Tagged Andy Serkis

Star Wars: The Force Awakens & a Return to Form

Star Wars: The Force Awakens. 2015. Directed by J.J. Abrams. Screenplay by Abrams/Michael Arndt/Lawrence Kasdan.
Starring Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Max Von Sydow, Peter Mayhew, Gwendoline Christie, Simon Pegg, and Mark Hamill. Lucasfilm Ltd./Bad Robot/Truenorth Productions. Rated PG. 135 minutes.
Action/Adventure/Fantasy/Sci-Fi

★★★★★

I’ve always been a big Star Wars fan. The originals, Episodes IV-VI obviously are the ones I love. Not going to waste time hating the others, there were some good ideas, but mostly it was a failure, all three; other than acting and some of the writing, in terms of plot, everything else was dismal, to me anyways. But A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, and yes Return of the Jedi though it’s not as great as the other two, they’re amazingly solid works of cinema. With bits of everything from action to fantasy bred with science fiction, George Lucas really had something going in that initial trilogy. Obviously. If not, we’d never make it to this moment.
Three decades since Return of the Jedi, finally one of the greatest franchises to ever grace the screen comes back. J.J. Abrams, of whom I’m personally a fan and have been since Lost, along with the help of many others including Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back+ a bunch of other awesome things), an amazing crew including the young stars Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, the returning John Williams with iconic and new music, as well as people like cinematographer Daniel Mindel (whose credits as D.P. include Enemy of the StateThe Skeleton KeyMI:III, & Abrams’ Star Trek 2009 reboot) and a boat load of special effects wizards to long to name individually.
Did they deliver? I’m inclined to believe they did, and then some. Seeing The Force Awakens brought me back to being a kid and seeing the original three films. Only thirty, but I’ve been an avid film fan since an early age, so it’s probably been 22 years since I first watched them. Well sitting in the theatre – which for a cinephile I actually hate because of my anxiety – watching this movie in 3D – another thing I’m not huge on – I was beyond blown away. The effects, the dialogue, the blend of fun new things and a healthy dose of tribute to the old, it all made the wait worth it. Maybe others feel differently, I’m positive they do. But me? I could’ve sat down and watched The Force Awakens a second time, back-to-back.
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I don’t personally want to spoil anything, so I’ll only say a little about the plot. Little as possible, spoiler-free.
Initially, I went in sceptical about this film. Excited as anyone, I worried the writers might not use this opportunity to introduce some new blood into the plot and overall story of the Star Wars universe. Episodes I-III had good stories, or good bits of story in them at least, but it felt there was too much rattling around; parts that should’ve been added were there, alongside others things that felt disconnected with Episodes IV-VI. But Lawrence Kasdan came back to help Abrams and Michael Arndt craft a script that felt organic coming out of the three originally released films. For instance, I thought Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) was an amazing character. The story behind him, which I won’t reveal obviously, is very intriguing. We get lots about his backstory, though, it doesn’t come through a ton of exposition right away. Slowly we piece together bits and pieces. Driver makes Ren a foreboding presence in almost every single scene in which he’s captured. Then there’s Rey (Daisy Ridley): an excellent addition. Not only is she a solid female character, she’s just solid all around. The whole introduction her character was great fun and immediately I knew I’d like her. More than that, Rey and Finn (John Boyega) had good chemistry. NOTE: some reviews, albeit amateur ones, claim there’s a forced romantic angle in this film, but certainly not between Rey and Finn; while it may be hinted at slightly, there’s nothing overt. Mostly they seem like friends, bound together because of life threatening circumstances.
Not only the leads are incredible. Domhnall Gleeson does a fine job with his brief scenes as General Hux. Under cover of CGI and motion capture, as usual, Andy Serkis was killer as Supreme Leader Snoke, whose menace and intimidating features + stature are impressive. And there are more; lots of tight roles played even tighter by the actors. Oscar Isaac is another classic, a talented actor who brings his talents to this film with a solid performance.
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Even more than that, the aesthetic of the original movies wasn’t present in the prequels, which is what hurt them in part. Here, The Force Awakens preserves some of the gritty, grimy feel of A New Hope/The Empire Strikes Back/Return of the Jedi. The special effects are beyond impressive: I saw it in 3D, and I don’t even like 3D, yet it made everything that much more wild. But it’s the way things look dirty and worn: the design of the sets especially on Jakku and then later in the big place where Maz (Lupita Nyong’o) lives, and so on. Even the Millenium Falcon – it was fairly rough back in Episodes IV, V, and VI, so here they made it even better, more rundown and dusty, rusty, et cetera. This just connects the films more closely, it doesn’t put a big disparity between the look and feel of the three episodes right before it. Part of why I didn’t like the prequels is the look – I know that things on other planets are different, yadda yadda, and then all the destruction the Empire brought upon so many different places, but the look of the first three episodes ended up feeling SO FAR from where we pick up in A New Hope, that it all throws me off. I understand there’s reasoning for it, I just find the whole aesthetic problem troubling. With a massive team, Abrams makes The Force Awakens feel like “coming home”, as a friend of mine said after seeing it twice.


