Why Thor: The Dark World Is Marvel’s Best Phase Two Film

Marvel Phase TwoThe following contains spoilers for The AvengersIron Man 3, Thor: The Dark WorldCaptain America: The Winter Solider and Agents of S.H.I. E.L.D., as well as light discussion of Guardians of the Galaxy.

It’s been six years since Marvel unleashed their cinematic universe on cinemagoers, and in that time they have released a total of ten films, structured into a series of multi-film phases of which there are currently two, though plans exist for many more.

Phase One began in 2008 with the release of Iron Man, and continued through The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger until these four sub-franchises were finally brought together for The Avengers (renamed Marvel’s Avengers Assemble for UK audiences).

Nothing like it had ever existed in Hollywood before. There had of course been sequels, prequels, spin-offs and franchises before, but never separate long-standing sagas running parallel with interlocking stories that shared characters and a common goal. It was a real game-changer, and its influence is still being felt in cinemas today.

Right from the off it was clear that Marvel had a uniquely ambitious plan: Iron Man introduced playboy billionaire philanthropist Tony Stark and his self-sustaining arc-reactor, as well as referencing both S.H.I.E.L.D and The Avengers; The Incredible Hulk featured Bruce Banner and a cameo from Stark; Iron Man 2 fleshed out Agents Phil Coulson and Nick Fury, and introduced Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow; Thor established Asgard, Loki and Hawkeye; and Captain America: The First Avenger teased Steve Rogers, Hydra and the power of Tesseract.

By the time Joss Whedon’s The Avengers rolled around, every one of its members (excluding Black Widow and Hawkeye) had at least one stand-alone movie to their name. The film brought them all together in a way that felt perfectly organic, and in the process marked the beginning of a new age of blockbuster filmmaking: the mega-franchise. Not only was The Avengers a great film in its own right, with its own clearly defined beginning, middle and end, but it concluded a number of storylines from the previous films, continued others and set up more still. It was the end of Phase One, but the beginning of Phase Two.

The second phase of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe began with Iron Man 3, and the problems were apparent from the get-go. After the ever-increasing forward momentum of Phase One, in which every plot beat or character introduction somehow fed into the larger narrative, Iron Man 3 seemed strangely rudderless, self-contained and inert. Like most of the films which proceeded it, the film started with a flashback, retroactively introducing a villain that felt at once extraneous and expendable. Having parted ways with Jon Favroux, Marvel instead hired Shane Black, an auteur who put his own creative fulfillment before the good of the franchise. Rather than revere the canon, the thing that makes the MCU so special and valuable, Black took liberties with it.

These are problems that recur throughout Phase Two: tangential stories, weak villains and indulgent directors. When Marvel should first and foremost have been exploring their shared universe, exploiting their biggest asset, they instead fell back on traditional, stand-alone storytelling while rival studios were catching up and putting the concept to better use. Captain America: The Winter Solider was conceived as a political thriller by directors Joe and Anthony Russo, and concerned Steve Roger’s reanimated friend’s manipulation at the hands of Hydra. There’s no denying it had a huge impact on the series (spelling the end of S.H.I.E.L.D., for one) but it all but ignored the destruction of New York, Miami and London, instead opting to level Washington DC as well. It also felt too self contained.

The MCU had enormous potential to change the way that stories are told on the big screen. By establishing a shared universe Marvel and CEO Kevin Feige had the opportunity to revolutionise the traditional three act structure and pursue long-running narrative arcs not possible in other less secure and less focused franchises. Instead, it reverted to formula, introducing a fresh conflict for every movie and ending on a big effects-laden battle for the future of mankind. When it was first announced, a tie-in television series focusing on the day-to-day operations of S.H.I.E.L.D seemed like a no brainer; it would allow Marvel to explore their cinematic universe from a new angle, to expand the mythology and continue to push the envelope of multi-media entertainment. Where the films largely ignored the wider universe, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D unfortunately became slave to it, reacting to Coulson’s death, Extremis and Hydra when it should have been branching out into new territory.

Whereas streamlined Phase One built momentum by converging on a single point, Phase Two has spread itself far too thin over dead end characters and pointless plot developments. Subplots such as The Mandarin, Extremis, Hydra and Centipede ultimately went nowhere, and with less than a year to go until Avengers: Age of Ultron we are no closer to understanding why our heroes would ever need to join forces once more — leaving Whedon with a hell of a lot of explaining to do before he can get on with his own story. All we really know about the film so far is that it will feature Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and Ultron, but rather than setting up superheroes or killer robots Marvel have convoluted matters by introducing random fire people (seriously, WTF?) and a completely separate homicidal AI (which was since destroyed) instead. The post-credit teasers, handled so well during Phase One, have all but fallen by the wayside, ceasing to foreshadow future instalments and instead ending things on a hollow joke.

