Dragons: Riders Of Berk (Part I)

Dragons Riders Of BerkFollowing the events of Dragon Island, in which Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Toothless saved the residents of Berk from the Red Death, viking and dragon have learnt to live in relative harmony. Unlike his fellow villagers, however, Mildew (Stephen Root) is not too happy to be sharing his island with creatures that frighten his livestock and damage his property, and begins a campaign to disparage Hiccup and have the dragons expelled from Berk once and for all. In the meantime, Alvin The Treacherous (Mark Hamill) plots an attack on Berk in order to capture “The Dragon Conqueror”, something that will be much easier to accomplish if Mildew succeeds.

Not only is How To Train Your Dragon DreamWorks Animation’s best film to date, it’s one of the best animated films ever made. With a four year wait between the first and second movie, Cartoon Network acquired the rights to a weekly animated series aimed at bridging the gap between films. Unlike the series’ based on Madagascar and Kung-fu Panda, Dragons: Riders Of Berk intended to develop the themes established in the first film, which was praised for its relative depth and darkness, and explore the viking world in more detail than a 90 minute movie could ever allow.

Obviously, each medium has its own individual demands, and to begin with these differences are slightly more pronounced than any similarities. The animation is cruder, much of the soundtrack is obviously recycled and many of the original cast members have had to be replaced. Gerard Butler and Craig Ferguson are most missed, with Chris Edgerly and Nolan North struggling with the necessary Scottish accents and drawing undue attention over the first few episodes. Persevere, however, and it becomes clear that the two have more in common than you might have thought — not least the unmistakable tones of Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera and Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Over the course of the series, as you become increasingly immersed in the story, such changes aren’t nearly so jarring.

It’s testament to the quality of How To Train Your Dragon that it can even support a television series, for Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois — using Cressida Cowell’s source material — have created a world of almost limitless potential. There are a few elements that fail to take off, occasional filler episodes that have the characters herding animals or hosting flying competitions. but for the most part the series manages to build on what has come before, coming into its own with its first two-parter and the introduction of Alvin The Treacherous. Only time will tell how many of these developments feed into future instalments, but Dragons: Riders Of Berk has successfully fleshed out the village of Berk, introduced new creatures and established growing tensions between the villagers and the dragons.

Part I brings together the first eleven episodes of Dragons: Riders Of Berk, in addition to a number of special features including “Dragon Tracker Part I” and “Evolution Of Thunderdrum”. Until How To Train Your Dragon 2 lands in 2014, the series is sufficient substitute for another cinematic outing to Berk, making excellent use of the memorable characters, unforgettable leitmotifs and quickfire sense of humour that made the first film such a resounding success.

4-Stars

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King of Devil’s Island (Kongen av Bastøy, 2010)

Upon their arrival at Bastøy Correctional Facility in the Oslo fjord, young offenders Erling (Benjamin Helstad) and Ivar (Magnus Langlete) are renamed C19 and C5 and shown to their new lodgings under the watchful eye of old-hand C1 (Trond Nilssen). After nine years, C1 is awaiting his pardon from Governor Håkon (Stellan Skarsgård), something he is not willing to let Erling jeopardise with his unruly behaviour and repeated escape attempts. When C5 is prayed upon by a Braaten (Kristoffer Joner), a member of staff notorious amongst the boys as a child abuser, however, C1 must decide what is worth more: his freedom from Bastøy or from his own guilty conscious.

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Headhunters (2011)

Living in a high-end house he’s not particularly fond of, with a Napoleon complex and a wife he doesn’t feel he deserves, corporate headhunter Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) moonlights as an art thief in an endeavour to pay his bills and fund the lifestyle he believes Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund) deserves. When his day job brings him into negotiations with Danish-Dutchman Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), the proud owner of a priceless Rubens, however, Roger attempts to effect an early retirement backfire as Greve’s hidden past reveals itself, forcing him to flee Oslo with the painting in tow. Read more of this post

Home Entertainment Releases – May 28, 2012

Every week I stumble into HMV, surprised that a certain movie has either arrived on DVD and Blu-ray so fast or, conversely, taken quite so long to land on home entertainment. This week is no different, with a scattering of new releases that have taken anything from five months to three short days to arrive in stores.

If your experience of Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist (2011, Entertainment, PG) was marred by a limited release, noisy audience or confused Liverpudlians, this is the perfect opportunity to experience the film again in the comfort of your own home. A silent, black and white French drama, The Artist was never particularly reliant on Dolby surround sound or giant screens in order to make its mark on audiences, the film more than standing up on the small screen.

