Coming soon...

Friday, May 23, 2008


In the history of cinema, there are few film characters as iconic as Indiana Jones. His hat and whip alone are enough for most people to instantly recognise the character in question. He is the genius creation of George Lucas, directed brilliantly by Steven Spielberg and brought to life by Harrison Ford. Like many of my friends, I’ve grown up with the character and he’ll always be the quintessential hero to me and my friends. And after nineteen years of anticipation, we are given one more (and possibly not the last, never say never) adventure featuring the brilliant archaeologist. Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull.

It’s 1957. Nineteen years since Indiana Jones and his father rode out of the desert after defeating the Nazis’ attempt to get their mitts on the Holy Grail. A group of Russian soldiers break into a secret American military storage facility and force Indy to find the location of a box containing a mummy. Indy manages to escape but not without stopping the Russians who are under the command of a Russian military scientist with a penchant for the paranormal. Later on, Indy is contacted by a young man named Mutt Williams. Mutt needs Indy’s help to rescue his friend, an old colleague of Indy’s named Professor Oxley. It is Williams’ mother, Marian who suggested he seek out Indiana Jones. So Indy and Williams head for Peru to find out what happened to Oxley.

So, almost two decades after Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, we’ve finally been given the sequel many of us thought we’d never see. Harrison Ford’s in his sixties, something that could present a bit of a problem considering the Indiana Jones films are action films. However, Lucas, Spielberg and Ford decided to use this as an advantage rather than a hindrance. So we have old Indy. In a play on the line from Raiders of the Lost Ark, ‘it’s the years, not the mileage.’ But is the film a success? With a franchise this beloved, there was a real fear that after so long, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull might be to Indiana Jones what The Phantom Menace is to Star Wars. The good news is, it’s no Phantom Menace. The bad news is, it’s no Raiders. Or Crusade. Or even Temple Of Doom.

The first thing I thought as the credits rolled on The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull was how much of a mixed bag it is. There are some moments in the film that are absolutely akin to what we know and love of the other three films. The opening salvo, the inevitable action sequence that draws you into an Indiana Jones film is as good as the previous films. While Ford definitely looks older, and moves a little bit slower, the action sequence in the military base is brilliant. It really recaptures the feeling of the previous films. After this sequence, I found myself grinning immensely at what I was watching. As the action was moved to Indy’s Marshall College, I felt the old pang of nostalgia for the old movies. Yet as the film progressed from here, the smile began to wane a bit. When the action moves to Peru, it’s here that the film’s major weaknesses takes hold.

The first major weakness of the film is David Koepp’s script. Koepp stated that he wanted to create an Indiana Jones script that wasn’t filled with obvious references. A film that was a mix of the comedy/adventure from Raiders, less dark than Temple Of Doom and less jokey than The Last Crusade. Setting the film in the 1950’s would move the film away from the 1940’s serials-influenced style of the previous films and more into the red-scare sci-fi adventures of the 1950’s. Unfortunately, by doing this, Koepp has fooled around with Indiana Jones too much. As a sequel to The Last Crusade, some of the story elements (without going into too much spoiler detail) are quite logical and don’t seem out of place. But by striving to make the film some-what of an homage to the 1950’s films, this is where it falls flat. It’s almost legend at this stage that George Lucas rejected Frank Darabont’s Indiana Jones script. I really hope we get to read that script someday. Because I’d bet quite a lot that it’s far superior to Koepp’s script.

The MacGuffin, the artefact that Indy is striving to get his hands on just doesn’t hold up to the previous films. There’s no sense of urgency about the crystal skulls. In one way, I thought it might have been due to the fact that the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail are biblical artefacts. However, even the Sankara Stones (and essentially, it’s the village children who are the MacGuffin in The Temple of Doom) have more of an impact. The Crystal Skull just doesn’t seem to be exciting enough of an artefact. And by losing this sense of urgency, the excitement is somewhat killed in The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. By the time the climax of the film comes about, there’s little to the proceedings that really excites. It all just seems a little TOO far-fetched. I know that sounds like a ridiculous complaint considering the subject matter, but there was just something a little more grounded in reality about the previous artefacts. The Crystal Skull requires a leap of faith that’s just too much.