The final film before Age of Ultron is perhaps the most removed of the lot. Guardians of the Galaxy, however entertaining it might be in its own right, is little more than a footnote in the grand scheme of the MCU. Again opening with a flashback (this time to the 80s), the film sees human Peter Quill zapped to the other side of the galaxy. This isn’t the universe as seen in Thor, however, a vast array of realms connected by the world tree and accessible only by Bifrost, but a completely new section of space policed by the Nova Corp. Right at the point where it should all be coming together (at this point in Phase One Captain America was forming S.H.I.E.L.D, losing the Tesseract and offering his services as an Avenger), audiences are instead watching a talking raccoon and a walking tree attempt to save a distant planet. With hindsight, this may well be essential foreshadowing, but at the moment it all seems a little bit redundant.

The only film to truly recognise and embrace its place as a small piece in a much larger puzzle is Thor: The Dark World. It may not be the best film in the world, but at least it does its job. At once picking up from Kenneth Branagh’s origin story (Asgard is almost as we left it in 2011, while Jane Foster, Darcy Lewis and Erik Selvig have relocated to London to continue their research), spinning off from The Avengers (Thor and Loki return home to face the repercussions of their actions on Earth), telling a story of its own (involving Malakeith and his search for the Aether, like the Tesseract another Infinity Stone) and planting seeds for future instalments (the film ends with Loki on the throne of Asgard). Director Alan Taylor brings his own sensibilities to the tone of the piece (it’s more George R. R. Martin than William Shakespeare), but his direction never dominates the piece. Style and ambition are all well and good, but when you’re dealing with something as sprawling and ultimately quite delicate as the MCU caution and respect for the established canon is key. Marvel don’t need risk-takers, they need utilitarians.

Although it suffers many of the same failings as the other films in Phase Two (namely an unremarkable antagonist and a big, effects laden finale) it makes up for in stakes, drama and character-driven humour. At times it feels like a direct sequel to The Avengers, and the fact that together with the first Thor it plays out as one cohesive trilogy makes the character deaths, betrayals and cameos all the more resonant. Thor, Loki and even Selvig have all been through a lot together, and the relationships have a far greater resonance as a result. Stark may have had bad dreams after New York, Captain America may still be reeling from the loss of Peggy Carter, but it’s Thor and Loki who have the most pressing (and interesting) issues. The finale may be big and brash but thanks to the involvement of Foster, Lewis and Selvig it has much more personality than automated robots fighting one another in Iron Man 3 or automated helicarriers fighting one another at the end of The Winter Soldier. At the end of the film Thor is back on Earth ready to be called upon once more, whereas Phase Two leaves Tony Stark without a suit and Steve Rogers chasing ghosts.

Again, there is every chance that I may have spoken too soon, and that next year Age of Ultron will show each movie to have been key in its own, unpredictable way. If Whedon pulls it off, Avengers 2 will likely trump The Dark World as the highlight of Phase Two. Even if that’s the case, however, there are still lessons for Marvel to learn if it wants to make Phase Three a more satisfying and all-round successful experience. A balance between style and substance is essential, as is a balance between the intimate and the epic, and the current model — hiring singular directors to branch out in new directions before overriding them for a far more generic last act — isn’t working. There are other ways to be bold and boundary-pushing, like following through with their promise of a shared universe and entering not just a new phase of stories but the next phase of superhero storytelling.

 

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Popcorn Addict’s 2012: Most Memorable Line

Most Memorable LineNow, this may not technically be my call to make (I have been watching movies dubbed into Russian for the last two months) but I feel it is an important category to recognise nonetheless.

Every awards ceremony going has at least one category for script-writing (be it for an original or adapted screenplay), but none reward the inherent accomplishment of a great line. Screenplays as a whole aim to fade into the background, to emulate naturalistic dialogue in such a way that the audience forgets that it is watching something scripted. Good lines, however, viewers will be laughing at, reeling from or quoting for days to come.

Here then are five of what are in my opinion the best phrases, sentences and lines of dialogue of 2012. Whether they have made you laugh, caused controversy or simply entered the public consciousness in a big way, these really are the lines of the year.

