The Lone Ranger (2013)

“Enjoyable Western Adventure That is Unfairly Criticised” 9/10

 

The Lone Ranger tells the exciting tale of the Lone Ranger, John Reid (Armie Hammer), from the perspective of Native American warrior Tonto (Johnny Depp), who rescues him and offers his help in bringing the notorious Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) to justice, which throws the pair into many adventures along the way.

I was surprised to see that many critics had dismissed this film and it has actually been a flop at the box office. Even from the very beginning I felt caught up in the adventure and found it to be very thrilling. It has a lovely Western setting and lots of brawls and gunfights (although reasonably tame as this is a family film). I think part of the charm of the film is that the tale is being recounted from the perspective of Tonto, now an elderly man, to a young boy full of excitement and amazement for the story, eager to learn more. It resonates those childhood memories of being enchanted by a bold story such as this, that lingers in the mind and fuels the imagination, something that we eventually grow out of a little, and I liked the reminiscent touch that this offered. Even as an adult the plot is still thrilling and it’s something of a different offering from Disney, more along a Pirates of the Caribbean feel in terms of adult themes and action sequences.

Johnny Depp is outstanding in this, really embracing the role of the Native American warrior and bringing his own brand of quirkiness to it that brings a few laughs. Armie Hammer, an unknown actor to me until now, also impressed me in this film, as the somewhat reluctant but heroic Lone Ranger. The more minor characters were also relative unknowns to me, besides Helena Bonham Carter, but I didn’t feel there was a particularly weak link in the casting.

The Lone Ranger is an enjoyable Western adventure that is family friendly and exciting. Don’t be put off by the negative reviews, I think it’s sadly underrated and unfairly criticised – if you’re looking for a fun, quirky adventure then give this a shot.

Sunshine (2007)

“A Thought-Provoking and Hard-Hitting Look at Humanity” 10/10

 

In 2057, the sun is dying and the planet is in jeopardy, and so a team of astronauts make a second attempt at a dangerous mission to revive the sun.  Facing nothing but adversity along the way the team must overcome all the odds as they are humanity’s last hope for survival.

 

I still feel a little in shock at this film.  It takes such an honest, hard-hitting look at humanity, placing the viewer straight into the difficult lives of the astronauts and constantly throwing a series of increasingly tough decisions and scenarios – it makes you question every decision they make, and then question yourself.  I’ve never thought more seriously about the idea of sacrifice for the greater good than whilst being put into the shoes of the characters.  Don’t be put off by this though – it’s thought-provoking only so long as you let it be.  Knowing this was a Danny Boyle film I had high hopes for the directorial styling of this film and it lived up to my expectations.  He manages to simultaneously create the feeling of confinement and eternal empty space, and throws in some really trippy snapshot scenes that give a terrifying edge of madness as the film progresses.  Visually it is very convincing (and apparently also factually as the film’s science advisor was Dr Brian Cox), in particular the CGI shots of the sun, which is interestingly portrayed both astronomically and more religiously, a nice nod to the Greek myth of Icarus (who flew too close to the sun), that lends its name to the space shuttle.

 

The casting is pretty strong which is necessary to clash each of these flawed characters and drive their individual motivations on the mission.  The most notable performances came from Cillian Murphy, the determined but hesitant hero; Chris Evans, the tough and hard-hitting voice of reason (a somewhat unfamiliar role to him but one that he carries off impeccably, as I usually find with his work); and Rose Byrne, the compassionate and slightly vulnerable one who offers a last-ditch attempt to prove that humanity isn’t completely doomed to selfishness.  However the performances from the other actors (Michelle Yeoh, Troy Garity, Hiroyuki Sanada, Benedict Wong and Cliff Curtis) all brought that little something different to each argument and scenario that made you think.

 

Sunshine is a thought-provoking and hard-hitting look at humanity that will have you questioning yourself about how you would make decisions in a life or death situation to save a world that is not so unrealistic from what the future could be like.  This one definitely stays with you long after it’s over.

Frozen (2013)

“A Sweet Disney Offering But Over-Hyped” 6/10

 

Frozen is a heart-warming Disney adventure following the story of two sisters: Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) has the power to create ice and snow, but an accident leaves her frightened and isolated from the world; meanwhile younger sister Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) is determined to bring Elsa back out into the world. When their kingdom is plunged into an eternal winter Anna sets off on an adventure to save the kingdom and her sister.

This is by no means a “Christmas” film, as in there is no Santa or Christmas setting, however I guess it can be classed as a festive film what with it being set in winter! It has a typical sweet-Disney styling: there are catchy songs and likeable characters – in particular, Olaf the snowman (voiced by Josh Gad), who provides warm-and-fuzzy moments. The morals of the story and theme of the importance of family are quite endearing, and the characters of the sisters are very relatable. The story itself is fairly simplistic, but different to other Disney films (and apparently inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”), with a couple of some more complex emotional scenes as well. As a children’s film adults can expect to only be mildly entertained by the charm of the animations, and maybe the occasional chuckle at a rare adult joke – It’s not got the same enjoyment factor for the adult audience that some other animated classics have (I still love the likes of Monsters Inc (2001) and the Toy Story for example) but perhaps that is because I grew up with those films and appreciated them when I was younger!

