Captain America: The Winter Soldier / The Raid 2

120px-film-strip2We managed to get early showing tickets for The Raid 2 so decided to try and cram in the new Marvel film before it. And almost managed. Courtesy of the usual delays (work, kids, traffic), we missed the first ten minutes *grumble*

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

“This isn’t freedom. This is fear.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Fury and Rogers are framed for treason while bad guys try to take over the world.

See it if you like: Jason Bourne with super-strength

Producer Kevin Feige described the film as “a 1970s political thriller masquerading as a big superhero movie.” And I agree completely. There’s more of a story here than you get in many superhero films and the leading characters very much come across as pawns in a much bigger game.

Sure, it’s full of explosions and incredible CGI – plus one of the best car chases I’ve seen in recent years. And, yes, there’s a guy with a metal arm and another with a shield made of indestructible metal (how do they forge that stuff anyway?) who can fall 20 storeys without dying. But it’s still a thriller at heart and not a bad one.

As far as action films go, it’s up there with the best of the child-friendly ones. The fight sequences are very well done and I gather that as little CGI as possible was used for them. It shows, with realistic movement and punches and kicks that really crunch.

If there’s an issue, it’s that it’s just a bit too predictable. Macguffins are visible a mile off and as soon as certain plot aspects are revealed, the remainder of the story unfolds in your brain an hour before it’s happened. “Oh, right – so that’s the bad guy, that’s the plot, he’s really that person, those need to be dealt with, he’ll end up there…”. Without troubling you with a spoiler, if the hugely prominent “man filling vending machine” doesn’t make you realise that it’s going to be used as a plot device shortly then you need to watch more films.

Chris Evans is good as Cap, and seems to have improved with each film. Scarlett Johansson brings the Natasha Romanoff character through from Iron Man 2 and The Avengers, and cements her place in the big scheme of things leading up to the next Avengers movie. Cobie Smulders also plays a part in linking elements of the Marvel Universe together, playing AGent Mariah Hill as she has done in the S.H.I.E.L.D. show on TV as well as Avengers Assemble.

Simply, though, it’s a great couple of hours’ entertainment. I enjoyed it easily as much as the first couple of Iron Man films which is high praise, despite the predictability.

The Raid 2: Berandal

“It will be a few months. You can’t know where I am. And I can’t be seen anywhere near you.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: The surviving police officer from the first film is placed undercover working with a gangster’s son to try and uncover corruption… with predictably blood-squirty results.

The Raid was a superb film. Buttock-clenching tension, explosive violence, incredible athleticism and all in a claustrophobic setting. Its sequel takes the lead character (Rama, played by Iko Uwais) and throws him in jail, acting undercover to get close to the son of a gangster so that he can weed out police corruption.

First thing – this is not a rehash of its precursor. No attempt has been made to run with the formula and do it all again. This is a more intelligent film, with more plot twists and characterisation. The downside of this is that there are far too many long, slow sections in between the kick-ass action that we came to the cinema to see.

Funnily enough, this film was supposed to be made before “Redemption”, but funding ran out on that so director Gareth Evans had to switch to a smaller budget option. The script for “Berandal” was thus adapted to take start two hours after the first film ended, so it continues directly on from the action there. A third film is being planned.

The plot itself isn’t terribly complex, but there are a fair few characters to get your head around and – let’s be honest – everyone in the cinema was there for the fight sequences. Thankfully when they arrive, they are not disappointing.

As the film progresses, the violence gets harsher, more over the top and far more bloodthirsty. Slashings, stabbings and so on take over from kicks, punches and twisted limbs which littler the earlier sequences. It’s pretty splattery stuff.

One point in its favour is the final one-on-one fight scene. Where I found its equivalent in “Redemption” to be drawn out to the point where it lost it’s realistic edge, this one is far better. When it ended, the audience I was with almost seemed to exhale at once as if we’d been holding our breath. I heard one “ffuuuuuck….” and one or two people clapping briefly.

Even that, though, is topped by the car chase which is simply lovely. In a “Look at him die! Wow!” kind of way, at least.