“You can’t change the ending. The old one works. It’s been focus-grouped” – Wolf, Mirror, Mirror

While this line deserves mention simply for not being the God-awful pun that the trailer suggests was at one time being used in its place, it is also representative of everything that Tarsem Singh’s Mirror, Mirror got right — and, as a result, of everything Snow White and the Huntsman got dreadfully wrong. Both films were pale imitations of the timeless Disney classic, both films tragically miscast their Snow Whites and both films prised style over substance, but only Mirror, Mirror had the good will to send itself up in the process. Making excellent use of the dwarves, and being charming and funny in the process, Singh more than makes up for his films failings. And that’s before you even take into account the closing credits.

“You’re gonna love my boyfriend” – Mitch, ParaNorman

There is much to be praised in Laika’s equally freaky follow-up to 2009’s Coraline, ParaNorman. The film is genuinely frightening (for a kid’s flick, at least), boasts some surprisingly adult themes thanks to its focus on child-murder and mob-mentality, and makes unfetted allusions to sex and violence. While each of the above might be considered more than enough to provoke controversy in the mid-South, Bible-belt puritanism it aims to satirise, it was a supporting character’s passing reference to an off-screen boyfriend that caused the biggest stir. Admittedly, such conservatism isn’t exactly difficult to offend, but it’s still worth celebrating such a step forward in a mainstream American children’s movie.

“This is my bargain, you mewling quim” – Loki, The Avengers

Having previously utilised the Chinese language to fill the world of Firefly with its own censor-beating profanity, Joss Whedon this time employs a phrase that would have had the olden days up in arms. Essentially an anachronistic variant on “whining c—“, the line (given in the film to Tom Hiddleston’s Loki) nevertheless made it past Marvel and the BBFC and into the final cut of the film. It prompted much discussion on online and in print, earning at least a passing allusion in almost every review of movie. With Joss devoted following of Whedonites growing by the day and The Avengers going on to become the third highest grossing movie of all time, the barb is now part of popular culture.

“Imagine if America was a dictatorship” – General Aladeen, The Dictator

The Dictator is not a great movie. Heck, I’m not even sure it could be honestly described as a good movie. But as with his other features Borat and Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen has once again produced a movie that is at the very least relevant. The line — uttered at the film’s end — is used to open a speech in which the writer and star very astutely compares America to a dictatorship (“You could lie about why you go to war”). It’s a bravura statement, and one that Cohen fearlessly delivers to American audiences looking for a bit of squeamish fun. It’s just a pity that such sharp subversion had to happen in the same movie in which a tight-roping dictator shits himself.

“I’ve got the harbringer on line two” – Operations Guy, The Cabin In The Woods

The second entry on this list from the pen of Joss Whedon (though it’s entirely possible that it was in fact coined by frequent Buffy collaborator and this film’s director Drew Goddard), The Cabin In The Woods was finally released this March after several years gathering dust on MGM’s shelf. Like Scream, it aimed to both celebrate and subvert the horror genre (or at least the horror genre of five or six years ago, maybe longer). Unlike Scream, it also attempted to deconstruct the genre by going behind the scenes and beyond the simple story of some teenagers a cabin in the woods. While saying any more would risk giving the game away, this line is a great example of Whedon’s knack of undercutting horror with hilariousness.

“Oh, come on! I do not sound that much like Peter Griffin!” – Ted, Ted

I realise I’m going beyond the customary rule of five (which I stuck to with my award for best on-screen chemistry), but this is hardly an award with any debt to tradition. Perhaps the “Spider-pig” of 2012, this line from Seth MacFarlane’s Ted beautifully demonstrates his dab-handedness with a good pop-culture reference. Alluding to his own television work rather than that of others, MacFarlane once again deals in the gags and goofs that made Family Guy and American Dad! such roaring successes. Like those shows, Ted may be light on everything but one-liners, but it is nevertheless largely considered to be one of the funniest films of the year.

Winner: The Avengers

Worst line of 2012: “No, I came back to stop you!” – Batman, The Dark Knight Rises

April 2012 – I have a plan: attack!

Four months into 2012 and it’s already shaping up to be one of the most exciting years for blockbuster releases in a long while. After The Hunger Games broke pre-sale records and John Carter finally earnt its budget back, summer kicked off early with a slew of tentpole releases that – on the whole – proved as interesting as they did financially lucrative.

Mirror Mirror certainly opened April with style, Tarsem Singh’s eye for a startling visual giving his take on the old Disney classic a strong identity of its own, winning uncertain critics over and standing it in good stead for the inevitable comparisons to June’s Snow White and the Huntsman. Though it might have faltered in the third act with a finale that almost side-lined Julia Roberts’ evil queen completely, it managed to satisfy with a sweetness and charm that was lacking from Alice in Wonderland and Red Riding Hood.