By all reckoning, Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011, Fox Searchlight, 15) is one of the most remarkable films to be released this year (or last, depending on where you live). With its power-house central performance from the never less than extraordinary Elizabeth Olsen (third time’s the charm, eh mum and dad?) and controversial subject matter, Martha Marcy May Marlene charts one young woman’s escape from a vindictive cult to truly gut-wrenching effect.

Like Crazy (2011, Paramount, 12) co-stars Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin as two young lovers forced to separate as a result of U.S. immigration laws. Boasting naturalistic performances and improvisation-heavy dialogue, Drake Doremus tries to tell a timeless story of romance that doesn’t fall back on pratfalls, dick-jokes or Katherine Heigl. Needless to say they succeed beautifully.

With Avengers Assemble currently tearing up at the box office, it’s easy to forget that it was not our first taste of superheroics this year. The Max Landis-scripted, Josh Trank-directed Chronicle (2012, 20th Century Fox, 15) pipped Joss Whedon’s superteam (as well as Spider-man and Batman) to cinemas in February when it opened to feverish fanfare. Combining the found-footage format with a deliriously stripped-down origin story, Trank’s film set the bar very high indeed.

A sequel to 2008’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012, Warner Bros., PG) sees Josh Hutcherson’s young hero paired up with Dwayne Johnson on another Vernian adventure. As with last year’s Fast Five, Journey 2 benefits from The Rock’s presence, but still struggles to make an impression as a result of the lacklustre story and uninspiring supporting cast.

If you were anywhere near the Internet on Wednesday 23rd May, you no doubt heard of the one day theatrical run planned for Timo Vuorensola’s Iron Sky (2012, Revolver Entertainment, 15). While its unexpected success has lead many cinema chains to prolong its release, the film also lands on DVD this week, giving audiences a choice of venue. With its semi-satirical story of space Nazis invading a future Earth, Iron Sky is an absolutely deranged delight.

Next week: Goon, Coriolanus, W.E., Red Dog, A Monster in Paris, Juan of the Dead, Babycall

50/50 (2011/II)

Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one of the good guys; he’s a trusting boyfriend, an enthusiastic employee and a keen recycler. When he is driven to the doctors by a recurring back pain, however, Adam is informed that he has a rare type of spinal cancer, an unpronounceable tumour, and a mere 50% chance of survival. While his boorish best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) uses the diagnosis to strike up conversations with women, his estranged mother (Anjelica Huston) seizes the opportunity to reconnect with her distant son and Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) finds herself trapped in a sexless relationship by such inconvenient bad news, Adam is left to come to terms with his own mortality as he is inducted into a world of therapists (Anna Kendrick), chemotherapy and constant, inescapable discomfort – whether he has ever been to Canada or not.

Film: Despite having already raved about Jonathan Levine’s unlikely cancer comedy, an unexpectedly good natured film which somehow still has room for Seth Rogen’s now familiar sex-obsessed stoner, it seems that many still weren’t convinced enough to seek the film out in cinemas.  It’s a shame, really, because former cancer-sufferer Will Reiser’s script strikes such a fine balance between compassion and comedy that it is impossible not to be won over by such a provocative and ultimately poignant treatment of this most sensitive of subjects. Inspired by true events and cast through with accomplished actors, this is as unconventional as sit-coms come.

While it is of course the cancer which drives the movie, providing the basis for some of the movies most touching scenes, much of the comedy comes from the other dramas that result from a diagnosis. So it is, then, that Adam finds himself high on macaroons laced with medicinal marijuana, shaving his head with a razor better acquainted with Kyle’s body hair and compulsively cleaning his therapist’s car. While rarely laugh-out-loud, 50/50 always strives to find truth – if not necessarily humour – in even the most taboo of situations, those that are usually reserved for awards-bait or high melodrama. The characters are so well drawn, so well observed through experience, in fact, that much of the relative mundaneness can be almost as devastating than the original prognosis itself.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is absolutely heart-breaking as the disbelieving Adam, grounding the film with a performance that is as subtle as it is harrowingly raw. Although at times docile, as he tries to come to terms with his illness while himself trying to support those around him – whether its his concerned mother or his trainee therapist – his stable demeanour only serves to emphasise the moments in which his resolve fractures, one scene in particular standing out as he takes his regrets and frustrations out on the interior of his friend’s car. It is perhaps Rogen, however, who impresses most, with his characteristically brash exterior carefully masking a concerned individual who is just as lost and confused as his potentially dying friend.

