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Archive for the tag “action”

“Iron Man 3” (2013) Review

I wasn’t really hyped to see Iron Man 3 when the first trailer was released. Truth be told, I enjoyed the first two Iron Man films, but didn’t really think they were that amazing by any means (the same goes for The Avengers). Sure, Robert Downey Jr. is a perfect fit as Tony Stark, but the films often felt high on style, low on substance for me. With Iron Man 3, Marvel has gone in a different direction – this entry features less Iron Man and more Tony Stark. Does this change work for or against the new film?

Looking at the plot, Iron Man 3 succeeds in focusing more on its characters. This helps make each event more impactful, as the viewer can connect with the film’s characters. Good thing, then, that Iron Man 3 has some great new characters. The Mandarin is a well constructed character (played perfectly by Ben Kingsley) and Harley is played nicely by the young Ty Simpkins. Still, not every character is great, and the main villain, in particular, is underwhelming in motive and characterization. Despite that though, the cast as a whole does a great job bringing the characters to life and Robert Downey Jr remains an absolutely perfect Tony Stark.

This focus on characters causes a shift in typical “superhero” film content. The majority of the plot is centered on Tony Stark outside of his suit. That is not to say that there isn’t any action in the film (there is, and it looks awesome), but there is much less of it. This will certainly turn off some fans, though this change was a breath of fresh air for me.

One thing "Iron Man 3" always has going for it is Robert Downey Jr. - he has always been a perfect choice for the character and fit the personality of Tony Stark perfectly.

One thing “Iron Man 3” always has going for it is Robert Downey Jr. – he has always been a perfect choice for the character and fit the personality of Tony Stark perfectly.

As far as the other components of the film go, the cinematography is fairly standard. There are some incredible shots during the more frantic action sequences, and the chaos looks beautiful. Despite this, you know exactly what to expect going in, and the presentation of the film does nothing to break free of the general “superhero blockbuster” standards. This goes dually for the soundtrack, which features some intense compositions, but again feels like I’ve heard it in every other Marvel hero film.

In the end, Iron Man 3 combines some genre standards and adds a few twists to them (mainly its focus on characters and not on action). This works in the film’s favor, as this newest entry into the Iron Man series feels more fresh than its counterparts. Despite its many typical pieces, the formula of sarcastic humor combined stunning action sequences works for Iron Man 3 (as it did for its past entries). What sets this third film apart from and ahead of the previous two is its choice to take a risk and focus more on Tony Stark and less on Iron Man. It’s just a shame that a better central villain wasn’t present, or even some better characterization. Thus, as it stands, Iron Man 3 is the best entry in the series (for me), but still lacks the pieces it needs to move from being a good film to a great one.

Final Score: 6.8/10

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9 Years Later, “Riddick” is Back

If you are familiar with the Riddick series of films, you know how long it has been since the second film The Chronicles of Riddick was released (about 9 years). After such a long wait, fans will be finally receive the next film in the series, simply titled Riddick, this Fall. Based on the short teaser trailer, it seems that, in the new entry, previous series director David Twohy will bring the spirit of both prior films and mesh them into one – there is the grand sci-fi adventure side of The Chronicles of Riddick combined with the tense, almost survival horror of Pitch Black. This combo should please fans of both films when Riddick releases on September 6th, and be an excellent continuation to a great series. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another 9 years for a potential next follow-up.

“Skyfall” (2012) Movie Review

Skyfall poster

I’m going to get straight to the point with my review of “Skyfall”. To me, this latest Bond journey was as much a break from the typical Bond flick as it was a slightly above-average action film. The film manages to take some risks, but still manages feeling pretty conservative in much of its execution, with a plot and villain that just don’t quite feel that compelling.

Looking at the plot, “Skyfall” tries to create a more personal Bond tale. While the film starts out with a more personal feeling, by its midpoint, it had lost this touch for me. For me, there was potential for what could have been the most interesting conflict in any Bond film (between Bond and M). The opening sequence presents this as a possibility, but just shortly after the opening credits, this conflict becomes abandoned – patched up effortlessly to allow Bond to begin his mission to take on the newest Bond villain (played by the talented Javier Bardem). Speaking of the villain, one of the central pieces of a Bond film is its villain. While Javier Bardem does much to bring his character to life, the villain’s actual story wasn’t anything too special. Overall, the plot for me was merely average, full of many action film clichés and many contrived twists.

One area that the film really succeeds in is its visuals. In particular the opening credit sequence is stunning in its artistic execution. The main film sections themselves showcase a nice mix of color schemes, from the drab/sleak mix in the underground MI6 base, to its varying landscapes, to the dreary Skyfall sequences. Alongside the visuals, the cinematography is also quite nice, capturing all the action with some interesting angles.