If Singh’s film was imbued with his trademark aesthetics, Joss Whedon brought his celebrated wit to both The Cabin In The Woods and Marvel’s Avengers Assemble. While Cabin lampooned horror cliché to winning effect under the confident direction of Drew Goddard, The Avengers marked Whedon’s first time in the director’s chair since 2005’s Serenity. With many proclaiming the results the greatest example of cinematic superheroics yet filmed, Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-man and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises will have their work cut out for them if they are to compete with Whedon’s undeniable success.

Less impressive were Wrath of the Titans and Battleship. Although Wrath of the Titans marked a vast improvement on the Gemma Arterton-burdened original, using Bill Nighy to exemplary effect in a surprisingly enjoyable second act, Battleship proved almost indefensible, squandering lead actor Taylor Kitsch (I don’t care what you say, I thought he was fine in John Carter) and actively encouraging a worrying number of comparison’s to Michael Bay’s dismal Transformers trilogy. They could each have learnt something from Lockout, the latest release from Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp, which overcame its flaws with a charismatic lead and a triumphant sense of humour.

Having received my accreditation for the 66th Edinburgh International Film Festival, and finally recovered from the news that Sabrina the Teenage Witch is to be remade as a superhero origin story, all that was left was to tackle his month’s James Bond instalment for Incredible Suit’s BlogalongaBond. With Timothy Dalton bowing out after just two entries in the franchise, Licence to Kill continued an uncharacteristically strong run for the series, paving the way for Pierce Brosnan’s substantially smilier 007.

Oh yeah, and blah blah blah Amanda Seyfried.

Film of the month: Avengers Assemble

Avengers Assemble (2012)


Saved from oblivion by a race of aliens craving dominion, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) arrives on Earth in search of The Tesseract: an item of unlimited power that currently lies with S.H.I.E.L.D. When it is stolen and the world endangered, Director Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) revive the Avengers Initiative in the hope of uniting Earth’s mightiest heroes. As they reach out to Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), however, it quickly becomes clear that a vengeful former Asgardian and an army of extraterrestrial warriors might be the least of their worries.

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The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Dr. Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) is on the run from the U.S. Army, bottling soft drinks for money in Rio de Janeiro where he has established an e-mail correspondence with a scientist claiming to be able to help him control, and maybe even permanently subdue, his alter ego, Hulk. When an innocent mistake leads a special forces team headed by British Royal Marine Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) to his door, Banner loses control and unleashes the beast on his pursuers. Escaping back to Culver University in Virginia, he reunites with Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) and tries to track down his original findings with which to furnish his accomplice. Desperate not to fail again in capturing the beast, General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) sanctions further experimentation on Blonsky which leads to the creation of Abomination, Hulk’s most dangerous adversary to date.

Having suffered an overdue backlash from superhero-fatigued audiences following their previous attempt to bring the character to the big screen, in Ang Lee’s criminally underrated Hulk, Marvel tried again in 2008 with a marginally grittier reboot redubbed The Incredible Hulk. Directed by Louis Leterrier, this new film saw the roles recast and Banner’s initial transformation explained away in a pre-titles sequence so that more screen time could be devoted to setting up the film’s villain, an element which had proved an apparent weakness of the original movie, as Lee had chosen to ignore the title’s more esteemed villains in favour of a trio of mutant dogs and Banner’s unhinged biological father, the terrifyingly ridiculous Absorbing Man.

So, with Lee’s comic book stylings and psychological focus a thing of the past, The Incredible Hulk reaffirmed the brand’s decidedly more mainstream roots in an attempt to avoid the box office disaster that met its predecessor’s release. Cue a bigger budget, a greater reliance on set pieces and an antagonist with something approaching name recognition. With a cast of respected actors in place, Leterrier left his cast to act in the margins while he concerned himself with the creation of a Hulk that might finally hold up under scrutiny. Aiming to introduce a version of the character that could conceivably fit into the same narrative universe as Iron Man (in accordance with the first phase of the studio’s Avengers Initiative) Marvel ultimately succeeded both in terms of increasing box office gross and – in a now-familiar cameo sequence – uniting its franchises for the first time onscreen.

