Marvel had a sizeable hit on their hands earlier this year with another of their second-tier creations making it to the big screen. Thor was a very enjoyable film that managed to distill all that is best about the character while making it work on a big screen. So expectations for Captain America: The First Avenger were reasonably high. Director Joe Johnston seemed well-suited as The Rocketeer (1991) was great, able to bring the 1940s to life with rare style. Unfortunately Jurassic Park 3 (1993), also directed by Johnston, was disappointing, a studio picture by the numbers. Captain America exists mostly as an extended set-up to next summer’s Avengers. It opens with an icy scene set in the Antarctic where a US government operation discovers a strange object embedded in the ice. Flash back to the Second World War and we are introduced to skinny nebbish Steve Rogers, desperate to enrol in the US army but physically they won’t give him a chance. He is always trumped by his mate James Buchanan ‘Bucky’ Barnes, who gets to go off to fight for the US while Rogers (starting life as a very skinny Chris Evans) is stuck in the States. But one day Rogers meets German scientist Dr Abraham Erksine (played by Stanley Tucci), who offers him the opportunity to take part in an experimental programme in the US army. So Rogers, seeing his chance at last, jumps at this and so he’s off to train with the other soldiers. Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) is his commanding officer and he’s not convinced that Rogers is up to the task. Rogers also meets Peggy Carter (the slightly stilted Hayley Atwell) during his training, a British army officer, who he takes a shine to. He gets the treatment and turns from a weak, having sand thrown in his face to a pumped-up super soldier. But the US army only want to use him for propaganda, performing as Captain America surrounded by dancing girls to keep soldiers’ morale up. When his fellow combatants are kidnapped by evil organisation Hydra, headed by the man who’s too nasty for the Nazis, Johann Schmidt aka The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), Rogers decides to disobey orders and go to free the soldiers. The Red Skull is bent on world conquest thanks to unearthing an object of immense mythic power. So Rogers and his team encounter Schmidt and the stage is set for the last act of the film. The film concludes with a scene set in the modern day, which sets things up for the aforementioned Avengers next year. Evans looks pretty good as Captain America but Johnston doesn’t do enough with the Forties setting, making it feel like everything takes place in a bubble away from reality. Weaving makes a very entertaining Red Skull but he doesn’t have loads to work with and Atwell is a little bit too stiff for there to be any real chemistry between her and Evans. Evans also doesn’t have the charisma to be totally credible as a character as likeable as Rogers. Captain America: The First Avenger isn’t a bad film as Johnston, coming from a special effects background, does know how to direct action. But it lacks the characterisation of something like Thor and the plot is weaker. Also because it is a set-up to another film, it smacks of a calculated marketing exercise at times. So there are worse films you could spend two hours watching but it lacks the heart and substance and pulp likability that it needs to engage with the audience…
Pixar don’t often put a foot wrong and their consistency at making films that appeal to both adults and children is incredible. But Cars 2 may be their first miscalculation. The first Cars in 2006 was a shallow and rather unmemorable film but John Lasseter obviously has a soft spot for the characters as we have this sequel out now. Cars 2 has world champion Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) and his cretinous sidekick tow-truck Mater (the voice of Larry The Cable Guy) head out to compete in a World Grand Prix race. The race takes them to cities like Tokyo and London but there is a sub-plot in Cars 2. Finn McMissile (the voice of Michael Caine) is a British spy who enlists Mater to help him in a matter of international espionage. Cars 2 is well-animated but the script is very weak indeed with almost nothing to keep the adults occupied while the very young kids enjoy the film. Casting Caine as a British spy car is a nice touch but the story, some drivel about a fuel magnate looking to discredit green fuel, really isn’t up to much. There isn’t the connection with the characters that you have had in say Toy Story 3, Up or The Incredibles. It’s as if they were so keen to make this that they forgot what makes Pixar films stand out: their meticulous writing. Cars 2 will probably keep six or seven year old kids happy (just about) but there’s nothing for adults to get their teeth into…
