Monday, May 17, 2010

Robin Hood

Robin HoodRelease Date: May 12th, 2010

Click here for the Robin Hood Trailer.

Late in the 12th Century, Robin Longstride is a common archer fighting in the Third Crusade under King Richard the Lionheart(Danny Huston). In the last battle of the war, Robin, along with his nephew Will Scarlet(Scott Grimes), friend Allan A'Dayle(Alan Doyle) and fellow soldier Little John(Kevin Durand) are put in stockades following a brawl the injured the king. After Richard's death, the men escape and plan to return home to England after 10 years of fighting. While headed for the fairy, Robin and his men come across the kings royal guard who had been ambushed by Sir Godfrey(Mark Strong), an English Knight with French lineage and allegiance. The only Knight still alive is Sir Robert Locksley of Nottingham, who wishes Robin to return his sword to his father.

Robin finds the King's crown and sees an easy attempt home. Robin and his men assume the identities of the Knights and proceed to return the crown to England. Upon arrival they witness the crowning of the new king, King John(Oscar Isaac), Richard's younger brother. John immediately imposes harsh taxes on the kingdom and sends out sir Godfrey to collect them, not knowing of the knight's true allegiance. Godfrey uses his power to try and stir up Civil War in the kingdom, which would allow the French King to easily take over England.

Robin obeys the wishes of the deceased Sir Robert and returns to Nottingham where he delivers the sword to the Knight's father, Walter(Max Von Sydow) and Sir Robert's wife, Lady Marion(Cate Blanchett). As Godfrey continues to create unrest in the kingdom and the French King and his army move closer to the coast, Robin must unite the people of England to fight under the newly appointed King John or face an imminent take over by France.

Russell Crowe and director Ridley Scott team up for the fifth time to bring you a story of how a man became a legend and how a common archer became the most wanted outlaw in all of England. This film is a different, and refreshing, take on the traditional story of Robin Hood. As opposed to being a refurbished story of the typical outlaw adventures of Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men, this story seeks to tell you how and why Robin Hood became an outlaw.

I love how this film took a step away from the traditional story. I mean, how many times can you watch the same story over and over again? It was good to see how the character we have come to love over so many years became who he is. Origin stories are always interesting to me because most of the time we do not think about how our favorite characters in film and literature got to where they are.

Scott was definitely trying to go for a more realistic approach to the classic tale. There was much more action and story than there was romance as we have seen in previous Robin Hood films (for example Kevin Costner's take). They also didn't try to glam up the characters. Both Blanchett and Crowe looked like common people which, you could tell, was supposed to represent the Crusade's take on Robin and the poor living conditions of the people in England. For me it made everything appear as it may have in those times.

I thought the cast of the film was fantastic. Crowe played an excellent Robin. We already know that Crowe has action prowess from his films like Gladiator, 3:10 to Yuma and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Blanchett was a very different Lady Marion. In the past, Marion is typically striking beautiful and elegant. However, Blanchett's Marion was gritty, real and was shown as more of a commoner than someone of higher class society. I actually prefer Blanchett's Marion to any other I have seen. Mark Strong and Oscar Isaac were both dubious villains. Strong was a clear villain throughout the entire film which gave you a nice character to hate. Isaac's character was sort on the fence at times. At first he was a spoiled prince, then he was the harsh king, followed by a king uniting his kingdom to fight the french and then finally going back to the villain King John.

I liked the co-characters of Will Scarlett, Little John and Friar Tuck, played by Scott Grimes, Kevin Durand and Mark Addy respectively. There parts were not major, which I was disappointed in, but nonetheless they did add to the fantasy of the film. Should Scott ever decide to throw out a sequel to this film these roles would be greatly increased and would do very well.

The action of the film was pretty good. There wasn't a total onslaught of fighting, just some good battles speckled throughout the film leading up to a climactic battle on the south coast of England against the French. I am a sucker for archers. I love archery and I love seeing it in films. The archery in this film, along with the other fight scenes were done really well though I thought there could have been more, especially in the end battle. While the end battle was good, it was slightly short and didn't feel as epic as it should have.

Overall, Robin Hood was a good. It was a great, new insight into the legend and it was awesome seeing how the outlaw came to be. A top notch cast performed great and director Ridley Scott made a film worthy of holding the Robin Hood title. If you are a fan of other Robin Hood movies then this one is definitely for you but it also has an appeal that will draw in all sorts of audiences. Do not expect to get tied up on the romance between Robin and Marion or the outlaw adventures but be prepared to see why all of that is the way it is.

I give Robin Hood 9 Merry Men in Tights out of 10.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2Release Date: May 7th, 2010

Click here for the Iron Man 2 Trailer.

Six months after revealing himself to be Iron Man, Tony Stark(Robert Downey Jr.) has helped to keep a sense of world peace, being that nobody is brave enough (or crazy enough) to go up against him. But life isn't all great in Stark's world. Stark is continuously hounded by Senator Stern(Gary Shandling) and a United States Senate Committee who are trying to force Stark to turn over the Iron Man suit to the U.S. Government. Stark refuses assuring everybody that nobody will have technology like the Iron Man suit for at least another 5 years.

In the meantime, a Russian physicist named Ivan Vanko(Mickey Rourke) was given blueprints to the arc reactor, the main power source in the Iron Man suit, by his father, disgraced Soviet physicist Anton Vanko who was Howard Stark's(Paul Bettany), Tony's father, business partner and original co-inventor of the arc reactor. Vanko used the blueprints to create his own arc reactor and specialized electric whip weapons which he plans to use for revenge against Tony Stark.