Without spoiling any plot, the big shock nearing the end was incredible. Fits perfect into the story. Not just that, the entire world of the characters is shaken up. Some say they saw it coming. Others were pissed about it. But why? I saw it coming a little while before the event in question happened, and still found it powerful. Everyone in my theatre, including myself and my partner, sort of gasped. Very good move.
Aside from the big things, I thought Rey and Finn coming together randomly, with BB-8 at the center of it all, was lots of fun. It gave things action and adventure from the start. In the opening Stormtroopers sequence, including Kylo Ren and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and the ever epic Max Von Sydow, John Boyega did so well with his character. Even underneath all the Stormtrooper gear. But the shots of the troopers together on their way down to the planet, the white helmets and the bits of black here and there rocking from side to side, then the KICKER which gets things moving fast plot-wise: a perfect way to begin the film. From there, Rey and Finn end up in the same place eventually making things very action oriented. And later the return of Han Solo and Chewbacca brings more adventure their way. In fact, the combination of these four is something to behold. A ton of chemistry, lots of wit. To say anything further would do an injustice to anyone reading, and the film itself. See it.
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All in all, I have to give Star Wars: The Force Awakens a 5-star rating. Not a moment went by I wasn’t fixated on the screen. It even made me love the whole thing in 3D, that’s saying something. But above all else, I found the writing fun, exciting, and it brought the new together with the old, fusing them in the right places. Plus, it also sets things up nicely for Episode VIII from Rian Johnson, which I am looking forward to like you wouldn’t believe.
Here, you’ll find lots of action, tons of adventure, and that wonderful fantasy/science fiction hybrid the Star Wars universe provides. Maybe you can pick apart bits and pieces. Me, I dig every last frame, every bit of dialogue. I’m not even the most hardcore fan out there, not by a long shot. Yet this new film does justice to the originals. It also carves out a new niche for talented directors of this day and age to explore territory so many of them grew up admiring, daydreaming in and imagining themselves as characters in. Abrams did a great job in my mind and I think he should walk away satisfied with his contribution. Get out and watch this in the theatre because it’s a truly special experience, a one in a lifetime thing. Plus, you’ll probably have a ridiuclous amount of fun.

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Avengers: Age of Ultron & Style Over Substance

Avengers: Age of Ultron. 2015. Directed & Written by Joss Whedon; based on the Marvel comics by Jack Kirby & Stan Lee.
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth olsen, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Anthony Mackie, Hayley Atwell, Idris Elba, Linda Cardellini, Stellan Skarsgård, Claudia Kim, Thomas Kretschmann, Andy Serkis, Julie Delpy, and Stan Lee. Marvel Studios. Rated PG. 141 minutes. Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi

