorder at varying levels of seriousness.  In a sense, they are the anti-superheroes.

As I said, I don’t like to reveal the plot for those that don’t want to know about it (but I assume most people who go to see it have a rough idea).  All I will say is that the story takes place in an alternate historical version of 1985, during the peak of the US/USSR Cold War.  This becomes clear in the opening sequences.

However, to some extent, it doesn’t really matter what the plot is about, because at its heart, Watchmen is a character movie.  The story is told in non-linear form, jumping from character to character and revealing their back stories through flashbacks.  There is a central line in the plot, a mystery waiting to be solved, but the focus is firmly on the characters – who they are, how they became the way they are, their personal struggles, their fears, desires, motivations and ambitions.  At the same time, there is this constant undercurrent about the nature of human beings, and in particular, their capacity (or lack thereof) for understanding and compassion.

The Watchmen graphic novel (by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and John Higgins) first came out between 1986 and 1987, which explains the setting.  For many years, it was regarded as unadaptable, and after seeing this film, I got a sense of why that may have been the popular opinion.  It’s a shame that the movie was not made closer in time to the graphic novel, because the story reflects many of the contemporary anxieties of the American public of that period.  Many of those anxieties are still relevant today, but they have evolved (in the wake of 9/11) and the impact is not quite the same as it would have been.

Directing and Screenplay

Director Zack Snyder and writers David Hayter (who wrote the original script) and Alex Tse (who kept the best elements but amended much of it) should be commended on bringing Watchmen to life at last.  As I haven’t read the graphic novel, I cannot comment on how good the adaptation was, but as a standalone film, it was very good, though not great.  The difficulty may lie with the running length – at 163 minutes, it is very long for a superhero movie (though not as extraordinary as it would have been a few years ago) – but at the same time, you get a strange feeling that there was much more of this bizarre world yet to be explored.  Perhaps the director’s cut, which is supposedly 191 minutes (and coming out with the DVD), will be a more complete picture for those that want to see more of it.  For some, I imagine 163 minutes is already too much.

Acting

rorschach
Haley as Rorschach was amazing

The importance of the acting in a film like this cannot be understated.  For the most part, the actors in the lead roles delivered believable performances that traversed a plethora of emotions.  The clear standout would undoubtedly be Jackie Earle Haley as the freakish yet intriguing Rorschach, the best character by far.  You’re already impressed with him when he wears a mask that obscures his entire face.  You then become even more amazed when he takes off the mask.  Truly brilliant.

Not far behind is Patrick Wilson (Haley’s co-star in the magnificent Little Children), an extremely underrated and underappreciated actor who plays Nite Owl II, a slightly overweight and awkward social misfit.

If there is a weak link, it would have to be Matthew Goode’s Ozymandias.  While he may fit the bill physically (tall, lean and traditionally handsome), he doesn’t quite exude the charm and presence needed from the character.  Not to take anything away from Goode’s performance because it was adequate, but if you have to pick on someone it’s him.

Violence, Sex and Special Effects

Given the classification ratings for Watchmen, it’s not surprising that there is an abundance of incredibly bloody and gruesome violence (as well as ‘normal’ violence), a bit of sex and nudity (both real and assisted by special effects) and some coarse language (though not as much as I expected).  I’m glad they made this film for adults rather than worry about the classification and go for a toned down version that simply wouldn’t have worked.

The fight scenes were superbly choreographed – smooth, crisp and whole, thankfully avoiding the rapid cut scenes that have plagued action films of late.  And from the guy who directed 300, I would have expected nothing less.  On the other hand, Snyder didn’t shy away from some of the more frightening scenes either, displaying the pain, gore and blood in all its glory.

As for the special effects – they were good, but certainly not groundbreaking.  They did a fairly decent job with Billy Crudup’s Doctor Manhattan, but there were times when you could easily spot things that were completely computer generated (not that you would expect them to build the real thing).

Conclusion

On the whole, Watchmen was very very good – but it fell considerably short of the masterpiece some it expected to be.  It may seem unfair, but you cannot NOT compare the film to its source material (or at least its reputation if you haven’t read it), which is considered by many to be the greatest graphic novel of all time.

There were some absolutely brilliant sequences littered throughout this movie, but it was more scattered than consistent.  Those expecting an all-out action flick might be disappointed because there are quite a few ‘dull’ character development moments in between.  I assume there will probably be 4 broad classes of reactions to Watchmen: (1) loved the graphic novel and therefore loved the movie; (2) loved the graphic novel but felt the film did not do it justice; (3) haven’t read the graphic novel and now want to after seeing the film; (4) thought it was weird and stupid and didn’t get it.

I put myself in the third category.