Author: ced.yuen

Film Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Nowadays, it seems that prequel-reboots of old franchises are all the rage. James Bond, Star Trek and X-Men have all been successfully revived, ready to entertain another generation. Next up is the ‘Planet Of The Apes’ series, which went stale despite Tim Burton’s ‘reimagining’ in 2001. Surprisingly, ‘Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes’ feels nothing like its predecessors. There is no Charlton Heston-type character, no human heroics. There are outlandish sci-fi elements involved, but this is mainly a story about an animal growing up in a human world. Scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) develops a virus to cure Alzheimer’s disease. The project is terminated after a test chimpanzee shows side effects. Will takes home the chimpanzee’s baby and names him Caesar. Growing up, Caesar displays extraordinary intelligence, and begins to question his place in the world. Caesar’s development serves as the film’s primary story arc. As he goes from playful childhood to aggressive adulthood, he never stops being the film’s driving force. It is touching to see him play, chilling to see him rebel – at every turn Caesar has the audience’s full emotional investment. ‘Rise’ is a monster movie in the vein of Frankenstein, but it is also a modern-day Icarus tale, an examination of human arrogance and naïveté. Unexpectedly philosophical and emotional, it feels nothing like any of the earlier films. While there are certainly similarities in terms of plot and theme, this...

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Film Review: Captain America – The First Avenger (2011)

Marvel Studios’ master plan is going well. Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and Thor have each made the jump from page to screen, their adventures paving the way for ‘The Avengers’. All that remains is Captain America, the last to be adapted before the characters can be assembled next summer. It is World War II, and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is deemed too small and too weak to join the Army. He keeps trying, and eventually he finds himself in an experiment to create super soldiers. Meanwhile, Nazi scientist Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) steps out of Hitler’s shadow with his own plans for world domination. Captain America was conceived as an unapologetically American symbol, designed to boost wartime morale. After the war, the character faded into obscurity, aside from a poorly planned revival labelled ‘Captain America: Commie Smasher’. To most people he seems like a relic, a dated caricature of overzealous patriotism. Turning him into a proper character, relevant to today’s audience, was always going to be an immense challenge, especially when America’s popularity seems to be in constant debate. Thankfully, the film takes inspiration from the more sensible Captain America stories, the ones that focus on the man rather than the mask. Like any superhero origins story, this is indeed a ‘zero to hero’ tale, but the film is far more interested in the ‘zero’, leaving it to the...

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Film Review: Cars 2 (2011)

‘Cars 2’ is preceded by ‘Hawaiian Vacation’, a short film set in the Toy Story universe. Despite the fact that ‘Toy Story 3’ was supposed to be the end of the franchise, Pixar seems reluctant to let go. It is not hard to see why – despite being only 6 minutes long, this appetiser manages to pack more Pixar magic than the main feature.   That is not to say that ‘Cars 2’ is a bad film. There are clever ideas, and moments of charm and wit, but the film does not spend enough time on them. As a result, the film fails to reach the lofty standards associated with Pixar.   At one point during its development, the film must have centred on a new story, with new characters. As the film opens, British secret agent Finn McMissile (Michael Caine, as a DB5) investigates a conspiracy involving alternative fuel, scaling an oil-drilling platform with magnetic tyres and grappling hooks.   The mood is one of intentional melodrama, simultaneously revering and ridiculing the adventures of 007. The sequence inevitably culminates in a car chase, and it is more thrilling and visually appealing than anything that EON has produced in recent years.   Things should have stayed that way, because ‘Cars 2’ is at its strongest when it has nothing to do with its predecessor. Alas, Finn McMissile becomes a...

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Film Review: Transformers – Dark of the Moon (2011)

“Transformers, robots in disguise! Autobots wage their battle to destroy the evil forces of the Decepticons”. Simple lyrics, from the theme-tune of the 1980s cartoon, outline what ‘Transformers’ is all about: the simplicity of good versus evil, combined with the novelty of shape-shifting robots. The key problem with the sequel, ‘Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen’, was its attempt at ‘humour’, which took attention away from the robots’ story. The film became defined by bad decisions. Offensive stereotypes, irritating characters, robot testicles – there wasn’t much room left for good and evil. Hope, however, is not lost. With ‘Transformers 3’, director Michael Bay demonstrates that, to an extent, he is able to learn. ‘Dark Of The Moon’ is far from perfect, but it does redeem many past mistakes. This instalment begins in the 1960s, when a Cybertronian spaceship crash-lands on the Moon. The US government quickly launches their space program to cover things up. Fast-forward to today, and it transpires that the vessel contains *Important Things*, which the Autobots must recover before the Decepticons do so. As usual, humans are caught up in the ensuing destruction. Much effort has gone into making the robots’ war relevant to humans. The destruction at the end of the first ‘Transformers’ had little impact on its sequel. Now, there are consequences. Autobots must follow military rules and procedures. Cities have sensors to detect Decepticon...

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Film Review: X-Men – First Class (2011)

‘X-Men’ has been saved. It never quite reached the painful lows of the ‘Batman’ franchise under the misdirection of Joel Schumacher, but after the last two distinctly average outings, the franchise faced an uncertain future. Not anymore: X-Men has been restored to its former glory. ‘X-Men: First Class’ is to X-Men what ‘Casino Royale’ was to James Bond – rejuvenation. The film occupies the perfect spot between fan service and accessibility. There are things that long-time X-Men fans will recognise and appreciate, and for them these geek snippets will enhance the overall experience. However, these references are never laboured. Blink and you’ll miss them. Newcomers never feel as though they are outsiders – this is the perfect jumping-on point. Forget 2009’s ‘Wolverine’ – this should have been called ‘X-Men Origins’, because that’s exactly what it is. It is about a young Charles Xavier and his fascination with human evolution. It is about young Erik Lehnsherr and his desire to avenge the death of his family in the Holocaust. This is the story of how they become Professor X and Magneto. It’s not about super powers. There are a lot of them, but that’s not the point of the film. The focus is primarily on the characters. They’re not superheroes and supervillians just yet, they’re just people, trying to deal with mutations – which is far more interesting than explosions...

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