Starring: Johnny Depp (Edward Scissorhands), Rebecca Hall (Iron Man 3), Paul Bettany (Priest), Kate Mara (House of Cards), Morgan Freeman (The LEGO Movie), Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later)

Director: Wally Pfister

Writer: Jack Paglen

Runtime: 1 hour 59 minutes

Release Date: 18 April (US), 25 April (UK)

It’s always an odd prospect when someone in the film industry who is well known for, and often very talented at, a certain profession manages to bag a directing gig. Whilst more common with actors or writers, plenty of production designers, cinematographers, even visual effects supervisors, get a chance to direct. Sometimes it works beautifully and they go on to successful careers in that field, and other times their lack of experience or their incompatible sensibilities can create for an unusual piece of film. Considering Wally Pfister has been working as a director of photography under the great Christopher Nolan since Memento, you’d hope he would have picked up a few good tips and that his directorial debut Transcendence would fall into the former category. Quite sadly though, it’s in the latter.

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A lot of the core ideas behind Transcendence are certainly an interesting foundation to build a story around. The film does certainly tackle the subject of technology and how advanced we should let it become with some intelligence at points, throwing in plenty of moral quandary for good measure. It is certainly evocative of the more contemplative science fiction works of the 1960s and 70s. Unfortunately, it’s lacking in almost every category. The pacing is slow and drawn out, which I think is intentional but it doesn’t work here; instead of building tension or suspense, it just induces boredom. The passage of time feels unclear: we know that the film supposedly takes place over several years, but if not for a few title cards telling us so it would seem like this all happened over the course of a month at most, and the fact it does take place over such a long period of time makes the characters seem that much more incompetent (seriously, it took the government TWO YEARS to go “Hey, should we check out this huge facility being built in the middle of nowhere by a supercomputer and his worker bees?”). But the main problem with Transcendence is that the science just keeps getting more and more ridiculous. I’m not a scientist and I don’t know much about how computers work, but there were plenty of moments in this movie where I thought “I don’t think computers can do that” and a bunch of others where I went “OK, even for a super-advanced computer, that’s just ridiculous”. When it reaches the point where basically anything is possible because ‘computers’, it’s kind of hard to accept this takes place in a reality similar to our own.

It’s great to see Johnny Depp not playing an eccentric loon with a silly hat and too much eye make-up. Pity his performance in Transcendence is the absolute opposite of that persona. Depp sounds monotone and uninterested throughout the movie, even before becoming a sentient computer. Rebecca Hall fares much better as his wife, clearly putting a lot of emotional investment into this, but it falls apart due to the flimsy writing. These two are supposed to love each other more than anyone, but we never really get to see any moments to prove this before the plot kicks in; show, don’t tell. I couldn’t get invested in their relationship because I never got an idea of what it was. This lack of character detail is something that pervades every single one of the main performances. Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy feel like their playing caricatures of themselves from a bunch of their other movies, with little to no defining character traits. Kate Mara often feels even more robotic than Depp, saying every line with uninvolved contempt. And Hollywood, please stop wasting Clifton Collins Jr. He’s a much better actor than you keep thinking he is. The only one who manages to feel genuine in this entire thing is Paul Bettany, but it’s not enough to save the picture.

Considering Pfister’s a cinematographer, it’s almost a given that Transcendence would look nice and it does. The colours have a stark sheen to them appropriate for a sci-fi, and there are some pretty looking shots of both technology and nature. The editing is fine, the visual effects are fine, the music is fine, everything is just…fine. Not much really to say about it.

Transcendence isn’t an utter disaster, but merely flat and uninteresting. It takes a solid premise for a sci-fi thriller and makes it as invigorating as a physics lecture, and one where the science doesn’t even add up. Wally Pfister fails to find a voice for himself, leaving everything from the acting to the storytelling feeling bland. I can’t blame him fully, as I feel the script is more responsible than anything else, but it doesn’t exactly reflect well on him. Perhaps this is a case where he should return to doing what he does best.

FINAL VERDICT: 4/10

Starring: Andrew Garfield (The Social Network), Emma Stone (The Help), Jamie Foxx (Django Unchained), Dane DeHaan (Chronicle), Sally Field (Forrest Gump), Paul Giamatti (Sideways), Chris Cooper (Adaptation.)

