Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

“Fascinating Concept and Unexpectedly Poignant” 8/10

Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) has never been involved in combat when he suddenly finds himself fighting on the front line against an alien army and being killed.  However, he mysteriously awakens to relive the same day again, over and over.  With the help of warrior Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) he begins to learn about the alien enemy and is able to memorise how the day plays out, each repetition and death bringing him closer to defeating the aliens and saving humanity.

I was drawn to this film by the concept, which I thought was fascinating, the idea of reliving the same day over and over, not only learning from your mistakes and being able to correct them, but also exploring a vast ocean of possibilities for every action that is changed.  I didn’t expect the film to go any deeper than that in terms of a greater meaning, but was pleasantly surprised.  It introduces its ideas as the great solution I’m sure most people have considered, how great it would be if you could relive a certain day or period of your life and change your mistakes, and then slowly started to peel away the perfect façade and show the truth – no matter how many times Cage lives that one day and no matter how many errors he corrects, there is always something right around the corner to trip him up again.  I felt that it shed a lot of light on the frustrations of the human condition – that deep down we are all perfectionists who live with regrets and dream of the chance to change them.  In the final half hour of the film there is a real unexpected poignancy to the story that jumps out of the midst of Tom Cruise in his typical character, tough and determined, always the perfect blend of the underdog and the hero.  I think I would have enjoyed the film if it had simply consisted of that but I was impressed at the thought that had actually gone into what is a fascinating base line for a story.

The special effects in the film are decent and I liked the jumpy nature of the scenes, complementing the jumpiness of Cage’s day loop, and despite the vast majority of the film being of the exact same day it does a terrific job of making each scene different each time he experiences it again whilst keeping the underlying frustration of the repetition, which was really key for such a film.  It held my interest the whole way through and makes a neat job of linking all the key scenes and keeping to a timeline that is really easy to keep up with.  Tom Cruise is well versed in the role he adopts in this but that’s not a criticism, I thought he was very convincing and gave the film a strong performance, although he was often outshone by Emily Blunt who’s character Rita is probably one of the strongest female leads I’ve seen in a film of this genre and she gave a really commendable performance, offering a subtle balance of tough yet vulnerable that so many sci fi films often get wrong.  Their two characters complemented each other perfectly, changing and evolving over the course of the story as they influence one another, and given that they are in the entire film with very little in the way of more minor characters to boost them up I think the depth of the characters was excellent and the pairing of Cruise and Blunt was the right choice for this film.

Edge of Tomorrow is fast paced and clever, with a fascinating concept that is also unexpectedly poignant and strong main leads.  I went in expecting to be entertained and I left also with some deeper thoughts about the ever-interesting human condition.  If you like your sci fi films to be smart as well as strong then definitely give this one a shot.

21 Jump Street (2012)

Brilliantly Funny Comedy” 10/10

 

21 Jump Street is apparently something of a remake of the 1987 TV series starring Johnny Depp and Dustin Nguyen (it’s a couple of years before my time so I haven’t seen it yet to compare the two) which features underachieving policemen Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) who are assigned the task of posing as high school students in an undercover operation to bring down a drugs ring, leading the pair into a whole host of hilarious situations.

 

Despite the juvenile nature that you’d typically expect from this film (not normally something I particularly enjoy) I thought this film was hilarious.  Some of the jokes were very base but these were fairly outnumbered by some genuine good humour.  Of course the whole film borders on the silly and far-fetched throughout but it never pretends to be anything other than just that, and rarely feels like it’s trying too hard for audience laughs.  Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are a dream comedy duo in this: their differences in acting styles and personalities are played up in stereotypes which make for some real fun, especially as the stereotypical American high school is a strong factor.  Dave Franco plays the shifty popular kid and offers an enjoyable performance that occasionally stands up to the humour of Tatum and Hill, although the biggest laughs from a more minor character come from Ice Cube, the exasperated chief at the 21 Jump Street Facility. There’s a nice cameo appearance from the original 21 Jump Street-ers Johhny Depp and Dustin Nguyen too.

 

If you’re looking for a brilliantly funny comedy that’s full of light-hearted silliness then it doesn’t get much funnier than this.  Despite being a little apprehensive I absolutely cracked up at this film and can’t wait to see if the sequel lives up to the laugh out loud humour in this.

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.

RED 2 (2013)

“Entertaining in the Same Way as the First” 7/10

 

RED 2 picks up neatly from where the first one left off – Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is now happily settling down with girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) when he finds himself dragged back into his old ways by partner in crime Marvin (John Malkovich) on a mission to find a sought-after nuclear device.