★★
Avengers_AOU_PosterI’ll start off by saying, for those might doubt my allegiance, when I was growing up I absolutely loved comics. For me, I was always a huge X-Men fan, not particularly a lover of The Avengers. But still, I’ve always been into comics and lots of the characters. Even Thor himself I’ve enjoyed, just never been big on Iron Man/Tony Stark or The Avengers team. Separately from the group, as individuals I do like a lot of the characters. For instance, I think the concepts behind both Hulk and Captain American SO INTERESTING – for Hulk it’s this incredible duality between man and the beast within, ever since Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde this has been explored and I think in the comics this pans out to something even more fun; in Cap’s case, I think that idea of the “perfect American”, that ultimate patriot, is another compelling idea because it entails everything we want to believe in soldiers, that we want them to be this perfect warrior and patriot yet underneath they are STILL human, just like Steve Rogers underneath all the Captain America experimentation.
So when I say that I’m not really huge on either of The Avengers films, maybe you can chalk that up to me not being a fan of them in general. However, I can absolutely admit when there’s a good film, whether or not I’m into the source material.
For me, I just don’t get enough heart. Not saying there’s no emotion, not at all; there is plenty. What I mean is that there feels like, beneath the CGI and the star powered cast, there is ultimately nothing much going on. While the action sequences are wild, the inner headspace of some characters get explored, but in the end there’s nothing hugely impressive to me which puts this above any other blockbuster in the summertime.
maxresdefaultAvengers: Age of Ultron has a lot going on. This is one of my first real problems with the film. When I first sat down to see this, I knew it would be long, but when I learned it was near two and a half hours the urge to leave struck. But I’m not afraid of a long movie, there are plenty of films I enjoy that run well past two hours (The Deer HunterApocalypse Now, & those are just the classic ones). It’s just that, personally I can’t see how a near two and a half hour movie is necessary. Sure, there are lots of characters in here – The Avengers alone are too many to flesh out in a regular length film – but is there really any need for such length?
There’s a great part to this movie, which is that we get to see more of who The Avengers themselves are, as individuals. That’s something I do love because like I said in the beginning, it’s most the characters individually I like rather than the team as a whole.
And still, I think there could’ve been about 20 minutes yanked out of this screenplay without really hurting any of the character development, or the plot for that matter. I get it – there’s tension between the team, between certain members, even within themselves. There’s just no world in which I can see myself agreeing with the need for a two and a half hour Marvel movie. The complexity is there to work with, no doubt. Not enough to justify the length, though.
avengers-age-of-ultron-3-1940x809My other big beef with these Marvel movies, this one especially seeing as how I’ve watched it recently, is the fact everything is so drenched in CGI. I absolutely understand that a lot of what happens in these comic book stories WILL NEED CGI. Totally understandable. In opposition, even if you don’t like Christopher Nolan’s Batman BeginsThe Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises, you have to at least give Nolan the benefit of agreeing that he attempted to use practical effects wherever possible. Even with The Dark Knight, you actually get to see Bale as Batman on the edge of an insanely tall building, and other shots such as this; of course it’s not ALL practical, not even close, but there’s still effort to try and ground SOME of the movie in a tangible world.
With Age of Ultron, there’s scene after scene of CGI madness, over and over. In between there are wonderful little scenes between actors, just straight up good writing/dialogue and story. Most of the time, however, Joss Whedon is just giving us a CGI show, everything is green-screened and any real, visceral emotion simply gets taken out of it. I think there’s definitely enough on the brainy sides of things – love the plot of this story Whedon gives us out of the comics – but to go with that there’s nothing here drawing me in, making me feel those emotions Whedon injects into his script, nothing hooking me other than “Wow that looked cool” or “Robot James Spader is wild”, or “LOOK AT ALL THOSE BUILDINGS AND CARS AND OTHER THINGS GETTING SMASHED”, or “Ooh pretty laser… ooh pretty laser… ooh pretty laser.”
I’m not saying I want the quote-unquote gritty version that everyone seems to crave after Nolan’s Batman. Frankly, I’m sick and tired of it all. Because in the end, so much of it is ultimately superheroes just flying around, beating each other up, with the tiniest bits of human drama and emotion peppered in for a scant flavour. That’s AWESOME if you’re a kid, or maybe if that’s your style – I don’t mean to knock you. For me, I need something more than Whedon and his Avengers seem capable of serving up.
maxresdefault avengers-age-of-ultron-hulkbusterWhile I don’t like this movie, not in the slightest really other than a casual admiration for the technical work and some of Joss Whedon’s screenplay, I’ll give it 2 out of 5 stars on those aspects alone. I cannot deny AT ALL that Age of Ultron is a technical marvel (see what I did there?). There’s a great deal of effort in so many areas which went into the making of this huge blockbuster film. I bet there are plenty, millions, of people out there who downright loved this! No doubt in my mind.
For me, and for others I’m sure, the amount of CGI smashing together and flashing all over the screen during most scenes throughout the enormously bloated runtime isn’t all that exciting. Visually there’s a feast of things to look at, but not a feast I’m starving for really. I like to see some interesting set pieces, costumes, effects as much as the next filmgoer. On the contrary, I like to see practical effects, and above all I like an emotional story that can entertain you with a bit of thoughtfulness while also sucking you into its intensity. Age of Ultron is, for me, too big and bright and it has no solid core. There are a TON of amazing actors here – I’m particularly a big fan of Mark Ruffalo and Paul Bettany – I just don’t think there’s enough time individually for any of them to make a real impressive impact.
age-of-ultronSee it and judge for yourself. I’m no one to listen to, surely. Objectively, I can’t agree that this is a great film. It’s mediocre at best, served up as near to the lowest common denominator of movies – a mindless bit of action. But whereas some action films get into you viscerally, put you right in the seat of the heroes matching up against the villains, there’s none of that here, in my opinion. Joss Whedon is a good writer and director, I’d rather see him take something else on other than his childhood love for comics. Might be great for some. Me? I’m worn out. As a lover of comics when I grew up, it’s still too saturated a market for me nowadays when it comes to superheroes, and it’s all the same as this: big, loud, flashing bright, but only to mask there’s nothing other than that to offer. Even further there’s the fact the Marvel movies always end the same way – heroes win, bad guys lose, another day they’ll find more bad guys to fight. You know from the get everyone will be alive at the end, no lives will be lost. Starting to get tedious, if you ask me. Maybe if the next Marvel film opts to kill off a big character, not for novelty but for a well-written reason in Whedon’s screenplay, then I’d be more inclined to take it in (this one doesn’t count because the ‘big’ character who dies in this one isn’t around long enough for me to or anyone to really care about).
Otherwise, it’s the same routine, over and over, where you don’t really have to ever worry because your favourites will ALL BE SAFE AND SOUND. No tears.