Director: Marc Webb ((500) Days of Summer)

Writers: Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci & Jeff Pinkner (Fringe)

Runtime: 2 hours 22 minutes

Release Date: 16 April (UK), 2 May (US)

If you held me at gunpoint and asked me who my favourite superhero is, I’d say “Spider-Man. Now why did you need to put a gun to my head to make me answer that?” Whether it’s comics, movies, TV shows, video games, pyjamas (oh yeah, I’ve rocked the Spidey PJs) or whatever, I love me some Spider-Man. Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man movies still stand as some of the best of the superhero genre. His third one does not (though I still say its not quite as bad as everyone says), and so a reboot happened. Thankfully, The Amazing Spider-Man was a solid movie that did some things better than Raimi’s efforts and other things not so much. Now they’ve returned with the imaginatively named The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Does this electrifying tale help bring the webslinger to new heights, or have his web shooters run dry?

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What The Amazing Spider-Man 2 does that no other Spider-Man film has done before is that it nails the tone. The film never gets too serious or too goofy. It straddles that line perfectly, allowing for plenty of heart and tragedy whilst not losing the fun, creating the atmosphere a true Spider-Man story needs. It at times reminded me of blockbusters from the 1990s, but in a good way. The pacing is expertly judged, balancing high-flying action, comedic banter and emotional resonance all at once. The film even has a strong moral centre and an effective message. All of these elements fit together to what should be the perfect Spider-Man movie. So…why isn’t it? The answer is something this series has dealt with before it its previous incarnation: overstuffing. Let’s be clear about this: it never gets quite as clogged as Spider-Man 3 did, nor is anything that is there objectively bad. There are no massive holes in the plot, no questionable character motivations, no embarrassingly out of tone sequences, nothing. In fact, in the grand scheme of things, everything that is there works pretty damn well. But too much stuff is still too much stuff, whether it be good or bad, and it all becomes a bit too much to handle at once. This abundance of content creates for a story full of many threads that do all tie together but not in a completely satisfying way. This mainly becomes apparent in the film’s final act where, after a terrific battle scene between Spidey (Garfield) and Electro (Foxx), it picks up another thread, follows it for a while, but then resolves it so quickly that it never quite sinks in. I wish I could explain myself better, but doing so would reveal major spoilers so I’ll let you see for yourselves. Everything beforehand works so well, but those last few moments do leave a sour aftertaste that clouds everything that came before. Oh, and just to save you some time, there is no after credits sequence.

Andrew Garfield was a great Peter Parker in the first film, and he is still great here. He so naturally embodies everything the character is and stands for: he’s smart, he’s witty, he’s heartfelt, he’s relatable, my praises could go on and on. This is the Spider-Man I remember from the comics and I’m so glad someone finally nailed it. Making matters even better is Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacey. She is honestly one of my favourite female characters in superhero movies, mainly because she is an assertive and confident character who never becomes just another damsel in distress. That and her chemistry with Garfield is through the roof; their moments together is what really makes the film seem genuine. Jamie Foxx works well in the part of Electro, imbuing the character with a sense of tragedy and honesty. He doesn’t come off as outright sympathetic considering he’s clearly a bit screwy even before gaining power, but his motivations are understandable if twisted and he is an imposing challenge for Spidey. Dane DeHaan is an excellent Harry Osborn, being able to pull off being both friendly and devious. His and Peter’s relationship seems as genuine as Peter’s romance with Gwen, making it all the more tragic when they drift apart Akira-style. The problem with both of these antagonists, however, is that they aren’t given quite enough screen presence. The film bounces between Electro and Harry’s stories, never quite giving enough focus to either, and when they do finally intersect it’s not for long. It makes it hard to decide who the real villain is, as neither seems fully developed. Again, it’s not Spider-Man 3 levels of unfocused but it is troublesome. Those wondering about the presence of Paul Giamatti’s Rhino complicating matters should rest easy; his role is nothing more than a fun cameo with room for expansion later on, as is Chris Cooper as Norman Osborn. The cast of Amazing Spider-Man 2 is really what saves the picture, as without all this talent I think the flaws in the storytelling would become more apparent.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 really comes alive during its action sequences. The acrobatic nature of the character has been fully embraced, creating for some really inventive aerial manoeuvres; even the simple action of web swinging is a joy to behold. Electro works wonderfully as a visual threat, one not simply defeated by punches and kicks, and that uniqueness really pushes the creativity of the action. The cinematography and production design is vibrant and colourful, giving the movie a real comic book look to it, and the visual effects are pretty seamless with the practical elements. Those who bemoaned Spidey’s costume in the last film should be quelled by the film’s new suit, which looks great and is nigh on exactly like his comic book attire. Also gone is James Horner’s grand but overdone score from the previous film. In his place sits Hans Zimmer, who gives it a much more modern and electronic feel. It’s an odd choice at first but it does fit with the film’s aesthetic and it grows on you, one that sets it apart not only from Horner’s score but also Danny Elfman’s score for the Raimi films and Zimmer’s own work on the Dark Knight trilogy and Man of Steel.