Ivan attacks Stark in Monaco at a race where Stark easily defeats him, sending him to prison. However, Ivan doesn't stay in prison long as Tony's biggest rival Justin Hammer(Sam Rockwell) breaks Ivan out of jail to convince him to create a series of Iron Man drones that will one up Tony Stark. Ivan secretly begins creating a new suit for himself, while Stark's best friend Lt. Colonel James "Rhodey" Rhodes(Don Cheadle) takes the Iron Man Mark II armor and delivers it to the U.S. Government. With Ivan still seeking revenge, an Iron Man suit missing, the government trying to confiscate the Iron Man armors, S.H.I.E.L.D placing him under house arrest and the palladium in his chest slowly poisoning him Stark has minimal time to prevent all out war.

Superhero/comic book movies are a risky business. Sequels to superhero/comic book movies are even more risky. Gambles like this have proven disastrous to movies in the past and making a good original movie and trying to make a sequel that is as good or better is near impossible at times. Thankfully director John Favreau has seemingly done the impossible by doing both:making a great superhero movie as well as making a great sequel.

Fans fell in love with Tony Stark and Iron Man when the first film debuted back in 2008. Since then, there has been nothing but unbridled anticipation for this sequel to be released. Bringing back almost all of the original, great cast as well as adding in some truly unique and appealing characters, this sequel has something for everybody.

Robert Downey Jr. reprises his role as the narcissistic, womanizing Tony Stark and delivers a truly great performance. Downey plays Stark with this swagger that, despite some of the things he does or say, you can not help liking him. Downey also adds an amazing sense of humor to the character. One things fans remember about the first film is that while they all remember the huge fight scenes and the big action they equal remember the hilarity of Tony Stark. Downey's comedic timing in the film is perfect and he truly owns every scene he is in.

Returning from the first film comes Gwyneth Paltrow as Virgina "Pepper" Potts. Paltrow's character seems to have a little bit more control over the antics of Stark which adds a very nice sense of order and responsibility to the chaos that is Tony Stark. The relationship between the two almost resembles a mother/child relationship where Paltrow has to continually step in and discipline Stark. I like how they brewed the love interest more between the two characters even leading up to the first kiss between the two.

Don Cheadle replaces Terrence Howard as Lt. Colonel James "Rhodey" Rhodes in the sequel. Ok so I am not a fan at all of having different actors play the same character in sequel movies. It, for me, breaks the "world" the director is trying to create. That being said, I would have much rather had Don Cheadle in place of Terrence Howard in the first Iron Man. I thought Cheadle played the part much better than Howard and brought more personality to the character. I didn't like how Rhodes' character stole an Iron Man suit from Stark. Seeing how much they played up the friendship role between the two it doesn't seem logical. But I do think that, overall, Cheadle did a fantastic job.

Mickey Rourke joins on as a newcomer to the cast playing as the main antagonist Ivan Vanko. I really enjoyed Rourke's performance. Half of his character's dialogue was in Russian which was Rourke's idea. I think that added a greater sense of mystery and villainy to the character. The one thing I was most disappointed with was the fact that the trailers for the movie really played up Rourke's character as being this huge badass that was going to wreak tremendous havoc on Stark and everybody else. While Rourke's character was a complete badass, his screen time was severely lacking. He only donned his armor and whips twice and the combined screen time of both was hardly anything compared to what a true villain deserves. His final battle in the movie was also almost anti-climatic and I felt he was ended far too quickly.

Another newcomer, Scarlett Johannson throws on some very sexy uniforms as Natalie Rushman/Natasha Romanoff, an undercover S.H.I.E.L.D. agent posing as Tony Stark's new assistant. While she did not get an immense amount of screen time she did very well with what she got. I think Favreau was merely introducing her for a bigger role in Iron Man 3 and possibly in the new Avengers movie set to be released in 2012. Johannson did do a great job though and could definitely hold her own in a fight pulling off some insane acrobatic fighting moves.

Other supporting characters include Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer, Stark's new rival. Rockwell's character was mainly a sort of plucky relief but don't be surprised if he becomes a bigger threat in Iron Man 3. Director John Favreau adds himself a little part coming back as Stark's personal bodyguard and chauffeur Happy Hogan. But the biggest supporting role comes from the great Samuel L. Jackson who comes back as the mysterious Nick Fury. Jackson had a very small role in the end of the first film but has an drastically bigger part in this film. Jackson and his character are obviously in the film to pave the way for the upcoming Avengers film which just leaves all of us nerds sitting in giddy excitement.

The action in this film was insane. For a second I thought I was watching another Michael Bay film but it didn't go that far. I could have used more action spread out through the film. There were basically two main fighting scenes, both of which were extremely well choreographed and incredible to watch. I only just wish there was more action throughout the entire film. Like I mentioned earlier, the build up and hype of Rourke's character was greatly misleading and his final fight scene was lacking in screen time, especially when compared to the final fight scene of the first Ron Man.

One thing I thoroughly enjoyed were the references and hints at the Avengers film. I won't spoil it but look closely at the scene where Stark creates a new element and please, in the name of plaything that is decent and holy on this earth, stay for the end of the credits. Coming from a comic geeks perspective it was one of the greatest "easter eggs" I have seen in a movie and is even better than Stark showing up at the end of The Incredible Hulk and Fury showing up in the end of Iron Man. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.

Overall, Favreau does what most directors in this genre typically fail at and that is delivering a worthwhile sequel that doesn't completely and utterly destroy everything we loved about the original. There could have been a little more action and the action could have been a little more spread out but the fight scenes were still amazing. The characters were gripping and were easy for the audience to fall in love with. Downey was hilarious and the foreshadowing for Iron Man 3 and The Avengers was purely awesome. The film industry is definitely starting off this summer with intensity and this is one film you can not go without seeing, especially if you loved the first one.

I give Iron Man 2 9.5 Billionaire playboys with insane suits of weaponized armor out of 10.