One of my favourite films of all time, The Lavender Hill Mob, has just got a cinema release for its remastered version and it’s also just hit Blu-ray. Putting aside the fact that there’s only so much you can do with a 60-year-old film, The Lavender Hill Mob is a very simple film but it is its simplicity that is part of its brilliance. Alec Guinness plays Henry Holland, a naive bank clerk whose job it is to make sure that gold bullion reaches its home safely once it leaves the bank hits on a seemingly flawless plan to steal the gold and get it out of the country. With the aid of his accomplice Alfred Pendlebury (the incomparable Stanley Holloway), owner of Gewgaws limited, a company that makes tourist tat to sell around the world, and thief Lackery Wood (Sid James), Holland puts a plan into action. But of course the plan doesn’t succeed. Director Charles Crichton, who also helmed Hue & Cry and The Titfield Thunderbolt, makes everything feel easy here with a deft hand for direction, packing everything into just 80 minutes. Guinness is fantastic as is the slightly hapless Holloway and even though James’s role is small, he makes a major contribution on screen. It’s also wonderful to see London just after the war to witness the devastation that continued into the 1950s, especially noticeable in the scene around St Paul’s Cathedral. The Lavender Hill Mob is a marvelous slice of 1950s British cinema, among Ealing Studios best, with a peerless cast and a great script. It deserves a Blu-ray release so it’s heartening to see it get one…
WAND GOOD TURN DESERVES ANOTHER
Ten years after the release of Harry Potter and The Philosophers Stone (or The Sorcerors Stone if you’re American), we have Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. The first part was dull and overlong but with everything to wrap up, expectations were high that the second part would at least be entertaining and action-packed. And I have to say that Deathly Hallows Part 2 is probably the most satisfying of the Harry Potter movies, with the exception of The Prisoner of Azkaban. Potter comes face to face with the dark lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), discovers his true identity and his real parents and vanquishes Voldemort to create a new kind of status quo for the magical world that Potter and his friends inhabit. Everything that has been foreshadowed in the previous films is brought to a head here. Characterisation is still rather thin on the ground but at least the film never outstays its welcome and the payoff is worth the wait. The three main actors don’t have much in the way of range but that’s been pretty consistent throughout the entire series. The visual effects, done by pretty much all of Soho’s biggest effects houses, do look amazing although it is questionable whether releasing it in 3D was nothing more than an excuse to jump onto what has become a rather tiresome bandwagon. The 3D here looks a little muddy in places and it would be a better film without it. Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2 is a decent conclusion to a decade-long movie experience that has had an impact on the current generation of the fans of Rowling’s creation similar to that of fans of Star Wars in the 1980s. Potter fans will already have seen it by the time this review goes live and viewers who are either ambivalent or apathetic towards Potter won’t care anyway…
THE END OF AN ERA
As I write this, I am in the process of moving. From the place I have lived in for over a decade now to a flat. So I am surrounded by boxes, which will be temporarily stored until I move into the new place on Saturday 16th July. It’s been an odd few weeks as I’ve been going through the garage, sorting out and getting rid of a lot of crap that I’ve accumulated over the years. I’ve found a load of back issues of TRIPWIRE and a box of copies of TRIPWIREx10, the anniversary book that we published back in 2002.
I wanted to plug two TRIPWIRE products in this latest post. The first is TRIPWIRE Digital 0.02, the second free to download digital edition. With an X-Men First Class cover, there’s a feature about the genesis of the film, interviews with a couple of its screenwriters plus we also have a Blueberry feature, a look back at Otomo’s Akira and a piece on Rebellion’s Slaine The Horned God. I hope that we’ve topped the first issue. You can get it from www.tripwire-magazine.com.
The second TRIPWIRE product is TRIPWIRE #55, which will be available to buy from the end of this month. It’s another packed issue, chock full of great content:
•Under an exclusive Elric cover painted by illustrator David Michael Beck, we celebrate 50 years of the White Wolf in the year that BOOM! brings the character back to comics and we talk to its creator, MICHAEL MOORCOCK
•London-based writer CHRISTOPHER FOWLER, writer of Bryant & May and Rune, lifts the lid on a career influenced by comics
•It’s fifty years since Fantastic Four #1 so we commemorate this with a look back at Marvel’s first family with the help of some of the creators who’ve been part of FF history
•WALT SIMONSON’s eagerly awaited The Judas Coin hardcover is published this Christmas and we preview the book including a unique sketchbook and pencils and inks section
•JASON AARON discusses Scalped, Wolverine and his other work
•Location Scouts Sarah Eastel talk about their work
•Shaenon Garrity writes about the history of webcomics seen from the inside
•SERGIO ARAGONES discusses The Funnies and his work
•PLUS STRIPWIRE, TRIPWIRE’s comic-within-a-magazine returns as does The Power List and Graphic Novels you should be reading
Diamond item code is MAY111336, so you can still order it from Diamond Comic Distributors.
Here’s the two covers (Digital 0.02 and TRIPWIRE #55) plus a few feature pages from the print edition to whet your appetite…