Frozen is a sweet animation with songs and characters that children will love. I’m a bit too old to be captured by it in the same way that a younger audience would – there was a lot of hype surrounding this film and it fell slightly short of my expectations, but still heart-warming. Good luck on getting “Let It Go” out of your head afterwards!

Oz The Great and Powerful (2013)

“A Refreshing Take on a Much-Loved Story” 7/10

 

Oz The Great and Powerful tells the charming tale of the famous Wizard of Oz, Oscar (James Franco), a struggling magician from Kansas who finds himself whisked away to the magical land of Oz and expected to save it from the Wicked Witch. Meeting many magical creatures and a few witches along the way, Oscar must prove himself a worthy magician and defeat evil.

With the famous foundation film, The Wizard of Oz (1939) being so popular even today, it’s not surprising that another spin-off has been made, but it does not try to simply redress the old story. Instead, it keeps some of the old characters such as the Good Witch, and tells the story in a completely unseen way, introducing a host of new characters and a completely different angle to the much-loved tale, although the story remains fairly simplistic. The film itself is visually stunning, both in special effects and the colourful fairyland landscape of Oz – it reminds me of a more “tripped out” version of the latest Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) film – which is made even more vibrant by the tasteful black and white of Kansas (a nice homage to The Wizard of Oz). The effects are put to use again in an almost-3D style with many things “popping” out of the screen, which I can imagine children would find thrilling, particularly in 3D.

James Franco is charming as the great Wizard himself, only occasionally toppling over into some cheesy moments when he’s trying to impress the ladies. The three witches Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, and Michelle Williams, all bring strong, feisty characters that give this film its punch; and of course it wouldn’t be Oz without some magical characters such as Finley the flying monkey (voiced by Zack Braff) and the China girl (voiced by Joey King), who add a sweeter dimension to the film that kids will love.

Visually impressive and offering a refreshing take on a much-loved story, Oz The Great and Powerful is a fun family film that all ages can enjoy.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

“Marvel At Its Best” 10/10

 

The Winter Soldier follows on from the first Captain America pretty seamlessly (although there are tiny moments throughout that won’t quite be understood if you haven’t kept up with The Avengers (2012) and Thor: The Dark World (2013), as in typical Marvel fashion everything links back to previous stories).  This time we catch up with Captain America as he struggles to integrate into modern life and find his place within S.H.I.E.L.D, facing new enemies with plenty of twists and turns along the way.

 

I reviewed the first Captain America film and described it as “action-packed family adventure”, and The Winter Soldier surpasses that description right from the beginning.  Matching the tougher, more advanced modern world, the Captain has developed accordingly, shedding his more innocent superhero image from the previous film in favour of a rougher, more masculine warrior who goes in all guns blazing.  This film is even more action-packed than its predecessor, full of gunfights and car chases; and the budget was well-spent on a huge array of visually impressive special effects.  The story was one of the best Marvel has produced: dark and secretive, constantly changing and developing, keeping you guessing right to the last moment.  Eagle-eyed viewers (like me) may pick up on the hints dropped throughout as to the true identity of the Winter Soldier, but regardless of whether or not you work it out before the end, it still makes for a thrilling finale.

 

Chris Evans once again provides charm and likeability as the ever-moral and slightly vulnerable Captain America, and there is a surprisingly big role for Scarlett Johansson’s Agent Romanoff (those who have seen The Avengers (2013) will be familiar with this character), who works well as a contrast to her fellow avenger.  Samuel L Jackson reprises his role as Nick Fury and brings a refreshingly comic performance to the character which is greatly enjoyable and helps to ease some of the tension and darker moments within the film.  Like with the other Marvel films there are many smaller characters that add to the overall enjoyment of the story; and of course it wouldn’t be a superhero film without an enemy, coming in many and varied forms, the Winter Soldier not being the most surprising.

 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier has a firmly modern feel, dealing with the ever-prominent theme of conspiracy and secrets in a way that is surprisingly adult for a Marvel film.  With plenty of action and excitement, this film holds your attention firmly throughout, keeps you guessing, and makes you want more.  It is darker and more dangerous, making it every bit as thrilling as you could want from an action film, and it is Marvel at its best: you won’t be disappointed.

Captain America (2011)

“Action-Packed Family Adventure” 8/10

Captain America tells the heart-warming, action packed story of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a weedy but determined man desperate to join the military and fight for his country in World War II. After being turned down for military service repeatedly he receives an offer he can’t refuse from Dr Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) who promises to change his life and make him a hero – Captain America is born.

This is a great action packed family film that tells the heroic story of Captain America. The film uses some impressive digital technology to make Evans look small and skinny, a far cry from his superhero self. The special effects are reasonably impressive and add to the overall action impact of the film. The story in itself is like the other current Marvel films: lots of fast-paced action scenes with some heart-warming moments scattered throughout, and it flows between the softer and punchier scenes enough to capture your attention constantly. Chris Evans takes on the role of the iconic superhero convincingly and is the perfect antidote to the evil scheming of the enemy Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving). The film’s supporting actors Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan and Tommy Lee Jones add to the overall appeal of this film.

This is an enjoyable, if occasionally cheesy, punchy superhero film that charmingly displays the classic comic book story in a way that all ages can enjoy. Whether you’re a Marvel fan already or this is your first taste of it there is something for everyone in this action-packed adventure.