Sweet natured and respectful, 50/50 nevertheless endeavours – and successfully manages – to find the humour even in the most trying of situations. Witty, moving and occasionally devastating, this is the comedy genre at its very best.

Extras: Both the Double Play and DVD releases of 50/50 come complete with a host of compelling special features: an insightful audio commentary sheds light on the filmmaking process as various cast and crew members discuss the production process; a collection of deleted scenes (with optional commentary), including a great sequence documenting Adam’s short-lived return to work and the film’s original ending; a Making Of documentary titled The Story Of 50/50 which sensitively addresses the impact of cancer among the crew; four mini-featurettes that focus on the destruction of Rachael’s much-maligned painting; and Seek and Destroy, a behind the scenes montage chronicling the burgeoning onset bromance between Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

**50/50 is released on Double Play & DVD from 26 March, courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment**

The Awakening (2011)

A rationalist by profession, Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) has made a career out of investigating fraudulent spiritualists (aka. all of them), much to the chagrin of both the supposed mediums themselves and those depending on such lies for their own peace of mind. When she is called out to Rookwood, a remote boy’s boarding school based in Cumbria, by resident housemaster Robert Mallory (Dominic West), Florence utilised her usual methods and equipment in the hope of unmasking the student responsible for a set of alleged ghost sightings. With this particular poltergeist eventually proving more elusive than most, however, it might just be that Florence has finally found what she’s looking for.

Film: Much in the same vein as The Others and this year’s The Woman In Black, this stately horror aims to match its genre chills with a quality and dignity that can only be achieved with the right actors. Début director Nick Murphy has accrued an accomplished cast, with the ever-dependable Rebecca Hall taking centre stage as the conflicted sceptic, struggling to come to terms with the death of her fiancée. A respectable, professional woman at a time when such a thing was almost unheard of, she excels as the restrained and reluctant Florence Cathcart. As the true nature of the adolescent apparition begins to unravel through her investigations, she stands strong even as the story itself begins to fall apart.

Florence’s relative novelty (it is 1921, after all) is perhaps best exampled when opposite the equally compelling Imelda Staunton, the school’s matron and Florence’s ever-present admirer, who seems positively giddy by her hero’s presence. Dominic West (of John Carter and TV’s excellent The Hour), meanwhile, brings a stoic resilience to his battle-hardened veteran, Robert Mallory, a man who doesn’t know what to think after the suppressed horror of World War I. Even when the ghost is nowhere to be seen (or felt), the chemistry between these variously damaged characters is enough to keep you planted firmly on the edge of your seat. Like, in some respects, Super 8, it’s almost a shame that the plot has to kick in, as it’s such a pleasure spending time with these characters in what might merely amount to a day at the office.

But kick in it does, and as the momentum begins to gather even the slightest cineliteracy begins to prepare audiences for the various hackneyed clichés open to Murphy as he tries to tie up his assorted loose ends. The film that The Awakening’s setting and subject most resemble is perhaps Guillermo Del Toro’s outstanding The Devil’s Backbone, a comparison that sadly doesn’t stand up. Without wishing to give anything away, the film aims for a resolution that falls somewhere between a shocking twist and a sense of haunting inevitability. In taking it too far, however, the film inadvertently and unfortunately lunges into ridiculousness as the carefully orchestrated and maintained atmosphere is sadly frittered away.

Extras: While both formats offer an insightful audio commentary with writer-director Nick Murphy, a detailed glimpse behind the scenes, an exploration of post-war Britain titled A Time For Ghosts and the film’s trailer, the Blu-ray comes outfitted with a wider range of special features. Among them: an extensive interview with the film’s director addressing his intentions and the complexities of filmmaking; an array of occasionally interesting deleted scenes that were removed for pacing reasons (including a park scene even the director was glad to be rid of); the anatomy of one of the film’s key scenes involving Florence and a lake; a discussion by the film’s cast about their own approaches to the supernatural; and a further Q&A session from BAFTA. The Awakening is yours to own on DVD and Blu-ray from March 26th, 2012.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Season 8 Motion Comic (2011)

Following the series’ climactic closing of the Hellmouth, and the corresponding destruction of Sunnydale, Buffy and her burgeoning slayer army have dispersed in an attempt to recruit the newly empowered women awakening around the globe. Suddenly a palpable threat, the slayer army has attracted the attention of the U.S. Ministry of Defence, headed up by General Voll. When an enigmatic new foe begins to present itself, aided by returning witch Amy Madison and an undead Warren Mears, the slayers must band together in the face of such varying threats as an army of Scottish zombies, a cabal of Japanese vampires and a British socialite coming to terms with her own superhumanity. Comprising the first nineteen issues of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, this collection charts the first half of Buffy’s adventures post-Sunnydale.