But the character of Bruce Banner deserves to be more than a mere place-holder designed to placate audiences until the studio can arrange for the scientist to crop up as part of an ensemble four years down the line. Edward Norton fails to convince either as a genius scientist or as a man on the run, his Banner an uninspiring and unremarkable protagonist, not only in response to Eric Bana’s brooding performance but also in comparison to Robert Downey Jr.’s sarcastic Tony Stark – not to mention the rest of the Avengers soon to follow. Tyler, on the other hand, bores as the permanently wet-faced love interest, while Tim Roth hams it up to preposterous levels as the Russian-born (but accent-free) Emil Blonsky – at least until he is finally overrun by pixels in time for the film’s computer generated finale.

Whichever incarnation you happen to prefer, it’s nevertheless difficult to argue that the decision to reboot the franchise is entirely justified. In hindsight, the special effects are just as dated as those of Lee’s film, while the finished product is only nominally less cartoonish. With the effects now distracting rather than delighting, the only real difference between incarnations is just how less interesting Leterrier’s proves on its own merits. As The Avengers prepares to reboot the character once more, it’s clear that they too had their own reservations about this particular abomination. And rightly so.

FILM NEWS: “I Still Believe In Heroes”

For those of you who, like me, struggle to tell one sport from another, this weekend marks America’s Super Bowl. Other than being a massive basketball baseball football event in its own right, the Super Bowl is notable for the time and expense put into the programmed ad breaks.

Along with such other upcoming cinematic heavy-hitters as The Hunger Games, Battleship and John Carter, 2012’s ceremony also featured our most detailed looks yet at Marvel’s hugely anticipated The Avengers, a film which unites four major film franchises in what promises to be the superhero movie to end all superhero movies.

The footage didn’t disappoint. Culminating in a group shot which could pimple Goose-man, the TV spot really is quite something. And it can be viewed below.

Directed by Joss Whedon, The Avengers will see Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jnr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) assemble under the watchful eye of S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Joined by Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), the Avengers must put their many differences aside and work together if they are to stop Thor’s vengeful brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston).

Now though, back to the court field stadium for some more running…

Ten 2012 Movies That Can’t Come Quickly Enough

So, it’s been 2012 for, like, three days now and while I might have found the time to bankrupt myself on overpriced cocktails, watch season two of An Idiot Abroad and fail dismally at 3D hopscotch, I haven’t actually had time to write anything about my socially crippling love of films. While I had planned to offload a few alternative top 10 lists to celebrate my number one guilty pleasure of 2011 (Killing Bono), my biggest cinematic surprise (Real Steel) and the film I felt was most overrated by critics (Source Code), I thought it best to shut up and move on lest I remember that Harry Potter is now finished and therefore life might as well be too. Which movies do I hope to be taking solace in this year? Well, I’ve written you a list:

The Woman in Black

Having suffered a fate worse than death and wound up father to Ginny Weasley’s children, Harry Potter is too busy wearing slippers and wiping shed hair from his pillow to find another Dark Lord to duel to the death. Luckily, Daniel Radcliffe threw in the towel at just the right moment and lives to battle evil another day: the 10th of February, 2012, to be exact, when he will use Jane Goldman’s words to (hopefully) talk himself out of a rather terrifying looking haunting.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Arthur Christmas was brilliant, wasn’t it? But for what it made up for in wit, craft and innovation, it unfortunately lacked in thumb-prints. Luckily, Aardman Animations plan to return to the painstakingly arduous process of stop-motion animation for upcoming 3D extravaganza The Pirates! Band of Misfits. Boasting vocal performances from Hugh Grant, Salma Hayek, Jeremy Piven,Imelda Staunton and David Tennant, Aardman’s latest looks bloody plunderful indeed.

American Reunion

Having heroically saved a generation from the hazards inherent in humping a freshly baked apple pie, Jim Levenstein is set to return to cinemas in order to impart a few new pearls of wisdom. Set to reunite all-but-one of the first film’s winning ensemble (yes, even Chris Klein), this eighth fourth film in the American Pie franchise will see East Great Falls’ Class of ’99 return for a school reunion. While producer Chris Weitz might not have been as involved as he’d have liked, he did tell me that he’d seen some dailies and they were “really funny”.

The Cabin in the Woods

Having occupied the Joss Whedon circle of Development Hell for the last two years, thereby allowing The Avengers to arrive in cinemas as planned, The Cabin in the Woods saw Drew Goddard return to the director’s chair for the first time since 2008’s Cloverfield. Promising to subvert the more traditional tropes of the horror genre (a la Scream), and with the first trailer doing little to dhry appetites, this could well prove THE horror-comedy of 2012.