Despite its obvious imperfections, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is still a fun ride. The cast are all excellent, the direction is spot-on, the action sequences are thrilling, and it’s the first Spider-Man film that fully understands what the heart and soul of the character is. Unfortunately the film is majorly bogged down by a sprawling storyline whose complexity gets in the way of itself by its conclusion; it is working proof that you can have too much of a good thing. Those who weren’t thrilled by the last movie probably won’t be satisfied, as a lot of the elements certain people had problems with haven’t been changed, but those who didn’t take umbrage with the first one should find here some enjoyable but flawed blockbuster entertainment.

FINAL VERDICT: 8/10

Starring: Russell Crowe (Gladiator), Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind), Ray Winstone (The Sweeny), Emma Watson (Harry Potter), Logan Lerman (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), Anthony Hopkins (Thor)

Director: Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan)

Writers: Darren Aronofsky & Ari Handel (The Fountain)

Runtime: 2 hours 18 minutes

Release Date: 28 March (US), 4 April (UK)

Biblical epics used to be a big deal. Films like The Ten Commandments were huge tentpole pictures with lavish sets and packed with stars. Now they’re a scarce breed, with most of the ones that remain being religious propaganda. But happens when a filmmaker with not only a bold presentation style, but is also an atheist, takes on a biblical epic? Noah has been stirring up controversy on both sides of the fence since its inception, with rumours abound about botched test screenings and trouble between Darren Aronofsky, Paramount Pictures and various religious groups. But now that the director’s true vision has been released, was all the hubbub worth it?

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Most of you are probably familiar with the basic beats of the story of Noah’s Ark, and the film hits on all of these moments. But in the grand scheme of things, the most familiar aspects of the story are both the least interesting and least focused-on parts of the film.  The film is actually much more character-based than you might expect; it’s less a tale of survival and instead a story about one man’s crisis of faith. It deals with the struggle to be a good man and the temptations that come with it; a story about learning to not always follow everything to the letter and decide what you think is best. It’s a fascinating tale to watch, and it’s well paced and engrossing enough that it makes those two-plus hours fly by in an instant. Aronofsky’s approach to the religious elements of the story is somewhat ambiguous (the word “God” is never uttered for example) but I think respectful in many ways too. The film examines the good that can come from faith, but also the bad; it neither demonises the religious nor does it hold them on a pedestal. Regardless, I can see why the more fervently faithful have a problem with its depiction of the story but I don’t think Aronofsky has done anything to sully the original text. In many ways, I think he’s made it a much more approachable and timely story. In viewing it from an unbiased perspective, Aronofsky has crafted a narrative that can be viewed as a metaphor for any struggle, both internal and external. A scene where Noah tells the whole “Earth created in six days” story whilst we are shown a montage of the world’s creation from a more scientific perspective epitomizes the film’s goals in mere minutes, and if that sounds like too much for you then this film clearly wasn’t made for you.