I suppose I should address the proverbial elephant in the room, probably before it tramples someone and leaves footprints in the margarine. This is not a movie. I review movies. But, and here’s the thing, it’s Buffy. BUFFY! And that’s all that matters. Nevertheless, I have never reviewed a motion comic before. Heck, I’ve never even seen a motion comic before. So this isn’t so much a tempered appraisal aided by informed comparison as a gut reaction that verges on arbitrary fanboy waffle.

In dealing with the basics, then, I should probably make something immediately clear: I don’t get motion comics. What are they for? Having already pursued Buffy Season 8 in comic book form, I managed to extract meaning from the page quite by myself, my own imagination filling in the blanks as needed. I found the simulated motion inherently invasive, dragging me out of the story with a determination that was in the beginning quite shocking. Jarring ‘special’ effects and an abrasively unsuccessful voice-over detract from the source material, proving entirely incongruous with my aforementioned imagination and failing to recapture the spirit and rhythm of the show.

Unfortunately for season eight, I wasn’t that taken with the story to begin with – even in static comic form. Trampling the series’ M.O. in a hurry to exceed the television show’s budgetary constraints and show just what the artists are capable of, Buffy’s underdog struggle and relatably human issues are all but forgotten in favour of scale, production values and novelty. Dawn is now a giant, Scottish zombies attack in their thousands and the Scoobies globe-trot like they’ve got intercontinental ants in their pants. With series creator Joss Whedon’s iconic dialogue lost on a cast that has apparently never even seen the programme, there are one too many factors conspiring to keep you at arms length where seasons 1-7 had you locked in a wombic bear-hug of gooey proportions.

Not least problematic is the madness of the plot. Resurrecting characters with careless abandon, the comic slowly undid the good work of the series with a determination to bring as many people back as possible. Not only are some characters forced back into the narrative despite having already run their course, but others are bent out of recognition as they are made to service the unwieldy plot. Dracula is mangled as he turns convenient good-guy, but it is Buffy herself who really requires a suspension of disbelief. One quirk in particular, a baffling romantic decision, smacks solely of contrivance as the writers push disastrously for controversy.

This is still Buffy, however, and there are moments that evidence the show’s trademark greatness, most likely thanks to the involvement of so many of the show’s staff writers. The actress voicing Faith doesn’t entirely fly in the face of everything we’ve come to know about the character; she even brings a welcome air of Eliza Dushku-ness to the role, which brings Brian K. Vaughan’s ‘No Future for You’ storyline to life with a verve that is noticeably absent from the other arcs. Joss’s writing is simply too niche for most actors to wrangle without his own-brand direction, the words he has written failing to make the transition from speech-bubble to speech.

With a scattering of memorable moments and boasting approximately four hours of footage (presented in a series of ten minute segments), the Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 motion comic may yet constitute the most affordable way of experiencing the story. A must for completists, a maybe for just about everyone else.

The Hole in 3D (2010)

Begrudging his family’s latest move – this time to Bensonville, somewhere or other – older brother Dane (Chris Massoglia) quickly changes his tune when he realises he is now neighbours with catnip-for-teens girl-next-door, Julie (Hayley Bennett). Taking time out from their daily skirmishes, Dane and Lucas (Nathan Gamble) come across a locked hatch in their basement. Deciding to do the sensible thing and open it, the brothers – with the help of the enthusiastic Julie – proceed to investigate by dropping nails into its depths and lowering a video-camera down for a better look. Turning to ex-resident ‘Creepy Carl’ (Bruce Dern) when shit gets real, the children learn that the hole extorts fears, something Carl has interpreted as the darkness coming to get him – a belief he has remedied by robbing IKEA of every lamp in their possession.

With Coraline dutifully undoing the Daily Mail’s misguided attempts at scare-mongering, and reminding parents that children can take a shot of dark with their spoon-full of sugar (Child’s Play 3 is not evil, it’s just rubbish), the stage was set for Gremlins‘ Joe Dante to reclaim his crown as the king of creep. Re-introducing subtlety and suspense to a genre over-run with found-footage, reverse-bear traps and reimaginings, Dante’s The Hole up for its lack of gore with a string of atmospheric frights that succeed in bringing distinctly ’80s sensibilities to a new generation. Utilising clowns, a PG-13 Sadako and a surprisingly effective subplot which explores the reasons behind Thompson’s nomadic lifestyle, The Hole takes full advantage of its 12A rating.