The Avengers

Why save the best for last when you can have it FIFTH! We only have to wait until May for Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, an audacious Marvel project which plans to unite four behemoth franchises in one $220 million dollar effort to save the world. Even more mouth-watering than the prospect of ALL THOSE PIXELS is the opportunity it will provide to see the titans clash out of costume, with each hero set to rub the other three up the wrong way. The silly to The Dark Knight Rises‘ serious, who needs shadows when you can have this much fun in broad daylight.

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

After Cars 2 stalled in cinemas, and with How To Train Your Dragon having trounced Toy Story 3 in everything but Academy Awards, DreamWorks has really upped its game to the point where it is proving a genuinely credible match for the previously untouchable Pixar. Over the last two instalments, the Madagascar franchise has grown into something truly special, its ever-expanding cast of misfit mammals (and marsupials) developing into one of the most watchable animated ensembles around. Unless it changes its name to Madagascar: 3urope’s Most Wanted, this is undoubtedly the family film I’m most looking forward to this year.

Prometheus

With Ridley Scott channelling his dismay at the existence of two Alien vs. Predator movies into an intervention for the flagging Alien franchise he birthed (phallically) all those years ago, Prometheus promises to finally shed some light of on the colossal Space Jockey entity he teased in the original Alien movie. The first trailer (and indeed the trailer’s trailers), a masterclass in mouth-watering marketing, promised a return to form for a franchise steeped in diminished returns. Whether or not it features the series’ trademark xenomorphs, Prometheus might just be the film to beat this summer.

Brave

While I might not have thought all that much of Pixar’s last offering – or, indeed, previous release Up – I am nevertheless excited about their forthcoming project, Brave. Marking a tonal shift for the studio with the film’s less Disney Store-friendly tale of epic battles and mystic legends, Brave could prove a welcome change of pace for a studio that must by now surely be running low on things to anthropomorphise. Set in the Scottish Highlands and featuring a vocal performance from (among others) Craig Ferguson, this might just be Pixar’s answer to DreamWorks’ How To Train Your Dragon. Maybe the most exciting arrangement of words in the English language.

The Amazing Spider-man

While I might occasionally bemoan the remake culture which has become increasingly prevalent in recent years, there is no denying that the practice does have its place in the filmmaking process. Although Sam Raimi’s original Spider-man movie did an admiral job of bringing everyone’s favourite friendly neighbourhood web-slinger to the big screen, a number of factors – the Green Goblin’s mask, Kirsten Dunst and the near-entirety of the third instalment – prevented the first trilogy from being as good as it could have been. (500) Days of Spider-man with Andrew Garfield might just be the big screen incarnation we’ve all been waiting for.

Resident Evil: Retribution

Everyone has a guilty pleasure franchise, and mine is undoubtedly Resident Evil. While the film series might sully the game’s mythology, routinely disappoint on just about every level and retcon at least one element with every instalment, it nevertheless delivers an entertaining slice of zombie-lite every two years or so. Marking the return of Michelle Rodriguez, Sienna Guillory and Oded Fehr, Resident Evil: Retribution promises to be somewhat of a greatest hits for the franchise.

Six Fads That Are Arguably Stunting Cinema

Going to the cinema can be a frustrating experience – not least because of the disproportionate number of mouth-breathing Cookie Dough munchers championing drivel, but also thanks to the shocking lack of choice on offer. How many times must my eyes be popped? Since when was randomness any substitute for jokes? Will Spider-Man ever get past the third instalment? I explore the six fads currently crippling cinema.

Having already chronicled the recent slew of dramatic doppelgängers – whereby cinematic doubles litter cinemas, often separated by mere months – I cannot quite shake the suspicion that the issue runs deeper than mere surface similarities between two or three films. I love cinema, and it hurts me to watch the same movies being regurgitated on a near-yearly basis. I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.

I try to maintain broad horizons and take in as large a variety of movies as is reasonably possible (from The Emperor’s New Groove to The Emperor’s New Clothes),  but having spent the last four years working for various plenty-screened multiplexes I have been faced with a growing number of facsimiles that are potentially threatening to the integrity of cinema. It has long been possible to read a number of fashions and fads into the celluloid of the times, but recently the choice and variety on offer in most cinemas is limited at best.

This year’s biggest releases read like a carbon copy check-list of every year thus far this decade. We have a wealth of superhero movies, a run of vampire films and an array of sex-comedies, each treading on the toes of whatever came before. On top of the genre staples there are also the usual regurgitations (who exactly was calling out for another Arthur film?), the ongoing search for a new Harry Potter (anyone ever remember I Am Number 4? No, I thought not) and the typical onslaught of sequels, prequels and English language adaptations (for which, if Wikipedia is to be believed, this is a record year). What follows is a trend by trend analysis of the creativity-zapping paths of least resistances characterising Hollywood today.