Russell Crowe doesn’t always hit the mark in every film he does, but when he’s good he’s good. His portrayal of Noah is far more complex that you’d think at first. Remember: this is a guy who believes a man in the sky wants him to build a giant box to save the animals from a flood. As such, Noah in this story is less of a kindly idol and more of a mildly deranged obsessive. By the time the flood nears, you don’t even particularly like Noah but you still understand and sympathise with him. He’s a man trying to do what he thinks is right but constantly questions his beliefs and motives. Crowe manages to convey all of this tremendously, investing fully into a much more layered and fascinating portrayal of the character. Jennifer Connelly isn’t always given a huge amount to do as Noah’s wife Naameh, but she seizes every moment she is given and somewhat voices the audience’s frustration with Noah’s actions in the final act. Ray Winstone’s villainous Tubal-cain is a somewhat basic antagonist, but the role works to Winstone’s strengths and he remains a threatening presence throughout. Anthony Hopkins’ role is small but key, and he milks every moment he can. Emma Watson gives what is arguably her best performance since Harry Potter ended, and whilst Logan Lerman is by no means an astonishing actor he does manage to bring his A game in a role that is admittedly a little underdeveloped. Still, it’s far more than Douglas Booth and Leo McHugh Carroll are given as Noah’s other two sons, which is especially puzzling in Booth’s case since his and Watson’s relationship is a key part of the film.

Darren Aronofsky’s visual aesthetic has always been both striking and bizarre, and Noah is no exception. His vision of a pre-flood Earth is one that seems more at home in a fantasy film, and this fanciful approach to the material is one that permeates every aspect of its design. After all, this is a film where fallen angels are depicted as giant rock monsters. The cinematography is gorgeous and emphasises the epic scale of this story. The grandeur of the production is vast and impressive to behold, with desolate landscapes and the harsh griminess of Tubal-cain’s camp contrasted against luscious forests and the massive wooden crate that is the ark. The visual effects are consistently impressive, both in its depiction of the animals and the flood, and Clint Mansell delivers an impressive score worthy of a film of this scale.

As a person with an indifference towards religion, I didn’t expect to like Noah as much as I did but it really is an impressive piece of cinema. It takes the material in interesting and bold directions, making for a film that can be enjoyed by everyone and not just those of faith. In fact, I think you’re more likely to enjoy it if you’re not a religious person. Noah is either the artiest blockbuster ever made or the most expensive art film ever made, but either way you look at it it’s just awesome. Ignore any prejudices you have and go see it for yourself.

FINAL VERDICT: 9.5/10

Starring: Iko Uwais (The Raid), Arifin Putra, Oka Antara (V/H/S 2), Tio Pakusodewo, Alex Abbad (Merentau)

Writer/Director: Gareth Evans (The Raid)

Runtime: 2 hours 30 minutes

Release Date: 28 March (US), 11 April (UK)

The Raid was an espresso shot of a movie: fast, frantic and full of energy. It contains some of the best fight sequences in recent memory and puts most Hollywood action films to shame. How the hell are they going to top that? Well, Gareth Evans has returned to try and do just that with The Raid 2. Has the impossible been accomplished or was this fight over before it even started?

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The film picks up right where the first one left off but quickly resolves the loose ends and throws Rama (Uwais) into a new story. Whilst the first film had a very basic plot that was mainly there as something to connect a series of increasingly badass fights, The Raid 2 has much more of a story which works to both its advantage and disadvantage. On the good side, this gives the film much more of a backbone to build on than just “police go into building and sh*t hits the fan” and allows the filmmakers to explore a wider variety of locations and situations. On the other side, the plot isn’t anything that special. It’s your basic undercover cop story full of betrayal, warring factions and greed. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the first film’s plot wasn’t anything to write home about either, but it didn’t spend nearly as much time on it. The film’s second act is a bit of a drag as it becomes more involved in the dealings and politics of the warring gangs which isn’t that interesting; action beats become more sparse and Rama is pushed out of sight for a long stretch. It’s during this period that the film’s extensive running time begins to take its toll.

But right when it starts to get frustrating, the third act kicks in and…holy sh*t! That long period of waiting for something to happen becomes totally worth it and the movie goes from 0 to 100mph in no time flat. The preceding actions scenes were fun and cool to watch, but nothing can prepare you for the sheer awesomeness of the last hour or so of The Raid 2. Punches are thrown, guns are shot, sharp objects are swung, pints of blood are spilt and pretty much every bone in the body gets broken at some point. The film even expands its scope by adding a car chase into the mix and excels at that too, combining vehicular mayhem and fisticuffs into one huge ball of F*CK YEAH! All of this wonderful action spectacle is shot and cut to perfection, never allowing a single moment to drag or become incomprehensible. Considering how many fight scenes take place in such tight quarters as toilet stalls or the back seat of a moving car, it again calls into question how huge blockbusters with ten times the budget of this film keep messing it up. I won’t go into any more detail about the fight scenes but trust me on this. By the end of this film, you’ll have completely forgotten about the dry spell in the middle.

