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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Iron Man 3 (2013) movie review


Overall verdict: 6.5/10

The Good: Tony Stark gets to shine without his armor, awesome action set pieces and combat, tightly paced, political underlying themes, Robert Downey Jr's performance, rousing heroic soundtrack by Brian Tyler, a fitting conclusion to the trilogy

The Bad: An insulting "twist" to a much loved Iron Man comic book adversary, convoluted plot, badly timed comedy, wasting good subject matter.

3D status: Post production 3D conversion

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Marvel has dug themselves in deep with Avengers. Woe to any other family friendly superhero blockbuster to ever come out as it will forever be held against the standard set by Avengers. Woe to Iron Man 3, which not only stacks up badly against Marvel's prior superhero film but falls victim to sequel degeneration.

Our story takes place after the events of The Avengers and Tony Stark is having anxiety attacks after his near death experience in New York city fighting off an alien invasion. At the same time, he is trying to be a good boyfriend to Pepper Potts in order to "protect the one he loves". But in comes an old rival Alderich Killian who either wants to seduce Pepper with his snakelike suaveness or just loves acting like the bad guy he is. Meanwhile, the terrorist leader "The Mandarin" has launched a slew of attacks around the world in order to teach America "a lesson". Quite a heavy start to the movie. Until, that is, one particular Mandarin attack hits close to home, putting previous Iron Man director Jon Freveau into a coma (hence perhaps why Shane Black took his job). Tony is furious and in his ego fueled anger does the stupidest thing in all superhero history: he gives his address on public television! As expected, villains attack his house and kidnap his girlfriend. So much for wanting to "protect the one he loves". Tony is forced to go into hiding and fight back, without the help of his high tech armor, against genetically enhanced foes with melting magma powers.

Here is the only genius move this film makes: letting Tony Stark kick ass without his high tech armor. The hero known as iron man is not the armor, but he is the man inside. Tony Stark is iron man and no one else can be him. With only his wits, ingenious mind and resourcefulness, Tony proves himself a true hero. However, these moments are handled less like character development and more like another "tony is awesome"sequence. Stark still has the same jerk ass attitude from previous films, still has his planet sized ego; it seems that all that has happened to him since he first chose to become Iron Man had not changed him at all.

What did change was all the elements taken from the original comic books. The human bombs from Matt Fraction's Invincible iron man series have been haphazardly combined with Warren Ellis' Extremis concept. The end result is not the "next stage of augmented human evolution" as per the comics but quite literally "melter people". Yes there is an iron man villain called The Melter whose powers is to melt things. Not sticking to the source material is fine, but blatantly poking fun and insulting the source material is a totally different matter. Case in point: the mandarin.

Simply put, the mandarin is meant to be Iron Man's dark opposite: mysticism against might, Supernatural against science. If Tony Stark were Batman, the Mandarin is his Joker. But Shane Black and pals took that character to the crap pile. Instead of being the analogy for the nature of modern terrorism as promotional material for the film claimed, the Mandarin is revealed as a complete joke. First, they ripoff the "big reveal" from Batman Begin's Ras Al Ghul. Then, like some kid's lousy April Fools prank they spit on the very character of the Mandarin turning him from the Monarch of Mayhem into the dysfunctional love child of Austin Powers and Mr Bean.

With all its special effects flair and big budget action pieces, Iron Man 3 cannot decide whether to take its subject matter seriously or not. Just as they are going into some good politics or philosophy, we cut to another comedy act for cheap laughs courtesy of Robert Downey jr. His acting is great, everyone's is. But the way it is handled breaks the tone of the movie. You have a film with unlimited potential for surfacing some serious political and philosophical subject matter. You have a film that could show a flawed character coming full circle with his heroes' journey. You have a film.......that does nothing of that sort and is perfectly content with being a comedy ridden summer blockbuster complete with an irritating kid sidekick for Iron Man.

Lesson: If you want to tackle serious subject matter, make a serious film and take the villain seriously. Iron Man 3 reeks of unoriginality, drawing many elements from The Dark Knight trilogy: hero loses everything and goes into exile, hero faces an adversary who turns out to nothing but a "front" for a more sinister bad guy, hero is trying to be a good boyfriend but endangers his loved one, hero is forced to rely on his wits alone without fancy gadgets, hero wipes the slate clean in the end and starts anew. Familiar? Of course it is. No doubt the casual movie goer will be drawn in with spectacular fight sequences, big budget special effects and Robert Downey Jr's charisma. Oh and obviously by good "word of mouth" from the success of The Avengers.  to No doubt Iron Man 3 will be a big hit by riding on the success of The Avengers. And at very least, it paints a successful trilogy whose first film gave birth to Marvel's cinematic universe. 