Part II: The Squeakquel

Cinematic sequels are hardly a recent phenomenon, dating back as they do to 1916’s Fall of a Nation, but with 27 sequels set to début this year alone (some constituting the fifth or even eighth instalment) they have become depressingly ubiquitous. While the tendency towards sequels can sometimes have little detriment on film quality – along with the often cited Godfather 2 and Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, there are a great many other sequels of worth – the law of diminishing returns has claimed a great many more franchises than it has spared.

The problem is not only the lack of ideas by episode sixteen (I for one rather enjoyed Kingdom of the Crystal SkullFast Five and Scream 4), but the fact that sequels are often greenlit for their own sake as opposed to being the consequence of an ongoing saga in need of additional instalments to best tell its tale. As such we have seven Saw movies, ten Star Trek movies (pre-reboot) and a Land Before Time series that has lasted almost as long as the dinosaurs themselves. Nobody was begging for a second Cars movie, a Planet of the Apes prequel or a fifth Final Destination. As for Hoodwinked II: Hood vs. Evil – there was a Hoodwinked I??

Retcons, remakes and reimaginings.

Although many sequels are undoubtedly commissioned to capitalise on the fiscal benefits of our essential laziness and brand loyalty, at some point the costs of constantly ramping up the excitement/action/breasts will outweigh the benefits. Luckily, there still remains an attractive alternative to dreaming up new ideas: the reboot. I understand why it happens – hell, I can even quote a couple of worthwhile films which were themselves reboots – but that doesn’t help curb the suspicion that this is one of the most dangerous avenues of moviemaking.

Rather than simply recasting the roles and renewing their focus on character and plot, many studios are instead deciding to start from scratch, effectively scrapping everything that came before, making a mockery of any time, money or fanboyism wasted on that world. While this is true of just about every horror movie released before the turn of the century (and many after), it is particularly common for superheroes to drop everything in a hurry to return to square one. The Hulk will have effectively started over three times by the release of The AvengersThe Punisher has already managed his hat-trick, while Spider-man barely lasted five years before being unceremoniously rebooted. Surely it would make more sense to follow James BondDoctor Who and 90s Batman‘s example, continuing the narrative regardless of cast and crew changes?

Adapt or die.

It is not just existing films which prove an irresistible counter to originality in the Hollywood hills, as literally anything can form the basis for a box-office busting cinema franchise, with novels, games and even boardgames and theme park rides offering inspiration for willing film studios. As Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer, Nicholas Sparks and the Brothers Grimm find themselves relentlessly tapped for stories (of varying quality…), JK Rowling and J R Tolkein have unwittingly spawned two of the most lucrative and influential film franchises in history.

As such we have an onslaught of doppelgängers invading cinemas as rival studios abuse the Polyjuice potion in search of a hit. Over recent years a number of grandiose sword and sandal epics have trudged through auditoriums in search of an heir to these literary thrones, because let’s face it: what audiences really need is another vampire movie. Novelists have aptly risen to the challenge too, as The Golden Compass, Eragon, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Cirque du Freak: The Vampire Assistant, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief and the aforementioned I Am Number 4 duly auction themselves off to the highest bidder.

Eye-popping, wallet-emptying 3D.

As a recovering 3D apologist, I diligently dropped my jaw at Avatar and championed Thor 3D over Thor 2D. Over the past couple of, however, I have found it increasingly difficult to defend the medium following a slew of sub-par conversion jobs which suffered the 30% colour loss caused by the tinted glasses without benefiting from the visual splendour the effect makes possible. Following the success of Avatar – and the genuine awesomeness of films such as DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon – many studios made the mistake of pinning the responsibility on 3D alone.

The last few years have played host to films such as The Final Destination, The Last Airbender, Clash of the Titans, Cats and Dogs 2: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, The Green Hornet, Green Lantern, Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II (not a comment on the latter film’s quality), each poorly converted into 3D during post production. Even films filmed in the medium are often sequels, the previous instalments hardly calling for an extra dimensional make-over.

The witless comedy.

I understand that it’s about time the romantic comedy is modified to appeal to both sides of the gender divide, but of late the longstanding tradition of wit and even jokes have been unceremoniously relegated to the realm of science fiction and fantasy. Where the comedy genre was once home to the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Leslie Nielsen, Jim Carrey, Hugh Grant and the Monty Python team, modern comedy can generally be divided into three, equally uninspiring camps: the Judd Apatow bromance, the sex comedy and the Spoof Comedy Movie.