Another successful area is the soundtrack. There is some great musical work behind the action, nicely capturing each changing situation. The main “Skyfall” theme is also quite good and seems to excellently fit the theme of the film. Still, I can’t help but feel Adele could have done better with the vocal work. Don’t get me wrong, I think she has a great voice, but it just seems like she isn’t letting it all out here, like she’s holding something back that could have really made the theme special.

When has putting a highly dangerous villain in a glass cell ever been a good idea?

When has putting a highly dangerous villain in a glass cell ever been a good idea?

Moving on, I want to quickly mention the acting. Javier Bardem does excellent work as mentioned previously. He really manages to take an underwhelming villain and make him much more intriguing than he would have been had a less skilled actor portrayed him. Daniel Craig offers another solid performance as the central agent, James Bond (I happen to think Craig is one of the best Bond actors). The supporting cast manages to keep up alongside the central characters and help flesh out the characters nicely.

Overall, “Skyfall” is a decent action film, and clearly a 007 adventure. It strays from the Bond mold – but while some of these changes are refreshing, the film misses out on much of its potential. For 007 fans and action-loving moviegoers, “Skyfall” should have a good amount to offer. Just don’t go in expecting a revolutionary Bond adventure or an exceptional action film.

Final Score: 6.5/10

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Second Opinion

I have to agree with Will on the majority of the positive points he makes about Skyfall, from the soundtrack and cinematography to the wonderful acting and visuals (however, unlike Will, I was somewhat disappointed in the opening scenes). They all really came together to make this film a wonderful action movie that was able to hold your attention with more than just explosions and fight scenes, but a wonderful, fresh storyline as well.

Movies of this length can rarely capture my attention the entire time, but there were very few instances in this case that I got distracted or bored. I loved the storyline with the relationship of M and Bond, the villain and Bond as well as the more minute relationships between other characters. This modern Bond film is a fresh take on an old story and was really enjoyable for me. I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good action movie with a storyline that is deeper than the surface. Let us know in the comments if you agree or disagree with either of us and what you though of the latest film in the Bond journey, “Skyfall.” (All I can hear in my head when I say that is the wonderful title theme that Adele co-wrote and sung for the movie – it truly captured the essence of the film!)

Final Score: 8.3/10

“Valhalla Rising” (2009) Review

Valhalla Rising poster

If I said the name Nicolas Winding Refn, many of you would not recognize it at all. Those that do would likely recognize him as a talented director with a penchant for highly violent films – the most recent of which was “Drive”, for which Refn won a Best Director award at Cannes. After seeing “Drive”, and after having “Valhalla Rising” on my radar for a while now, I was expecting a quality film. Calling “Valhalla Rising” simply a quality film, though, does not do this wonderful film justice.

As a note of warning, “Valhalla Rising” is quite graphic in its violence – those with weak stomachs (for those who have seen the film, no pun intended) may be put off and quit after the film’s first section.

To start, the plot of “Valhalla Rising” features both a straightforward story that is deeper than meets the eye, along with a heavy emphasis on its characters. The voyage of the captive warrior, One-Eye, and his boy companion is quite gripping – its qualities quickly brought to mind “The Road” for me. This story is presented in six parts with each part bringing One-Eye closer to his ultimate fate. The blending of Norse mythology, Christian crusades, and human conflict creates a tense backdrop for the film’s characters to interact. While it may be hard to follow at times, the plot is rewarding for those who pay attention (Film-watching note: One-Eye shares similar traits and characteristic with a certain Norse god).

The most amazing thing about how the plot operates in “Valhalla Rising” is how little dialogue takes place in the film – One-Eye actually does not speak a single word throughout the film. Yet, the story is able to stay cohesive and characters express so much with this minimal dialogue.

Despite this minimal dialogue there is still a constant soundscape present courtesy of the well-crafted, foreboding soundtrack. The soundtrack varies from ambient to droning to distorted, heavy guitar, all capturing and enhancing each moment of One-Eye’s voyage. Though there is a lack of set, composed pieces, I will say that this is an incredible soundtrack that perfectly matches the piece it is accompanying.

Even without speaking a single word for the entire film, Mads Mikkelsen still manages to bring the character of One-Eye to life.

Even without speaking a single word for the entire film, Mads Mikkelsen still manages to bring the character of One-Eye to life.

Coming back around to the characters, I have to give credit to the entire cast for really working well with the minimal dialogue script. Mads Mikkelsen, as One-Eye, offers a particularly good performance, connecting the viewer to his character without saying a word. Maarten Stevenson also does a nice job as The Boy, again bringing back a memory of Kodi Smit-McPhee in “The Road”.

