Thursday, 31 October 2013

Thor: the Dark World Review

Hammer Time!

Thor: the Dark World is the eighth instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the third film to feature the character. Despite this, Marvel Studios are currently showing no signs of stopping any time soon. Almost all the films in the series thus far have been of a very high quality, and Thor: the Dark World is certainly no exception.

The film is set in the present day, meaning that it takes place about a year and a half after The Avengers and two years after the first Thor film. The picture begins with an ancient battle between the armies of Asgard and our main villain, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) over a force called the Aether. With this Malekith planned to return the universe to a state of darkness, over which he can rule. However Malekith was defeated and the Aether was sealed away. Now, in the present day, Malekith has returned to claim the Aether once again which becomes stuck in the body of Thor's earthling love interest, Jane. Obviously this is a job for Thor!

The film takes itself seriously but there's also plenty of comic relief to balance the darkness. This is, of course, a good thing but at times I felt that it was a little bit overdone. For example, one particularly dark scene is followed by a joke on the subject just a few minutes later, robbing the scene of some of it's drama and impact. The majority of the jokes are still funny, but I think that the film would have benefited from fewer of these moments.

As is to be expected with these films, the cast all put in great performances, particularly Thor's brother/arch enemy Loki (Tom Hiddleston ) who is as menacing as ever despite turning over a new leaf to aid Thor. However, Malekith himself isn't very interesting and doesn't come across as a major threat to Thor. He's not a bad character but he's certainly not as memorable as Loki. I think the film would have benefited more from some more conflict between Thor and the villain. Chris Hemsworth is as fantastic as ever in the lead role and particularly inpresses when sharing the screen with Hiddleston as the two actors show a lot of chemistry together.

The film is absolutely phenomenal on the visual front, with the scenery, costumes and special effects all impressing me throughout. Asgard in particular is a fantastic work of computer animation and the wide angle shots of the city were something I stared in awe at whenever it was on screen. I didn't see the film in 3D but I couldn't help thinking that it would have looked even better when viewed in that format.

I would go as far as to say that this film was as good as the first Thor film and is a must watch for all Marvel fans, even if, like me you don't have much experience with the character.

Oh, and if you are a Marvel buff, there's something very special for the initial post credits sequence! Honestly; it's not an Iron Man 3 style cop out, this one actually leads somewhere!

Rating: ****

Agree/disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comments or tweet me @danj_101

Thursday, 10 October 2013

ARROW Season 2 Episode 1 'City of Heroes'

Hi blog readers! As you may or may not know, I am a huge DC Comics fan; I love their movies, TV series and comic books. I was extremely ecstatic and hyped when the second season of Arrow was going to air and to be honest, I was lost for words when 'City of Heroes' aired.

ARROW has evolved enormously from being a flawed but fresh series into a beautiful masterpiece that is exciting, adventurous and compelling. I have created a Season 2 Episode 1 review of the hit-series so beware....


ARROW starts off with Oliver Queen (played by Stephen Amell), in the present day, in Lian Yu, the Island that he was previously trapped on for 5 years. This is considered to be his fortress of solitude to grieve over the death of his best friend, Tommy Meryln. The first episode consist mainly of the aftermath of the Undertaking, the seismic explosions that destroyed the slums of Starling City, the death of a main cast member,Tommy Meryln, and how the main characters have been coping with the after effects.

The first scene starts off with Felicity Smoak and John Diggle, played by Emily Bett Rickards and David Ramsey respectively, parachuting on the Lian Yu, the island known as 'Purgatory', as an attempt to find Oliver Queen who has disappeared since the funeral of Tommy. The death of his best friend plays a huge part in this episode and series as Oliver decides to quite being the vigilante known as 'The Hood'.

The death of Tommy Meryln could have been seen as an 'attention grabbing' stunt but is in fact  the most crucial part in the season premier as it shows that Oliver Queen was a dark character and needed to become a much more likeable person in order for viewers to sympathise with him.

Oliver hangs up his hood with the belief that he caused Tommy to die and goes into exile for 5 months. Although this may seem to be a familiar superhero process where the death of a close friend results in the hero becoming depressed, Oliver Queen manages to give a dramatic view on why Starling City would be better without the vigilante who failed to stop a portion of the city from being destroyed.

The first half of Season 1 had its faults but when more secondary characters appeared on the show, there was chemistry between them that lit up the show. The Oliver / Felicity / Diggle combination is re-introduced in season 2 and it immediately becomes clear how important this trio of memorable characters are to the show.

ARROW, unfortunately, was guilty of not using Willa Holland to the best of her ability so in 'City of Heroes', she actually contributes more to the show than most of the other characters. Not only is she the manager of Verdant, the hugely successfully nightclub built by Oliver Queen, she gets kidnapped by copycat vigilantes and is forced to reassess her stance of forgiving her mother for her involvement in the Undertaking .