The Raid 2 is an impressive feat of action cinema and one that is sure to go down in the annals of the genre as a defining moment. I won’t say it’s better than the original as the dry middle section of the movie is a big demerit against it, but get past that and anyone with a love for action will be smiling with depraved glee at what this film has in store. A third instalment seems inevitable, and I can’t wait to see what Evans and co have in store for us next.

FINAL VERDICT: 9/10

Starring: Ricky Gervais (The Invention of Lying), Tina Fey (30 Rock), Ty Burrell (Mr. Peabody & Sherman)

Director: James Bobin (The Muppets)

Writers: James Bobin & Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall)

Runtime: 1 hour 47 minutes

Release Date: 21 March (US), 28 March (UK)

2011’s The Muppets was a highly enjoyable nostalgia trip that effectively reintroduced those classic felt characters with plenty of affection and self-deprecation. And, as the film’s opening number tells us, popular demand means we get a sequel. But without star and co-writer Jason Segel, can this new Muppet adventure continue the success of it predecessor?

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The story picks up exactly where the first film left off (literally to the final frame) and continues from there. Anyone wondering what happened to Segel and Amy Adams should be disappointed as, other than the backs of some stand-ins, they are never seen or mentioned again. The film’s plot is a basic but effective set-up, allowing for a variety of worldwide locales to be lampooned but the formula does quickly fall into routine. The Muppets go to a new country, they put on a show whilst Konstantin and Dominic (Gervais) rob a place, they leave, Sam the Eagle and Jean Napoleon (Burrell) pick up the clues, repeat. The film does pad out proceedings with some sub-plots, but a lot of them like Dominic’s desire to be number 1 or Nadya’s (Fey) affection for Kermit feel underdeveloped. Luckily, the film manages to hide behind its humour a lot, which keeps proceedings jovial and entertaining.

The Muppets are all pretty much as you remember them but, much like the last film, many of them have been pushed to the sidelines (major note to filmmakers: needs more Swedish Chef!). Walter is still here from the last movie and is as bland as ever, especially considering he doesn’t have as much reason to exist anymore. The human performances are mostly good. Ty Burrell is easily the standout as Interpol agent Napoleon; his chemistry with Sam the Eagle is consistently amusing and the constant jokes about how lazy and laid-back the French are kept me laughing throughout. The two of them together are funny enough that they could easily hold an entire movie on their own. Fey is effective when she’s around, but she doesn’t get quite enough the screen time. Like in the last film, they’ve pack this thing to the brim with cameos. I won’t spoil any of them, but though most of them are brief many are very hilarious. Unfortunately, Ricky Gervais’ Dominic sticks out like a sore thumb and somewhat ruins proceedings. He’s clearly trying, but his dry comedic skills aren’t suited to this brand of humour and the script never plays to his strengths. A much more lively and charming actor would have been better suited to this role.

The Muppet films have always been known for their songs, and Bret Mackenzie of Flight of the Conchords returns to compose the new tunes. The film gets off to a great start with “We’re Doing a Sequel”, which is both catchy and humorous in all the right ways, but after that they somewhat fall into routine. The songs are fun to listen to as they play out, but none of them stick in your head like the songs from the first film. It sometimes feels like the filmmakers went, “They’re hasn’t been a song in twenty minutes! Throw in another one!” On a technical level, the film looks fine. The Muppets are still all done practically, but there does seem to be a lot more CG assistance this time around as the film calls for them to get involved in more action beats. When these moments arise, it can look somewhat cheesy but you could say that just adds to the charm.

Muppets Most Wanted is enjoyable and amusing, but it never quite hits the high notes of its predecessor. I was definitely entertained throughout (Ty Burrell alone is worth the price of admission), but I think it ultimately lacks the sentimental charm of the original. If you’re a Muppet fan I’m sure you’ll find plenty to like, but I’d advise calming down your expectations. As the film is ironically aware, “everybody knows the sequel’s never quite as good”.