The other major problem with the film is that there is way too much of a George Lucas influence on the film. Far be it from me to criticise the man. He’s an incredibly successful business man. Without him, there would be no Indiana Jones at all. But as we have seen in the Star Wars prequels, some of his decisions when it comes to his films leave a lot to be desired. And unfortunately for Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, there are moments that have his fingerprints all over them. There are some completely unnecessary cutesy animal moments that had me shaking my head in disbelief. These stood out like a sore thumb and did not belong in an Indiana Jones film.

The action sequences are staged very impressively. As I’ve mentioned, the sequence in the storage facility is particularly impressive. The chase in Marshall College is very entertaining. But the main showcase of the film, the chase in the rainforest, while impressive, again, doesn’t feel like it belongs in an Indiana Jones film. It attempts to replicate some of the great chase sequences from the previous films, but ups the ante too much. Everyone seems to be a superhero in it. And amazingly, after a short burst of action at the beginning, Indy takes a back seat for the rest of the sequence. The focus shifts to Mutt Williams as he swash-buckles, and leaps between the chasing vehicles. And in one stunningly ill-conceived moment, swings from the trees like Tarzan. It’s this one moment that really took me out of the illusion that I was watching an Indiana Jones film. I understand the purpose of that sequence was to hark back to the Tarzan films of the 50’s, but it’s such a bad idea, it’s so out of place that I’m still astonished it was put into the film. The climax of the film, the inevitable moment where the villain succumbs to their greed is also quite disappointing. It’s a CGI-fest and a little over the top. I’m all for progressing the technology of film, but at this moment, I really missed the stop-motion moments from Raiders and Crusade. Don’t get me wrong, Steven Spielberg is the greatest of all popcorn directors. But there’s just something lacking here.

Harrison Ford steps back into role of Indiana Jones and is quite successful, at moments. While he’s older and a little bit slower, there’s still a sparkle in the eye, and a wry grin at the appropriate moments. But then, there are problems with the script that affect the character too. For some reason in the film, Indiana Jones is rarely referred to as Indiana Jones. He seems to insist (as does everyone else) on calling himself Henry. I seem to recall a line in The Last Crusade that went ‘I like Indiana.’ And so do I. Yet he’s rarely referred to as such, and it’s quite unsettling. Another thing missing from the film is the sexual tension between Indy and his leading lady. Cate Blanchett plays Irina Spalko, the Russian agent. But the opportunity to have something between herself and Indy is missed. And it’s a wasted opportunity considering Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood turns up. There could have been a great competitive subplot going on between the two women, but again, a lost opportunity.

Many balked at the fact that Shia LaBeouf was cast in the film. But I have to say, he’s one of the stronger elements of the film. He fits in quite well within the canon of Indiana Jones, and the way they’ve switched the relationship elements that existed between Ford and Connery in The Last Crusade works very well. It’s quite obvious that Lucas and Spielberg are setting Mutt Williams up as a new adventurer. And while that’s perfectly fine, it does distract attention away from Indy, which is a damn shame.

It saddens me to be disappointed in an Indiana Jones film. But as the credits rolled, I found myself willing the disappointment out of me. But it remains. There are some brilliant moments in Indiana Jones and The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. Some quite authentic Indiana Jones moments. But they’re not moments that will stand out compared to the previous films. There’s no shooting the swordsman moment. There’s no melting faces and exploding heads. There’s no rope-bridge stand-off. There’s no brilliantly played out father-son one-upmanship. And there’s no rapid aging showdown. There is some very sweet action sequences, and Ford does have flashes of the old Indy. Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull is a decent action film. But it’s not a very good Indiana Jones film. And that’s the real disappointment.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Potentially the funniest film of 2008

Okay, I know it's way to early to be calling this, but the new trailer for Tropic Thunder shows what could be the funniest film of 2008. Aside from a great cast, including the frighteningly crazy Nick Nolte, the film looks like it pokes a helluva lot of fun at some of well-known films. And while I think Ben Stiller's recent output has been pretty poor, he seems to be back on form in this one. Fingers crossed they haven't shown all the best comedy moments in this trailer, because if they haven't, it looks hillarious!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Hell hath no fury....

