Monday, 22 April 2019

My Favourite 22 Moments from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (so far)

This is it people.  We are about to reach the Endgame - the 22nd film, and finale of, an unprecedented inter-linked series of films.  It's not the end of the MCU, but it's hard to imagine how Marvel Studios are going to match what they've achieved over the course of the last 11 years.  While not every film has hit the same heights, even the weaker films in the series are solid genre efforts.  But when the films in this series have excelled, they've set benchmarks not just for comicbook adaptations, but for blockbusting cinema experiences.

To celebrate this milestone, here are 22 of my favourite moments from the 21 films preceding the eagerly anticipated fourth Avengers installment.  And though it's ostensibly the next in the series of Superhero team ups, it's not just an Avengers sequel, but the culmination of over 20 films' worth of story-telling.  Here are just some examples of what has made this series so successful with critics, audiences and fans across the world.

In no particular order...

1. Black Widow gets 'interrogated' (Avengers Assemble, 2012): this film has so many great moments (some which will feature later on), but this is a scene that combines humour, character and cool action beats - it sets the tone for not just the character, but the film as a whole.

2. Ned geeks out over his friend being Spidey (Spider-man Homecoming, 2017): The introduction of a new take on Peter Parker in to the MCU really captured the feeling that he's a genuinely teenaged super-hero, something that's underlined by his friendships at his High School.  When his friend Ned finds out his secret, his reaction is as believable for a teenager, as it is funny.

3. "Dormammu - I've come to bargain!" (Doctor Strange, 2016): while this film follows the comicbook super-hero origin story template in a somewhat standard fashion, it has a few moments that make it stand out - such as the dazzling introduction to the multiverse, or the climactic battle that skews the usual city-trashing spectacle by, well, repairing the battle-damage.  But this scene really sets this film, and character, apart from the usual comicbook finale - instead of punching a villain in to submission, here a bit of sly trickery saves the world (though not without any risk to the protagonist).

4: Assassination attempt on Nick Fury (Captain America The Winter Soldier, 2014): This film was a major turning point for the MCU, not just in terms storyline, but in bringing directors the Russo brothers on board. They have played a key role in bringing the Infinity Saga to life so effectively on the big screen - the way this film handles itself so confidently and assuredly demonstrates what a safe set of hands these directors are.  This scene is not just one of the best set pieces of this film, or of the MCU in general, but is an almost text-book example for any film-maker in how to deliver a superb action scene.

5. "It's a dance-off, bro!" (Guardians of the Galaxy, 2014): a massive hit, beloved by a passionate following, the first appearance of the Guardians was a triumph, thanks to spot-on characterisation, a catchy soundtrack, and a witty and memorable script  This scene aptly demonstrates this with its humour and attitude.  "I'm distracting you, you big turd-blossom!"

6. The 'House-party Protocol' (Iron Man 3, 2013): Although not the best action sequence in this film (more on that later), Tony Stark's PTSD-inspired suit tinkering pays off in this reveal that he's not just been busy working on one suit - but quite a few of them..!  The result is a cool battle scene, peppered with some fun beats (like the appearance of the suit nick-named 'Igor').

7 - 10: All of these jokes/lines that I still can't believe made it in to 12A/PG-13 films..!

Loki's Shakespearean profanity (Avengers Assemble, 2012):

Peter Quill's Jackson Pollock joke (Guardians of the Galaxy, 2014):

Banner's 'huge bag of weed'? (Avengers Assemble, 2012):

...and the best of all, Korg's comment about Thor's hammer (Thor Ragnarok, 2017):

11: Loki's impression of Captain America (Thor The Dark World, 2013): the first Thor sequel isn't a highly regarded MCU entry, but it does have its moments - and amongst the best of these are the scenes with the two 'brothers'.  The scene that includes this cheeky cameo is a really fun moment..!

12: The Hulkbuster fight (Avengers Age of Ultron, 2015): while this sequel does sit firmly in the shadow of its predecessor, there are some great sequences in this film, including this truly 'smashing' fight scene (sorry not sorry).

13: Siri plays The Cure (Ant-Man, 2015): Though initially overshadowed by the troubled start to its production, this film is now regarded as an entry of the MCU that stands on its own, and is good fun to boot.  This gag is one of my favourites in all the MCU - a miniature sized fight goes in to a suitcase and sees the villain threaten to 'disintegrate' Ant-Man, which Siri hears as a request to play the album 'Disintegration' by The Cure.

14. The elevator fight (Captain America The Winter Soldier): I think this scene speaks for itself.  Outstanding set up and fight choreography, this ranks as one of the best fight scenes in the MCU.  "Before we get started, does anyone wanna get off?"

15: The 'Barrel of Monkeys' Rescue (Iron Man 3, 2013): something the MCU delivers on is showing the heroes not just taking on the bad guys, but doing all they can to protect the innocent.  This scene is a tremendous achievement in stuntwork and vfx, and is arguably the most impressive action sequence in this film.

16: 'Hail Hydra' (Captain America The Winter Soldier, 2013): the entire revelation mid-way through this film, that not only did Captain America not entirely defeat Hydra during WWII, but that they secretly have infiltrated SHIELD, is one that really turned the MCU on it's head at that point.  It was a twist that it committed to and stuck with, all the way through the rest of the series.  This moment shows just how far the nefarious organisation has spread it's tentacles, and gave birth to some amusing memes along the way.