FINAL VERDICT: 7/10

Starring: Chris Evans (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World), Scarlett Johansson (Her), Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker), Sebastian Stan (Hot Tub Time Machine), Robert Redford (All Is Lost), Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction)

Directors: Anthony & Joe Russo (You, Me & Dupree)

Writers: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (Pain & Gain)

Runtime: 2 hours 16 minutes

Release Date: 26 March (UK), 4 April (US)

Much like Superman, the main problem people have with Captain America is that he’s too nice; too much of a boy scout who can do no wrong. When stood next to Iron Man or Hulk, he seems a little bland. But The Star-Spangled Man with a Plan did well to keep audiences entertained in both his solo debut The First Avenger and in The Avengers itself. Now Cap must hold the limelight again in The Winter Soldier, and I’m happy to say it’s certainly one you won’t want to miss.

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The Winter Soldier is the first post-Avengers Marvel film that really feels like a true sequel to that film, but it does have a tone and feel all its own. Whilst First Avenger was a light-hearted Indiana Jones-esque romp, this film has the ouvre and style of a spy thriller; a Bourne film set in a world of superheroes. And just like all the great thrillers of the past, the film is packed with intrigue and suspense that keeps the pace rollicking and the audience engaged. It calls into question the workings of S.H.I.E.L.D., the difference between controlled peace and true freedom, and the consequences of both outlooks. It’s a story that feels very suited to Cap’s optimistic view, and seeing him put his foot down and fight against the modern view of “peace” is one that is both entertaining and somewhat relevant to the times we live in. For those really interested in the mythos of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this is a must-see. While Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World worked as standalone fare, The Winter Soldier majorly shakes up the status quo and sets the universe in an interesting place for the future (do I even need to tell you to stay through the credits at this point?). My only real gripe with the film is that Winter Soldier himself isn’t as big a part of the film as you’d think. It’s not a huge loss, as the film’s main focus is more than enough to hold the story, but you’d think one of the titular characters of the movie would have a much bigger impact on the main story.

His third time holding the shield, Chris Evans truly owns the character of Captain America and it’s hard to even think he was once Johnny Storm. The story challenges Cap’s beliefs and morals, allowing Evans to do much more than just be the knight in shining armour. The film also allows plenty of time for Steve Rogers’ more personal life, particular highlights being the scene between him and an aged Peggy Carter and whenever he encounters the enigmatic Winter Soldier. Scarlett Johansson was perfect casting as Black Widow, and here she is finally given much more screen time to impress in both action scenes and character moments; her chemistry with Evans is superb and the true heart of the movie. Anthony Mackie is clearly having a ball playing The Falcon and too has great repartee with Cap, whilst Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury is finally presented in a much more human and fallible manner that shows he does have a conscience. As said before, The Winter Soldier himself isn’t on screen as much as you’d expect, but when he’s there he is a very intimidating presence. Robert Redford is well suited to his role as Alexander Pierce in what is clearly a throwback to his role in the classic 70’s thrillers like Three Days of the Condor, and even Cobie Smulders’ Maria Hill and Maximiliano Hernandez’s Agent Sitwell get more time in the spotlight. And of course there are many cameos ranging from the obvious to the surprising, including teases hinting towards the future.

Considering The Russo Brothers’ background is in comedy, they really nail the action sequences in The Winter Solider. Clearly influenced by the likes of Bourne and The Raid, the fights are as visceral and intense as you can get within the PG-13 limitations. Ranging from tight one-on-one brawls to massively complicated choreographed fights on ground and in the air, all the action scenes impress and rival those in The Avengers on a spectacle level. The cinematography and editing never becomes problematic, and always knows when to cut in close and when to keep distance and let us enjoy the carnage. The score isn’t quite as memorable and heroic as Alan Silvestri’s score for the first movie, but Henry Jackman’s music does give the film a much more modern feel.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier stands as one of Marvel’s finest achievements. For those who wanted a true sequel to The Avengers, this is it. The plot is intriguing and shifts the foundations for the films to come, it moves the characters forward in an interesting direction, and as pure popcorn entertainment it is second to none. Anyone doubting that Captain America is too silly or jingoistic a character for the times we live in will probably be silenced when they see this picture, as it shows us that we’ll always need the pure hero who will always stand up for what is right. Now to wait till August, where an unlikely team of heroes will form to guard the krutacking galaxy.