I have never been a particularly enthusiastic comedy buff, but lately I have been even less tempted to watch the genre’s latest offerings. Either Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Jack Black, Zach Galifianakis or Will Ferrell (or now Melissa McCarthy) will greet me with some quirkily random slab of nonsense, a former That 70s Show star will land a fuck-buddy or one member of the Wayan family will try (and fail) to lampoon everything that moves.

Darker is better.

It is this fad above all others which has become the bane of my life, often appearing as it does in tandem with the inevitable reboot. The last few years have been plagued with announcements of long-running franchises facing reincarnation as part of a relentless drive to rob cinemas of anything light and fluffy. Arguably started by the Nolanisation of Batman, this trend has devoured just about every superhero franchise going: Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Daredevil and Hulk (Ang Lee’s was better) have each fallen victim to the disdain shown towards anything that doesn’t growl or lurk in the shadows.

It’s also worth noting that this is pushing the boundaries of the 12A rating beyond breaking point. Whether it is The Dark Knight‘s pathalogical moral paradigms or Harry Potter’s suffering at the hands of Voldemort, it’s increasingly difficult to work out what differentiates the lower certificates, opening more and more productions up to the limited attention spans of the younger generation. Aside from this, there is a relative dearth in variety when it comes to your superhero affiliations. Only Marvel seem to be above the rampant pursuit of realism (Green Lantern probably did more harm than good) – their lighthearted and unashamedly fun approach to characters such as Iron Man, Thor and Captain America do at least allow the heroes to laugh as often as they growl broodily from the shadows.

While there will always be alternatives to such general dross on show, at your local independent cinema or film festival, there is no reason for studios to play to the lowest common denominator with such careless abandon. Why should we be forced to live in a world where Amanda Seyfried spends her life sending or receiving letters, Jack Black plays Jack Black and Batman Begins Again Because We’ve Run Out Of Ideas 2 3D?

FILM NEWS: Joss Whedon is an absolute legend.

Rather than burdening BestforFilm or HeyUGuys with my rampant geek love for all things Joss Whedon (again), I have opted to relay to you (hello Florence!) just how superawesometastic he is right here, right now.

With The Avengers going before cameras today – as in this hallowed collection of 24 privileged hours (amen) – the deity himself felt the need to mark the occasion by posting on Whedonesque. Here’s what he had to say:

Film Greatness. On the Eve of Our Endeavor, I celebrate an american classic — or possibly all of them.

Hi Pumpkins, joss here.

Tomorrow we start shooting (I THINK I’m legally permitted to say that). Day one. That’s right. We’ll be shooting the pivotal death/betrayal/product placement/setting up the sequel/coming out scene, at the following address:

[Marvel Lawyers rush in, take Joss’s keyboard, blowtorch a picture of his family like in “Stormy Monday”, drink his milkshake, leave the seat up, fluff his pillows, violently unfluff his pillows, leave]

Went too far. My bad. Anyhoo, it should be a fun day, followed by the eighty thousand other fun days it will take to finish this. I’ll be checking in from time to time, if there’s news or I crave attention (i.e. am awake) . None of it will be Avengers news — I have some very denty pillows to remind of that — but I may have tidbits. (They’re not about Firefly. I should say that up front, if only to protect Sis Mo from the HATORZ.)

Some of you may be saying, Joss! Why this link, here, now, why, huh, howcum? My friend Allyx turned me on to these guys, and I’ll tell you, they’ve gotten me through this intensely pressurized, preply time. I strongly recommend checking out their other vids — I’ve watched them many many times, and I have a very special place for “Teamwork” in my heart. These guys are the guys. And IS there a better movie title than “Eagles Are Turning People Into Horses”? I thought not.

So wish me luck. DO IT! LUCK! NOW! I’m off to finish some Buffy pages, and then figure out what the movie is about already. I’m pretty sure it’s about the Justice League [Marvel Lawyers re-enter, unspeakability occurs] or possibly something else. I’ll get it. I’ve been looking forward to this. For about 46 years.

Catchphrase!

-j.

Oh yeah, writing!

I’m sorry, but why doesn’t this man have his own range of sat-navs, voice elevators and spend his days off directing traffic at your local post office? It really is a crime against one fifth of your senses.

So, there you have it: The Avengers have finally assembled. With 4 May, 2012, approaching steadily, we shouldn’t have to wait too long for more “news” from the master himself.

And what of the end of the world? Well that’s not until December.