However effective Dante’s direction, the film could have been quite easily undermined by lacklustre acting. Luckily, the three young leads prove a likeable cluster of characters with relatable fears and a natural rapport. While the sibling rivalry helps flesh out siblings Dane and Lucas – the relationship proving far less forced or saccharine than it might have in different hands – the addition of Julie completes a winning dynamic between characters you would quite happily see survive until the end, by no means a standard in the horror genre.

Although some may argue that the film loses much of its tension when the characters are forced to enter the titular hole, the shocking reality of Dane’s fears elevate the film from throw-away thrills to well-observed fervent fright-fest. Although the perspective-playhouse that houses Dane’s final confrontation with his fears verges on distractingly wacky, it suits not only the film’s utility of the third dimension but also the unnerving unreality of the hole itself.

While the movie balances effective laughs and scares with Dante’s trademark ingenuity, placing endearing characters in genuine peril while appealing to the audiences own fears and worries for added impact, the extras hold their own with a series of (thankfully – are there any other kind?) deleted scenes and an interesting director’s commentary. It is also worth noting that, while effective in the cinema, the 3D is not missed on the small screen. On the whole, however, The Hole is an enjoyable and surprisingly mature horror film that marks the long-overdue return of director Joe Dante – last seen behind the camera for the disappointingly juvenile Looney Tunes: Back In Action.

Everything He Touches Turns To Excitement (1964)

Third time’s the charm as James Bond faces off against his latest threat, one catchphrase-spouting Auric Goldfinger. Boasting no fewer than three Bond girls, a razor-hatted henchman and a particularly ridiculous seagull costume, Goldfinger is the Bond film to end all Bond films. At least, it might have been if it hadn’t been so franchise-toppingly awesome.

After foiling Goldfinger’s (Gert Fröbe) attempts to cheat an opponent at cards, and charming the fraud’s female accomplice in the process, James Bond (Sean Connery) finds himself on the wrong end of one of Oddjob’s infamous karate chops. Waking up to find Jill Masterson’s corspe has been painted gold, and giving our resident evil the hump (we know he’s angry because he snaps his pencil), Bond returns to Britain for new orders, new weapons and a quick game of golf, before taking his pimped our Aston Martin to Switzerland. After meeting Jill’s vengeful sister, and falling contractually captive, Bond is flown to America by pilot Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) where he learns of Goldfinger’s master plan: to irradiate Fort Knox’s gold supply in a bid to increase the value of his own substantial stock. Mwahahaha!

There is so much that is laughable about Goldfinger: James Bond’s “ingenious” seagull-hatted disguise, Goldfinger’s razor-hatted henchman and the very idea that Jill Masterson died from “skin suffocation” proving three particular highlights. After two relatively straight-laced prior instalments, Dr. No and From Russia With Love, it clear that Sean Connery has finally let his chest hair down and that the film-makers are newly versed in the entertaining properties of silly string. For while some may deride the franchise’s ongoing suspension of disbelief, and won’t be happy until the character is Nolanised in Casino Royale, it is in this corn-infused third outing that the series finally finds its feet. Having tested the water with opening-themes, girls and innuendo, EON Productions have finally birthed the definitive James Bond movie.

This is the most exciting of the three instalments reviewed so far, perfectly balancing the expository and action scenes in a consistent and exhilarating pattern. While the scuffle aboard the Orient Express in From Russia With Love might have been the more influential, Goldfinger packs so many set pieces into its running time that it appears comprised solely from cult moments. Heck, an entire intallation is levelled before the title sequence has even started. Goldfinger disbands with the trending slow start and throws Sean Connery straight into the thick of it, while two Bond girls are offed before the half way point, adding to the break-neck pace (to begin with, at least) of this instalment, the first in the series to be free of the Cold War’s shadow. Frenetic, well paced and occasionally breath-taking, by the time Bond finally averts disaster you’ll have clawed the armrests beyond recognition.

So, what of those Bond girls? With Shirley Eaton, Tania Mallet and Honor Blackman filling out the quota as Jill and Tilly Masterson and Pussy Galore, Goldfinger is a veritable constellation of James Bond’s sexual conquests. Of the three, it is probably Tilly Masterton who is most short-changed, deprived as she is of a gold sheen or euphamistic cult status. Nevertheless, I found that it was Tania Mallet who made this biggest impression, both in her vengeful introduction and the suddenness of her death at the hat of Oddjob. That said, Blackman is an absolute pleasure as the franchise’s oldest Bond girl, her Pussy Galore a stern force to be reckoned with, particularly in comparison to Gert Fröbe’s relatively relaxed and eerily understated villain, Auric Goldfinger.