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Go For it: if you like big action and comedy or if you had been a fan of iron man since the start
Avoid it: if you expect a credible villain, deep political satire or a movie that is just as good as The Avengers

Entertainment: B-
Story: B-
Acting: A
Characters: B
Music: B+
Replay value: B-
"Brains": C-

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Dark Knight Returns Part 2 (2013) Direct to DVD animated movie

Overall verdict: 8.5/10
The Good: Faithful to the source, elaborates and expands on the original comic book, superb animation and artwork, talented voice cast,

The Bad: replacing the original muted colors with a more generic animation color style, dips in animation near the end

Current Availability Status: On DVD and Blu Ray

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The animated adaptation of Frank Miller's epic classic Batman tale concludes in "The Dark Knight Returns: Part 2". Whatever made part one great makes this one just as enjoyable. The producers continue their policy of adapting 100% the critically acclaimed graphic novel while expanding on story elements that could not have been expanded upon due to a lack of space in the original 4 issues worth of comics.

Spurred on by Batman's actions in the first part, The Joker uses a clever ruse to return to crime and senseless murder. As Batman attempts to bring the increasingly chaotic city under control, numerous forces are out to get him. The Joker wants to bait him into the ultimate showdown, the Cops under a new commissioner want to arrest him, the United States Government wants to end him. All the while, a war is brewing that would tear the country apart. Driven to the brink, Batman does the unthinkable and the government brings in a red and blue secret weapon who is faster than a speeding bullet.

Easily the most powerful conclusion and the finest animated production from Warner Premiere, the whole thing looks superb. Animation is of the highest quality, rivalling that of big budget anime movies. Fight scenes are in full motion, bristling with a kinetic sense of energy and without a single short cut. All of it set to a unique score by composer Christopher Drake which combines blockbuster orchestral tunes with a futuristic noir inspired synthesizer sounds. Again, the main complaint is more with the art than the animation. Frank Miller's art is faithfully replicated but in certain scenes, the quality of the art takes a nose dive. One such scene involves superman taking on a naval fleet; the way the ships are drawn look pathetically cheap compared to the rest of the movie.

And the final fight between Superman and Batman has some laughable dips in quality too. 

Telling a story in a new medium would warrant some tweaks. For example, Fans would remember that the comic featured walls of text to give exposition and explanation. In animation, the story is expanded enough so that said exposition is not necessary. Events flow naturally into each other and scenes that were slightly confusing to the casual reader makes perfect sense: scenes like Joker's final moments, the war with the Russians, why Gotham is suddenly snowing when it was a heat wave in the first movie etc. Just one of the examples of how this movie expands and improves on the original. The only thing lacking is that Frank Miller littered his narrative with characters' inner monologues. These give us an insight into the thoughts and personality of the characters; these are also, sadly, missing. And with it goes that insight that audience could have been given.

The voice cast are just as top notch as the previous installment. Michael Emerson's Joker is oozing with a certain homoerotic creepiness, quipping in a psychotic slur. Just listen to his dialogue during his climatic hand to hand showdown with Batman, it is almost traumatising. On the downside, Peter Weller seems to gave grown a little bored of the role as Batman. His deep baritone becomes almost monotone and his inflection is.....all wrong. Just listen to that half hearted "I Am the Law" speech he gives to the ex-mutant gang. Yes the script is the same as the book, but the delivery is below expectations.

Yet with its strict adherence to the source material, this animated movie also carries over the flaws of the source material. A good number of going-ons require some suspension of disbelief. Like how does Joker get his hands on lip stick that can mind control people? How does someone make near sentient robot dolls that spew poison gas and flies and has the strength of Superman? Oh well.....

It can be said that Dark Knight Returns, when both parts are viewed as one whole movie, is a true animated epic worthy of some awards. Perhaps the slight dip in some animation quality was due to the fact that they were producing Part 2 concurrently with the "Superman Unbound" animated feature. Nevertheless, this is a solid animated feature with good production values. DC and Warner Premiere keeps topping themselves, and the next animated feature will be hard pressed to keep this level of quality. The Dark Knight Returns duology is a must watch for any comic book fan.

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Go For it: if you loved part 1
Avoid it: if Frank Miller's squarish, squat and musclebound art puts you off

Entertainment: A
Story: A-
Characters: A-
Animation: A
Art: B+
Music: A-
Voice work:A-
Replay Value: A
"Brains": B+