Here's the latest poster for Guillermo Del Toro's Hellboy II: The Golden Army. It's an excellent poster, and really captures the feel of the series. While Hellboy may not be as big as Batman or Iron Man, he's still a pretty big hitter in the comic book world. The sequel to Hellboy will be released in July.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

SPEED RACER (2008) - Andy & Larry Wachowski

Okay, first off, I’ll admit, I was never a fan of the Speed Racer cartoon when I was a kid. It was rarely on television here in Ireland, and when it was, I didn’t stick around for very long to give it a chance. So as I approach the Wachowski Brother’s big screen treatment of Speed Racer, I do so as someone who knows little to nothing about the original show. I’m not going to say it’s faithful to the original, because I don’t really know if it is. So I went to see the blazingly colourful movie with little expectations. Word on the street was that the movie wasn’t very good.

The Racer family consist of Pops, Mom, Rex, Speed, Spritle, their pet chimpanzee Chim-Chim, engineer Sparky and Speed’s girlfriend Trixie. Rex Racer is one of the top racers in the world, winning races and setting records. He’s idolised by his younger brother, Speed. But Rex leaves the family racing team and is subsequently killed in a racing accident. Years later, Speed has developed into a racer just as good, if not better than his legendary brother. He is noticed by the owner of Royalton Industries who wants to buy the Racer team and incorporate them into his company. But Speed declines, refusing to sell out his family. Royalton is infuriated and vows to destroy the Racer family. But the mysterious Racer X arrives on the scene to recruit Speed into helping expose the corruption inherent in the sport of racing.

Andy and Larry Wachowski hit the big time with 1999’s The Matrix, one of the most groundbreaking and influential movies of the last ten years. While the sequels weren’t a patch on the original, they still showcased how inventive the brothers are, and they show that once again with Speed Racer. What’s most stand-out about this film is the colour palate. The Matrix trilogy consisted of a palate of green and black. And in Speed Racer, the Wachowskis seem to be making up for this by using every shade of every colour they can get their hands on! Seriously, this film is unbelievably colourful. The visuals are amazing and it’s a joy to behold.

The main theme of the film is family. From the very start, it’s clear that the message the Wachowskis are trying to convey is that, above everything else, family is paramount. And this it’s a message that suits the film considering it is a family film. It’s one for the kids. But that doesn’t mean it’ll bore the hell out of the grown ups. The film’s gotten a lot of flack since it’s release, which I feel is rather unfair. While I’ll admit, it’s not the most intellectual of films, it never claims or tries to be such. It’s just a piece of fun cinema for the family that has no pretentions.

The cast is pretty much spot on for a film like this. Emile Hirsch is great as Speed. It’s up to him to carry the film (well, apart from the visuals) and he’s pretty good at looking wide-eyed at the scenery but determined when racing. John Goodman and Susan Sarandon play Pops and Mom Racer. While Sarandon doesn’t have a great deal to do in the film, Goodman is solid as Pops, a man who dealt pretty badly with the loss of his first son, and is determined not to let the same thing happen to his second. Matthew Fox plays Racer X. While I find his character on Lost a little flakey, he’s got a much more of a presence here.

Stuck in between Iron Man and Indiana Jones And The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Speed Racer is going to pass by pretty much unnoticed. Which is unfair really, as it’s a solid bit of popcorn cinema. It’s not the most intellectual piece of cinema, but it’s not sold as such. It’s pure entertainment and worth the price of admission for the visuals alone.


Monday, May 12, 2008

X-Files: I Want To Believe teaser

IGN have unleashed the teaser for The X-Files: I Want To Believe. I'm not so sure about the title of the movie, but I've always found The X-Files to be damned entertaining. It's been years since the television series ended. So interest in The X-Files is sure to have waned. Despite this, the teaser does look interesting. Gives very little about the plot away. This one is being kept TIGHTLE under wraps. And hopefully it doesn't disappoint.