Stephen Amell as The Arrow in 'Arrow' S02E01: 'City of Heroes'
The main enemies in the season premier are the copycat vigilantes known as the Hoods. Angry at the Queens for the involvement of the deaths of their families, these criminals joined together to fight the evil in the city but in more albeit different way. Instead of using arrows like the 'Hood', they have no compassion and spray bullets at any rich politicians that they believe are not serving the people living and suffering in the Glades.

The one thing that I find most interesting about these criminals are that they are normal people, people who's families have been killed or injured by the Undertaking. They were innocent men changed by the destruction around them. their inspiration was Oliver Queen's alter ego, The Hood, who is considered by many to be a murderer and a vigilante.

The death of Tommy Merlyn changes the views of killing of Oliver Queen as he mentions that his friend died believing that Oliver was a murderer. Instead of killing the criminals as Oliver would normally do, he shows compassion and refuses to have unnecessary blood on his hands. He hangs them up on the wall so that the Starling City Police Department can bring them to lawful justice.

As Oliver Queen struggles to cope with the after effects of his mother, Moira Queen, being arrested for her involvement in the Undertaking, he also has to deal with a business rival Isabel Rochev, played by Summer Glau, who is planning to take over Queen Consolidated. Another huge impact on Oliver is the fact that he was unable to stop the Dark Archer/Malcolm Meryln's plan to destroy the Glades and the death of his close friend.

The Hoods interrupt the Queen Consolidated meeting and try assassinating Oliver claiming that he has failed this city. Fortunately, Diggle is on hand and a gun fight ensues. Oliver quickly gets Isabel to safety before jumping through the building window with Felicity and landing on a lower floor using a chain hanging outside the building. The action is immense and it's all every surreal but most
importantly, believable.

I have saved the Island flashbacks until the end of the blog. It's been 5 months since the death of Edward Fyers, and Oliver is training with Slade Wilson and Shado, played by Manu Benett and Celina Jade. These flashbacks help us to understand how the defenceless teenage billionaire became a killing machine and I believe that this is the most important part of Oliver Queens' transformation.

Problems quickly arise, however, as the trio find themselves being tracked by pirates searching for graves of some kind. Splitting up and searching for heat signatures, Shado is kidnapped and Oliver and Slade have to find her before it's too late. They come across a base with a few people torturing Shado. Oliver is disgusted and quickly attempts to rescue her, much to Slade's disapproval.

The band of unknown people are soon dispatched by Slade but not before the pair witness Oliver bludgeoning the torturer to death with a huge rock. This gives the first insight into how dangerous Oliver will become throughout the course of the 5 years that he is imprisoned there.

Another huge thing that I was impressed with was the cameo appearance of Black Canary. I think it's amazing how The 'Hood' has inspired some people to fight evil in Starling City and I really do hope that Oliver does meet the Black Canary. 'City of Heroes' may just be the best ARROW episode yet.

Starling City is a City of Heroes, after all.
Rating: 10 out of 10 

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Batman: Year One movie review

Batman: Year One is a 2011 animated adaptation of the 1987 comic of the same name and is the 12th film in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies series. Year One is among my favorite Batman story lines, so I was interested to see what a movie based on it would be like, and thankfully I wasn't disappointed.
Fans of the story line will be pleased to know that the content of the book has not been toned down for this adaptation. Put simply, this isn't a kids movie and it's all the better for it (even if it does still manage to get a 12 rating). The book wasn't that adult to begin with anyway, but all the grittiness and violence has remained intact on the journey from page to screen.

The film is based on a four issue story arc which chronicles the early days of Batman's career from his arrival back in Gotham after training around the world to him donning the Bat suit, terrorizing the underworld and becoming the stuff of legend to the citizens of Gotham.
The film also has a major focus on Lt. Gordon who has just moved to Gotham along with his pregnant wife, Barbara. His story arc focuses on him trying to stick to his morals when surrounded by the city's corrupt cops and his first experiences with the Batman.
Catwoman makes a few appearances and although her presence doesn't amount to much in the grand scheme of things, she is still a fun and interesting character.

Visually, the film is traditionally animated with a few computer generated effects (snow etc.) and looks great. The film does not utilize the book's unique art style but this choice is likely for the best as I can't imagine that particular style looking too good on the screen.

The comic is followed very closely meaning that there wont be any surprises for Year One veterans but the fantastic story line means that the film manages to remain engaging throughout. One downside of this fact is that being closely based on a four issue series will result in a short run time and Batman Year One clocks in at a minuscule 64 minutes. However, this fact didn't bother me and is a minor gripe considering how good the film is overall.

This was my first time watching one of the DC Universe Animated Original Movies and I was very impressed overall. I purchased this film as part of a DVD set (left) which also included four other animated Batman movies, so look out for my reviews of those films in the near future.

If you're a fan of Batman I would say don't pass up any opportunity to watch this film unless you've read Year One so many times that you're sick of it, but then again, I can't see why that would happen to anyone!

Rating: ****