Lastly, I could not finish this review with talking about one of the film’s best qualities, its visual presentation. From the camera work, to the use of color filters, to some beautiful scenery, Refn has created an outstanding visual feast for this film. Some intense color saturation and perfectly positioned characters and lighting among the surrounding make for some great scenes that really show Refn’s skill as a director. This is definitely one of the most visually-creative films I’ve seen in a while.

There are few films that can get away with some of the design choices for “Valhalla Rising”, yet Refn manages to put so many high quality pieces together to make a tense, foreboding action film. Despite its slow pace and occasional self-indulgence, “Valhalla Rising” is a very well put together film. Those looking for a film heavy on the action and violence will be lost by the midway point as the film moves at a slow pace compared to any mainstream action film. Those who enjoy stylish visuals and a character-driven plot, though, will surely enjoy this film, along with any fans of Refn or those looking for an interesting adventure film.

Final Score: 8.5/10

“Spec Ops: The Line” Review

Spec Ops - The Line

I’ve played many military shooters over the years. I’ve driven tanks and jeeps, blown up buildings and choppers, and defeated countless evil dictators and villains. Yet, in all those missions, none have delved into the psychological toll war takes. “Spec Ops: The Line” is a revolutionary shooter in this way, choosing to throw away many standards to the typical shooter story, and manages to provide the most engaging campaign I’ve seen in any recent entry in the genre.

As mentioned, the story line for “Spec Ops” takes place in Dubai. You are sent in with a team of two others to investigate a transmission, one possibly indicating that an American commander may still be alive after trying to rescue many civilians from some terrible sandstorms that are still present and keeping the city walled-off from contact. As you begin to search the ruined city, a story unfolds that has you second guessing everyone’s intentions. Something is going on in this city, and you are continually drawn to keep playing to find out what happens next. The best part is that this isn’t a straightforward mission. There is no clear goal once you arrive in the city, and civilians and American soldiers become victims in your quest. This includes points in which you are forced to make decisions to save certain people or kill others. Each decision is difficult and has a nice role in the ending.

The best part about the plot is how it focuses on your small squad and how each of the actions you perform or choose affect them mentally. Your squad begins to fall apart and question you at many points, questioning your leadership and mental state, causing the player to reflect on their actions and really make every future one that much heavier. Further, the game puts heavier value on the casualties of war. Overall, this makes for a highly engaging experience that will keep you constantly wanting to push on to find out what happens.

Throughout the story, the toll your mission takes on both you and your squad becomes heavier, causing friction in your relationships and resulting in you questioning each decision.

Throughout the story, the toll your mission takes on both you and your squad becomes heavier, causing friction in your relationships and resulting in you questioning each decision you make.

The gameplay on the other hand is standard. You control your character from a third-person perspective, taking cover and fighting off waves of enemies to move to the next set piece. The gun play is average with each weapon handling well. There is a decent variety of weapons to use, with many genre standards from the M4A1 to the M249SAW. Where some frustration comes in is with the cover mechanics. It is nice to have a sprint button you only have to tap, but when this button is also your button to take cover, some mistakes happen. Cover is very sticky at times, and at others you slip right out sprinting into the line of fire. Don’t get me wrong, when it works great, it’s perfect – sprinting and sliding into cover while bullets and grenades fly by is exciting – yet, it is a 50/50 shot on how well it works. There is also commands available to “control” your squad, but these are very rudimentary and amount to little more than “kill that guy” or on occasion “throw a flashbang here”.

Graphics and sound are quite nice. The city of Dubai and sandstorms look detailed and each character’s appearance slowly deteriorates throughout the story (a very nice touch). Sandstorms are disorienting, the effects of various special weapons look appropriately catastrophic, and explosions/fire look quite nice. The sound also succeeds with a nice soundtrack mix of both licensed and original tracks (the licensed tracks here actually fit in with the story and are relevant). Voice acting is great, as well, Nolan North (aka Nathan Drake from “Uncharted”, or Desmon Miles from “Assassin’s Creed) does great work as usual as your character.

All in all, “Spec Ops: The Line” is a great shooter experience. This is certainly a shining example of how to do a shooter story right. I’ve seen enough set pieces and seemingly copy and pasted scenarios that this game was a refreshing breath of fresh air. If you are at all a fan of the shooter genre, give this campaign a shot (you will be happy you did) and experience a finely crafted story that will set the bar for shooters to come.

Note: This review encompasses only the single-player component of “Spec Ops: The Line”. At the time of my playing, multiplayer was quite barren and, from what I understand, also quite underwhelming.

Story: 9.5/10

Graphics: 8.5/10

Sound: 7.5/10

Gameplay: 7/10

Final Score: 8/10

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