THE EYE (2008) - David Moreau & Xavier Palud

Oh god. Yet another Hollywood remake of an Asian horror film. By now, you should know the drill with these films. An Asian horror movie is released and has some degree of success with western audiences. Some studio buys the rights to the film. They cast some pretty girl to play the lead, water the horror down for American audiences, add some silly CGI sequences for the wow factor, and release the film without much fanfare. And so this applies to the remake of The Eye.

Blind violinist, Sydney Wells goes in for an operation to replace the corneas in her eyes, hopefully allowing her to see once again. She lost her eyesight as a child, and has become used to using her other senses to get her about in the world. Her new eyes are a success, but they bring with them a strange side-effect... she can see dead people. And so, while to her friends and doctor, she seems somewhat of a loon, Sydney sets off to find out where her eyes came from and solve the mystery as to why she’s seeing scary stuff.

There are two main problems with this film. And both problems are pretty detrimental to the overall film. The first problem is the script. While I haven’t seen the original South Korean film, I can imagine it was a lot more effective than this US remake. However, this film feels like it’s a watered down version of another more scary film. And there are few to no scares here. Most of the scares come from jump scares. Things jumping out from nowhere to get a cheap scare. The story itself is pretty dull. The ending isn’t groundbreaking or surprising in any manner, and Sydney’s quest just seems uninteresting.

The other major problem is Jessica Alba. So far, Alba’s been known for her roles in comic book movies such as Sin City and the Fantastic Four movies. In The Eye, she seems to be attempting to break from that mould and do something different. Develop as an actress. And for that, she deserves some credit. However, it’s a shame that she falls flat on her face due to her innate lack of talent as an actress. At moments, Alba does try to emote, showing attempts at anger and desperation. But she’s just completely useless at it and fails miserably. Apparently Alba trained for six months to learn the violin for the role. Yet in the scenes where she is playing, her finger movements bear no relation what so ever to the music playing, and she ends up looking like she’s just poking randomly at the violin. It’s all part of ruining the illusion that she’s actually playing a character. One thing is for sure. When her looks fade, so will Jessica Alba’s career. She’s a terrible actress and this film does her no favours in dispelling that fact.

The rest of the cast, including Alessandro Nivola and Parker Posey just look like they’re going through the motions. The paycheques for this movie must have been fairly hefty and both these actors, who are usually very good, seem to be phoning in their performances. Perhaps they were hired to make Alba look better as an actress, but then the script is so dull, it gives them nothing really to do. The direction, by David Moreau and Xavier Palud drifts somewhere between dull and clich├ęd. They rely on the hammy use of loud noises and things jumping out of shadows for scares. And then there’s the ‘monsters’ which consist of badly CGI’d grey blobs which occasionally growl at the camera and scare about as much as Alba can act.

I really hope the trend for remaking Asian horror movies ends soon. It wont, but we can hope. This is yet another in a long line of dull horror movies that are nothing more than a waste of money and talent. And no, I’m not referring to the lead actress there. Do what I should have done. Go get your hands on the original film.


BUG (2006) - William Friedkin

If William Friedkin is remembered for nothing else in his career, he’ll be remembered for the horror classic, The Exorcist. Since making the 1973 film (right after making the brilliant The French Connection), Friedkin’s career hasn’t quite been as illustrious. Few of his films have been very good, and he’s just seemed to lose the winning touch he once had. So with this in mind, I watched Bug expecting something pretty poor.

Agnes White is a barmaid who’s hit rock bottom. She lives in a motel, drinking, taking drugs and dreading the release from prison of her ex-husband. She’s mourning the loss of her son Lloyd, who disappeared from a store ten years previous. One evening, her colleague and friend, R.C. brings to her room, Peter Evans, a quiet, strange man who has an ominous air about him. Despite her initial discomfort around him, Agnes allows Evans to stay the night. When her ex-husband arrives in the room, Evans provides something of a comfort for Agnes, so she tells him he doesn’t have to leave. But there’s something wrong with Evans. He’s convinced the government have implanted bugs beneath his skin as a way of tracing his movements. But is he crazy or telling the truth?