It is with Goldfinger‘s villainy that its superiority most marked. Dr. No may have had metal hands, and Red Grant might have been handy with a line of garrote wire, but Oddjob has a marble statue-proof razor hat and Goldfinger has a laser with your balls written all over it. As Goldfinger and his favourite caddy-come-contract killer covort in broad daylight, making little attempt at avoiding attention, it is clear that it is not just the filmmakers that have found their confidence, but the franchise’s villains to – paving the way for the flamboyance of the series’ later antagonists. It is Goldfinger, after all, which contains the aforementioned laser scene, in which Bond’s crown jewels are threatened by a searing beam of light slowly eating it’s way through the table upon which he is restrained. With dialogue almost as famous as the scene itself, Goldfinger has a transcendent familiarity to it, whether you have seen it before or not.

Cheesy, thrilling and recognisably Bond, Goldfinger is undoubtedly the definitive 007 movie. The formula honed and set, all that remains is for a little exaggeration in the sound-mixing department and we’ll finally have fights that sound as good as they look.

Step Up 3D (2010)

Fresh from his troop’s victory at The Streets, Robert “Moose” Alexander III (Adam Sevani) has dropped dance to his father’s relief in favour of electrical engineering at New York University. After encountering a dance battle on campus, however, Moose has soon left childhood study-buddy Camille (Alyson Stoner) to the books and made his way back onto the dance-floor with budding filmmaker Luke’s (Rick Malambri) House of Pirates. Talked into competition for World Jam (seriously?), Moose soon finds himself with whole new set of obstacles as he must overcome vendettas, mutinies and the seemingly inevitable closure of head pirate Luke’s warehouse. Luke, however, is busy having sexy thoughts about newcomer Natalie (Sharni Vinson), a talented dancer with connections to rival street dancers House of Samurai.

The latest instalment in the hugely successful Step Up franchise, there is a lot of pressure on Step Up 3D to up the ante in terms of not only dance but also character. While the previous two outings have never ceased to impress with their excellent footwork, a lack of any clear throughline has left each instalment struggling for an emotional centre. While continuing Moose’s story should have provided that very backbone, a fumbled introduction and disproportionate allocation of screentime leaves the movie with more protagonists than it can handle. That said, although Step Up 3D takes a while to find its feet, a few montages in the Step Up franchise is back on solid ground as a plot rises from the deep and school and dance are once again allowed to take their respective sides of the ring.

Up against Brit-pic Streetdance 3D for dimensional supremacy, however, it will take more than a few lunges at the camera to justify this third outing for the franchise. Ditching the humble high school playground for a ridiculously unrealistic warehouse, the dancers are gifted with gimmick’s galore in an attempt to win over desensitized audiences; The token ‘alone dance’ is present and correct, only this time situated in the preposterous ‘speaker room’; the requisite training montage takes place in a padded room; and the competition-winning finale is prepped in the groansome ‘graffiti room’. You see, a water-soaked number was used last time – and therefore demoted to an earlier dance off in this film – leaving a delightfully silly lights display to trounce the competition this time around.

However, while Step Up 3D might seem relatively by-the-numbers, there is – as usual – a lot to enjoy here. The dance sequences are reliably spectacular, while some of the enthusiasm even makes it off of the dance floor for a change. Although not always entirely convincing,  Sevani definitely has an infectious presence – the familiarity earnt from his turn in Step Up 2: The Streets going some way to endearing his character to audiences. While the other characters play their roles with competence, Sevani boarders conviction as he resists being sidelined for the generic romance between Luke and Natalie.

How does it fare against it’s competition, however? While Streetdance 3D recieved positive reviews (not least from me), its less ambitious sensibilities stilt it in comparison to Step Up 3D‘s extravagance. Everything is super-sized for this movie, the final dance number making the streetdance finals look resoundingly half-hearted and the character’s angst quickly eclipsing a few cameos from Britain’s Got Talent contestants for dramatic oomph.

Amazing soundtrack, spectacular choreography and some exhilarating camera-work keep audiences in the right direction even if the destination is nowhere in sight. With two films under its belt, it was always going to take something special to keep this franchise fresh and while the 3D gives it a little novelty, it is good to know there is something a little more substantial at work here too.