Much like the first film, RED 2 is full of gun fights, car chases and ridiculous scenarios, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously so you can forgive it for that. The plot runs parallel with this theme of un-believability, and some scenes almost feel like an unintentional parody, but it adds to the charm of the film. There are some good laughs throughout, particularly from the ever-quirky John Malkovich, and also from Mary-Louise Parker who again embraces the role of awkward but excitable Sarah with comedic prowess. Bruce Willis is back on standard form, the cool, casual hero who fights his way out of every situation almost effortlessly; but this time his character has mellowed considerably, there are lots of tender moments between Frank and Sarah that are slightly disjointed with his takes-no-prisoners fight scenes. As well as some previous actors making a reappearance such as Dame Helen Mirren, who is on excellent form, there are some new appearances from the likes of Catherine Zeta-Jones who brings a larger than life role as a fiery Russian agent, and Anthony Hopkins as the wise creator of the nuclear device.

If you enjoyed the first film then you’ll probably enjoy RED 2 as well. It’s the same comedic mix of good characters and slightly implausible situations, but for me that’s part of the charm: the film doesn’t take itself too seriously, it just looks to entertain.

RED (2010)

“Entertaining, Styled Almost as a Parody” 7/10

 

Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is a retired agent who is stuck in a rut – his only joy in life is his phone calls to his pension case worker Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), who is as bored with life as he is. When Frank is pulled back into his old line of work, he finds himself responsible for Sarah whilst trying to survive.

This film is surprisingly light-hearted entertainment and full of likeable characters. Bruce Willis plays his trademark cool, collected role, holding his own during gun fights and car chases, a believable veteran of the genre. Mary-Louise Parker brings a bubbly and inquisitive character that clashes wonderfully with Willis’ role which provides an unexpected sweet element to the film. John Malkovich delivers a highly entertaining performance as Willis’ partner in crime, offering plenty of laughs throughout the film. There are some great minor roles from Hollywood royalty such as Dame Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, and Brian Cox. The film is all about contrasts, and that doesn’t just stop at the characters: there is a fair bit of action, offset by humorous dialogue-heavy scenes. The styling of it is almost like a parody of itself: it doesn’t try too hard to be one thing or another, it just throws a lot of things into the mix and goes with it.

RED is entertaining and surprisingly comedic, with some great characters portrayed by a good cast. Take it all in with an open mind; it does have a touch of the parody about it, but it cuts it back just enough to be an enjoyable action-fuelled offering.

Avengers Assemble (2012)

“Fast Paced With an Incredible Cast” 10/10

 

The Avengers is an action-packed, superhero-filled film that focuses on the peace-keeping S.H.I.E.L.D agency, bringing together Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to create the Avengers. When Earth is threatened by Thor’s brother Loki the Avengers must unite to save the planet from catastrophe.

Full of impressive visuals and action in nearly every scene, this film is fast paced and exciting throughout with plenty to keep you guessing. The final battle is epic in every sense: impressive CGI mixes with the New York skyline as the Avengers lead the fight against evil in a thrilling chase across the city. The story itself pulls in elements from each of the individual Avenger’s stories, in particular Iron Man (2008), Thor (2011) and Captain America (2011) (I may be slightly biased in saying this as they are my favourite Avengers so I notice the references more) and I’d highly recommend watching the individual films, although they are not a necessary prerequisite.

The casting is first class. Each character is a contrast to the next; Downey Jr as the egotistical genius Iron Man; Evans as the charming and heroic old-fashioned Captain America; Hemsworth as the tough, brave demi-god Thor; Johansson as the smart, feisty Black Widow; Ruffalo as the quiet but unstoppable Hulk; and Renner as the quick, deadly Hawkeye. What really makes this story is how all of these characters learn to use each other’s strengths as the plot unfolds, and each is as important to the team as the next when it comes to the crunch. Tom Hiddleston is deviously wicked as Loki, delivering an impressively smooth and convincing performance as the enemy of the story. Samuel L Jackson brings his usual mysterious Nick Fury, providing many unexpected laughs from the delivery of his character’s one-liners. Fans of other Marvel work will recognise supporting characters played by the likes of Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgard and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Avengers Assemble is yet another example of the great work that Marvel can produce, with a fast paced and exciting story that encompasses their best characters. Definitely one to watch, and if you haven’t already seen some of the individual character’s films this film will probably make you want more! There’s only one question that plagues me when I watch this film: would I want to be saved from near death by Iron Man or Captain America? Having seen the incredible new Captain America: The Winter Soldier recently (which I can’t recommend highly enough) I’m going with the Captain for now!

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.