Bug is a very unusual film. It’s adapted from an award-winning off-Broadway play of the same name. Set entirely in the room in the motel, as the story progresses, the feeling of claustrophobia intensifies. The story feeds off the paranoia that exists in today’s society. There is a general feeling that every movement we make is being watched by the powers that be, and it’s that paranoia that drives the narrative of the film. While Evans’ claims that his body is infested with bugs at first seems ridiculous, you do find yourself questioning as to whether he’s telling the truth. It’s this paranoia that pulls Agnes into Evans’ world. She’s searching for something to fill a void in her life, and his paranoia fills it nicely. And in that, the audience is drawn in too.

The performances from Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon who play Agnes White and Peter Evans respectively, are essential to the film, and both are excellent. Shannon, who reprises the role from the stage version, at first seems quiet and brooding. There’s something not right about him, yet he doesn’t seem dangerous. However, as his delusions take hold, he becomes more and more unhinged and his performance intensifies. Playing opposite him, Ashley Judd seems just as weary and exhausted as her character is. She seems eaten away due to the loss of her son, to the point where you feel she is just drinking herself to death. But when Evans arrives in her life, she seems to find purpose again. It’s a brilliant performance from both actors.

Friedkin’s direction is brilliant. The film seems to be a horror film at one point, and then a paranoid thriller at another, yet the film does not have a visible seem that splits it into two genres, in the way that say, From Dusk Til Dawn has. The lines are blurred and you find yourself questioning what exactly you’re watching as the story unfolds. Friedkin’s at his best when directing intense performances, and he has two here. While the film isn’t perfect, and suffers from some hammy dialogue at moments, it’s certainly a memorable film and worth checking out. Not if you’re looking for something upbeat, however. It is a pretty grim watch!


CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980) - Ruggero Deodato

There’s a very short list of films I’ve been meaning to see, yet am somewhat loathed to see. I do intend to see the films, but by their reputation alone, I find myself not looking forward to them at all. However, one of these films, Ruggero Deodato’s infamous horror film, Cannibal Holocaust found it’s way onto the screen in a friend’s house the other night, and I found myself compelled to watch...

Professor Harold Monroe is a corn-cob pipe puffing, wool sweater wearing professor from NYU who is charged with marching into a generic Amazonian rainforest. His mission is to find a lost film crew, who have disappeared while making a documentary about the tribes who reside in the forest. He encounters a tribe called the Yanomamo, and while living with them, he finds the remains of the film team, and their footage. He returns to New York with the footage, which shows, in gory detail, what happened to the film-makers.

So Cannibal Holocaust is known as one of, if not the most controversial film of all time. It’s one of those late 70’s, early 80’s Italian horror movies that relies on gore rather than story. Most of the story is just there to tie the gory scenes together. And that’s certainly the case here. In fact, the title, Cannibal Holocaust is something of a misnomer. While people do die in the film, and those scenes, to anyone who’s seen their fair share of gore throughout the years, are pretty standard, it’s the animal deaths that are the most reprehensible and objectionable things in the movie. I’m no PETA member, believe me. I likes me steaks rare and bloody. But killing animals for the purposes of entertainment really isn’t on. A coatimundi, two monkeys, a tarantula, and most horrifically, a turtle are all slaughtered on camera. These scenes serve no purpose towards the plot and are inserted solely to shock. It’s incredibly uncomfortable viewing and pretty offensive, to be honest.

But I’ll step down off my soapbox for now. Aside from the animal butchering, the rest of the film itself is still pretty offensive. The first half of the film, which features Harold Monroe (played by ex-pornstar, Robert Kerman), just showcases the ‘natives’ in their natural habitat. While the filmmakers are striving for realism in their depiction of the natives, you can’t help feeling that overall, everything just seems a little... racist. Nothing feels real. It feels staged, and devoid of any morality. The second half of the film, during which we see what happened to the film crew is even worse. The behaviour of the four young people who trekked into the jungle gets progressively worse as the footage is shown. They act incredibly cruelly to the natives until the natives turn on them and pretty much hack them to pieces. I will admit, it’s easy to see why the film courted so much controversy when it was released. To the point where Deodato had to present his actors in court just to avoid charges that he actually murdered them while filming. But at the same time, everything in the film is just unnecessary. On the other hand though, it’s easy to see how films like The Blair Witch Project were heavily influenced by it. It does feel like a very extreme version of The Blair Witch Project.