Definitely worth seeing, but harder work to appreciate than the first film’s all-out non-stop action.

Marvel’s Avengers Assemble

A surprise trip out to catch the film on the night of release. Carefully avoiding the crappy 3D version, and not being able to afford the IMAX we settled on the tiny-old-cinema-screen-with-dodgy-sound experience.

Marvel’s Avengers Assemble

“I have a plan: attack!”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Superheroes team up and fight bad guys. Well, dur.

See it if you like: Low-brow superhero flicks with too many characters.

There’s no denying the huge hype machine for this 142 minute effects-fest. With four films supplying the lead-in as far as story goes (more if you include the two Hulk movies) it has a lot to live up to. But does it manage it?

Well, as far as scale goes it’s pretty good. There’s a nice central bad guy and a nice huge threat towards the end to make it all larger than life. However, I found it somewhat messy with a couple of the characters virtually sidelined. Don’t expect the same level of cover for Black Widow and Hawkeye (Chris Evans) as for the other Avengers. In a way, it’s a good thing as they’re definitely weaker characters, certainly in this script. Scarlett Johanssen, for instance, just doesn’t convince me at all in her role, especially as the films plods on. She looks positively weak trying to wield two handguns.

On the flip side, there’s a great dynamic between Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and the banter between characters overall is pretty good. Snappy one-liners and a good dose of humour lift the film in just the right places. In fact there’s one very brief sequence – it involves Hulk and that’s as much as I’ll say – which had the audience roaring with laughter.

I wasn’t a fan of the Thor movie, but he’s much better in this. He’s just two dull to be the focus of a whole movie, but works well as part of the ensemble. I still don’t get how he’s a Norse god, but speaks with a posh English accent though.

The effects are predictably top-notch, with a good blend of live action and CGI. It looks like the effects masters are finally getting this right. The explosions are suitably meaty, and there’s plenty of destruction to keep even the most child-like of minds happy.

There’s not a huge amount in the way of plot – bad guy wants to take over earth, superheroes stop him (sorry if that spoils it for you) – and it does go very slowly in places. I confess to being a little tired on the evening we went, but I still didn’t expect to catch myself almost falling asleep. I did. Twice. One it got past this (around the hour mark), thankfully things picked up pace and I began to enjoy it more.

Overall, the two Iron Man films still stand out as the best recent offerings from this particular canon. The third in that series is coming up soon, and there’s also a teaser in the end credits of this film for more forthcoming action. Whether it’s a hint for Iron Man 3 or a second Avengers film, though, I don’t know.

Good, but not brilliant.

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In-flight films

A380 In-flight entertainment
A telly. On a plane.

Another quick rundown of the flicks I got to see on my last Etihad flights from Bangkok to Heathrow. Just shorties.

First up was Fast & Furious which was pretty good. This is the sequel the first film’s been after for all these years. Don’t get me wrong – 2 Fast 2 Furious was decent enough in a light-hearted way and Tokyo Drift was a half-decent sideways step. But getting the original cast back was the best thing they could have done and this immensely silly bit of car fun is worth the running time.

I then opted for Push which wasn’t quite so good. A nice premise – people with natural superpowers and a government agency trying to improve them by pumping them with drugs… which usually kill them. The superpowers fall under several labels and a lot of the “empowered” try to live off the radar so that the government can’t find them. The story does drag and there are so many holes in the plot that even Swiss cheese would get jealous. Dakota Fanning, though, once again proves she’s a pretty good child actor by not being annoying.

A change of planes and on to The Boat That Rocked which was so good it’s getting a full review (next post).

Final film was Outlander which was nowhere near as good as I was hoping for. Sci fi meets historical fantasy as a spaceship crashes in Viking Norway. Hitching a ride with the humanoid pilot is a rather nasty beastie intent on wiping out anything on two legs. It’s a bit of a mix of The Spaceman and King Arthur, Alien and a Viking Braveheart. Overall not too bad, but it just didn’t flow very well and was fairly predictable.

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