FINAL VERDICT: 9/10

Starring: Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), Imogen Poots (Fright Night), Dominic Cooper (Captain America: The First Avenger), Scott Mescudi, Dakota Johnson (21 Jump Street), Michael Keaton (Batman)

Director: Scott Waugh (Act of Valour)

Writer: George Gatins

Runtime: 2 hours 10 minutes

Release Date: 12 March (UK), 14 March (US)

After 20 years of trying, we have still yet to get that great video game movie. They’ve ranged from guilty pleasure (Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter) to mediocre (Silent Hill, Prince of Persia) to just awful (basically anything made by Uwe Boll). Like how comic book movies struggled for a while, I’m sure one day we’ll get that good video game movie (I’m looking at you, Duncan Jones’ Warcraft). But for now, here’s Need for Speed.

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The long running racing series rarely had plots, and when they did they could be summed up in about three sentences. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. The lack of material could allow the filmmakers to do basically anything they want as long as its got fast cars, or it could cause them to fumble around and do nothing but show us fast cars. Need for Speed swerves somewhere in the middle of those two options. The film does attempt to have both a story and some emotional stakes, but they feel clichéd and half-arsed. The plot is predictable and is basically an excuse to watch cars drive very fast in a bunch of different locales. The film can’t quite decide if it wants to be serious or silly so it flip-flops between the two clumsily. The comedic moments rarely hit and feel somewhat juvenile, whilst the dramatic moments are trite and sometimes confusing (I’m looking at you, Kid-who-has-a-vision-of-the-end-of-the-movie-for-no-reason-other-than-to-add-perplexing-dramatic-poignancy). On a mindless, meat-headed level it can be enjoyable but anyone looking for any kind of substance won’t come out pleased. Then again, anyone going into a movie called Need for Speed looking for substance is clearly lost. To the movie’s credit it’s never boring and kept me engaged, even if the film does run on a bit too long. When your plot is this thin, crossing the two-hour mark is nigh unacceptable.

Aaron Paul proved himself with his work on Breaking Bad, but now he’s entering the big leagues. And despite the lack of decent material, Paul manages to keep the movie on life support through his determination and natural charisma. His role of Tobey Marshall isn’t exactly a deep one; he’s the underdog who’s been wronged and is out to prove himself, but Paul goes for it and manages to carry the film across the finish line when I’m certain lesser actors would crash and burn. Similar compliments can be made to Imogen Poots, who also manages to rise above the weak material mainly thanks to good chemistry with Paul. Props also must go to Michael Keaton, who clearly knows what type of movie he’s in and just has fun with it despite being in a role that is mostly pointless. Other than that, the cast doesn’t quite add up. All of Marshall’s buddies are pretty interchangeable and bland, with only one or two character traits to share between them and even less good jokes, which is especially aggravating because the whole plot revolves around the death of one of these insipid characters. Dakota Johnson serves minimal point to the plot and just looks bored most of the time; maybe she just realised she’s about to throw her career down the toilet with Fifty Shades of Grey. But the biggest fault in terms of the cast comes from Dominic Cooper. Despite being a very charismatic and talented actor in most cases (see The Devil’s Double if you want solid proof of that), but here he’s just awful. To be fair his character as written is about as nuanced a villain as Dick Dastardly, but Cooper makes no effort to rise above the material and remains stone-faced throughout.

But of course, most people aren’t coming to see Need for Speed because of plot and character. They’re coming to see cool cars do cool stuff, and this is clearly where all attention has gone. The car chases are frequent and frenetic, the film barely stopping for a few minutes before another one kicks in. All of the stunts have been done practically, and the attention to authenticity does pay off and makes the races have much more visceral impact than half of the Fast and the Furious movies. The cinematography is very loose and vibrant but never so much that it becomes incomprehensible, and the score eases off when it needed to let the sound of the cars do most of the work. On purely a spectacle level, Need for Speed runs smoothly. It’s just a pity most everything else fails to work.

Need for Speed can be enjoyed as fun popcorn entertainment thanks to the consistently enjoyable car chases and the admirable efforts made by Paul and Poots. But the sloppy script, weak dramatic direction and an uninteresting supporting cast constantly impede on the fun. Considering how little material there is to adapt it’s hard to compare it to other video game movies but it is one of the better ones. If you’re a serious petrolhead you might find enough to enjoy here, but anyone looking for something with substance should stay far away. And so the wait for the first great video game movie continues…

FINAL VERDICT: 5.5/10