Deodato attempts to lecture the audience that the civilised people who trek into the jungle are the real savages. That we’re a society obsessed with violence for entertainment. When Monroe shows the footage to studio executives, they want to show the film anyway. However, all this ropey subtext is lost in a film that ultimately is just trying to make the audience feel uncomfortable. For me, this film succeeds in that goal in ways very few other films have. And it really shows how filmmakers like Eli Roth, and those behind the Saw franchise really are lightweights. However, it’s a dubious honour to bestow upon this film, as I don’t think it’s a good film in any way. Am I sorry I watched it? No, not at all. I’m not sure what that says about me, but I make no apology for it. But now that I have seen what is considered the most controversial film of all time, at least I know I don’t have to sit through it for the first time again. Not that I’ll be re-watching it any time soon.


The Dark Knight TV Spot

Here's the first TV spot for The Dark Knight, due July 18th. Yes, July. They're advertising this one hella early, I have to say. It's not due for another 2 months!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Terminator 4 + PG-13 = Going to be awful.

According to Variety, the producers of Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins are shooting the film as a PG-13. After giving the film a ridiculous name and hiring a director who's track-record reads like a list of felonies, the producers of the film, Halcyon, have used crapfest Die Hard 4.0 as a precedent for shooting the film for a family-friends rating.

Now, I thought Terminator 3 was a piece of shit. It was comedy Terminator and, aside from featuring the governor of California, bore little resemblence to the previous films which were, and remain classics. The television series, I've no interest in at all. When Terminator 4 was announced, I, along with many of the people who seek out info like this on the net, gave a collective chuckle. When it was announced that the film would take place during the war between humans and Skynet, which was only briefly seen in T1 and T2, the chuckles turned to raised eybrows of interest. Then McG (the guy calls himself McG for Christ sake) was announced as director, we all guffawed. Then Christian Bale was cast as John Connor. Bale has not put a foot wrong in terms of chosing scripts since, well, forever. So the guffaws were silenced. And now this. This pretty much hammers the nail into the coffin of the film.

The producers are worried about merchandising. Merchandising. Toys, trading cards, plush toys, McDonalds meals. This is NOT how to go about making a movie. Movies should be made to tell a story. Not to make some faceless, greedy, businessman who is devoid of any artistic merit some more money. Try as they may to justify shooting the film to reach 'the widest audience possible,' at the end of the day, they just want to make as much money as possible. To hell with story and quality. It doesn't matter to them that T1 and T2, which were R-rated movies pulled in massive audiences. It doesn't matter to them that the core audience of fans of these movies are well into their twenties and thirties now, and ratings no longer have any bearing on them. What matters to the producers is that they get parents to bring their young families along and thus maximise ticket sales. They need new pools for their houses. They need bigger and faster cars. And they don't care what they have to do to get these things.

At the end of the day, there's little we can do about this situation. In an age where endings of films are changed because 40 or 50 people who were shown a workprint mightn't have liked one or two things, it's clear that art no longer applies to Hollywood. It's all about the cash. To change things, audiences worldwide would have to stop going to badly-made, empty-headed, made-only-to-maximise ticket sales blockbusters. To give film producers a kick in the arse and make them start caring about the art of filmmaking. And that just isn't going to happen. Ultimately, audiences are to blame for this situation. And while this started out as a rant about Terminator 4, it really applies to all filmmaking. Sure, there are filmmakers who make small, superbly crafted films. But how long until even these people cant afford to get these films made? And even if they do, it will get to the stage where nobody will be able to see these films because the multiplexes wont screen them. The art of film is slowly dying. And it's the audience who is suffering.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Dark Knight theatrical #2

So here's the latest, and probably last, theatrical trailer for The Dark Knight. Shows a bit more of the story, and little bits involving Harvey Dent... and is transformation into Two-Face. The second biggest movie of the summer hits screens on July 18th.

Friday, May 2, 2008

IRON MAN (2008) - Jon Favreau

The film adaptations of the many Marvel comics have certainly been a mixed bag. For every Spider-Man, there’s a Daredevil. For every X-Men 2, there’s an X-Men 3. At this stage, it’s difficult to judge which way each Marvel adaptation will go when it hits the big screen. Director Jon Favreau, who’s made some pretty decent indie flicks in (writing) Swingers and (writing/directing) Made takes a big gamble by making Iron Man, one of Marvel’s biggest franchises. Favreau has made some bigger-budget films in Elf and Zathura, but this is in a different league altogether. Is it a success?

Iron Man tells the story of Tony Stark; weapons-manufacturer, inventor, adventurer, philanthropist, womanising multi-billionaire. While Stark Industries produces some of the world’s most destructive weapons, Stark is unapologetic about the industry he’s a leader in. While on a weapons demonstration trip in Afghanistan, Stark is badly injured and captured by a group of terrorists who demand Stark builds them one of his patented Jericho missiles. Stark agrees. But instead of building the missile, Stark constructs a metallic, heavily armed suit of armour which he uses to break free from captivity. Stark then uses his experiences to become a super-hero who protect those he puts in harm’s way.

The summer blockbuster season (and man, what a season it’s shaping up to be) kicks off with this movie, and if it continues in the vein of Iron Man, then 2008 will be seen as a great year. Boiled down to it’s simplest format, Iron Man is a ‘beginnings’ movie, much like Marvel’s Spider-Man and DC’s Batman Begins. And while it’s far better than the arachnid movie, it’s not quite as good as the Bat. It’s a far lighter-hearted affair than Batman Begins, and maybe it’s because of that that it doesn’t quite trump that film. It just hasn’t the same gravitas as Bruce Wayne’s story. They’re similar in ways. Both are billionaires born into money. Both are inventors. Both have play-boy lifestyles. But where as Wayne uses his playboy image to deflect the media’s eye away from the possibility that he is Batman, Stark embraces the attention. Iron Man just doesn’t feel as deep as Batman Begins.

But I digress. Iron Man is a damn entertaining film. Robert Downey Jnr. Seems to be perfectly cast as Tony Stark. I must admit, I’m not overly familiar with the Iron Man comics. I know the basics of the character, and his eccentric ways, and knowing Downey Jnr.’s past, he seems like the perfect casting choice. He’s clearly relishing the role, and never seems out of place at any point. When he’s in the Iron Man suit, it’s pretty difficult to ‘act,’ but Favreau gives us shots of Stark inside the armour, and Downey Jnr. retains the cock-sure attitude at these moments without any problem. The always-entertaining Jeff Bridges plays opposite Robert Downey Jnr. as his business partner and eventual enemy, Obadiah Stain. Bridges chews up the scenery in nearly every role he plays, and he’s great opposite Robert Downey Jnr. Gwyneth Paltrow and Terrence Howard round off the main cast as Pepper Potts and Jim Rhodes, Stark’s PA and best friend. They provide pretty solid support, but they’re still second tier to Robert Downey Jnr.

The film’s not perfect, however. While origins films can suffer somewhat from getting through the ‘how x became y,’ back-story, they mustn’t fail to entertain. Iron Man builds for quite a while, and when the big showdown happens, for a while, it’s good fun. It’s a damn sight more entertaining than watching the Transformers wail on each other. But the showdown also ends pretty abruptly, and you’re left thinking ‘that’s it?’ And when there’s not that much in the way of emotional depth to the movie, it kind of leaves you thinking there’s something lacking. That’s the case here. I’m sure the Iron Man sequels will up the ante considerably. And if this movie is any indication, it’ll be spectacular. Iron Man is a far, far better movie than Spider-Man. But it falls just short of the depth of Batman Begins. But having said that, it’s a fine piece of entertainment, and a great way to kick the blockbuster season into life.