17: 'The living are not done with you' (Captain America Civil War, 2016): If putting 6 super-heroes in to a coherent movie seemed like one of 'Avengers Assemble's greatest achievement, then Civil War upped this and then some.  We get (what was at the time) the biggest ensemble cast of Marvel characters in one MCU film, and to top that, two new ones are introduced - a new Spider-man, and Black Panther.  Whereas previous films in the genre have struggled to introduce new characters or juggle their multiple story-arcs, just look at what this film did with Black Panther: he is introduced, fleshed out, and given a proper character arc, which culminates in this scene.  If we hadn't got a full Black Panther film (thankfully we did!), this film gave him - a supporting character! - a fully rounded depiction - more than some films in the genre manage to achieve with their central protagonist..!  This scene also gets to the heart of the emotional drive of this film, which benefits from a nuanced, sympathetic villain portrayal in the form of Daniel Bruhl's Zemo.  When we realise his motivation for wanting the Avengers to tear each other apart, it is hard not to feel for the loss and anguish that have driven his actions; since then we've started to see other films in the genre take this approach with their villains - moving away from the traditional, moustache-twirling tropes.  A welcome move indeed.

18: 'What are those?!!?' (Black Panther, 2018): this film benefited from a 'supporting' cast of characters that were so great - funny, bad-ass, entertaining in their own right - that they were just as essential to it as the title character.  Each stole the film in their own way, and this moment just emphasizes why; when Shuri (Letitia Wright) makes fun of her brother's choice of footwear, it felt like the film cuts through all the super-hero stuff, the sci-fi portrayal of an independent African state, and just captured a pure, true moment of how brothers and sisters usually relate to each other.

19: These lines from Drax *...

(Guardians of the Galaxy, 2014)

(Avengers Infinity War, 2018)

21: 'Okay, the tiny dude's big now.  He's big now.' (Captain America Civil War, 2016): I've already mentioned how, in their MCU films, directors the Russo Brothers fill every action scene with as many cool, thrilling or funny beats as they can.  They also have a knack of employing these characters' 'super' abilities in this way (for example, I love how Bucky uses a railing to rappel down the stair well in an earlier scene in this film).  The airport battle in Civil War is full of these, but the stand-out is the moment Ant-Man reveals his suit has another big trick up it's sleeve!  Although some have criticised the choice to film this battle in a drab, grey environment (perhaps chosen to reflect the grey moral areas of the conflict it depicts), after this moment we get a couple of shots that could be taken straight from the panels of a comic book.  When Spider-man wraps his webs around Ant-Man's legs, then Iron Man and War Machine swoop in side by side, before delivering the blow that sends the giant sprawling - you could take these shots, put in the sound effect lettering and it'd be at home in any comic.

22: The Battle of New York (Avengers Assemble, 2012): Thanks to the three films that introduced movie audiences to Iron Man (2008), Thor and Captain America (2010), the MCU was already on a firm footing; this film though was where it really hit its stride.  And how!  While the opening acts of this film have fun moments, they also have a couple of wobbly ones, where the whole thing threatens to collapse in to the campier, nonsensical side of the genre.  But this final act delivers thrills, spectacle, fun, and all-out super-hero awesomeness.  You could pick pretty much any moment from this final act to fill a list like this - that money shot of the team together for the first time, Banner's show-stopping 'that's my secret' line, Hulk vs Loki.  But for me, there is one sequence in this that truly encapsulates just how great these films are - the sheer, all-out joy of watching these characters together on screen, performing awesome feats, all to Alan Silvestri's rousing theme.  I never tire of watching this!

Well, those are my top favourites - I could probably pick another 22 (at least) from the rest of these films.  I'm beyond excited to see what great moments Avengers Endgame will add to this list..!

* If you wondered where the line about Drax standing still was, perhaps it actually is there - and you just couldn't see it? 😉😄

Friday, 14 April 2017

All the things from the Teaser Trailer that have got me excited for The Last Jedi!

The Teaser Trailer for The Last Jedi (or Star Wars Episode VIII, if you will) is here!  And I liked it a lot.  Though there was stuff about The Force Awakens I loved, and stuff I really did not like, this trailer has me looking forward to this next installment immensely.  Here are a few of the shots that show why:

"What did you see?" "Light...Darkness... A Balance."  One of the ideas that the Star Wars saga haven't explored enough is the idea of the Balance of the Force - that perhaps, as the Prophesy referred to since the Prequels, there needs to be those who can draw on both its Light and Dark sides.  I hope that this film will investigate that, and maybe resolve some of those outstanding questions.

Some lovely shots of the craggy Ireland, erm, islands where some of the film was shot - I'm looking forward to seeing Luke do more than turn to the camera.  Maybe help Rey to fulfil her destiny?

Imperial - sorry, First Order Walkers of the North Ridge!  Yep, looks like there's a new version of the AT-AT coming...

It's okay, looks like these speeders have got their tow-cables ready... I guess that's what they're dragging along this desert floor (another typically gorgeous-looking Star Wars planet!):

Walkers aren't the only thing that looks to be back from the classic trilogy...

Poe's X-Wing explodes!  But what caught my eye was the tail and front of the ships to the side - are those A-Wings?  We'll come back to those...

I reckon this shot is part of a flash-back, to when Brat-o Ren and the Knights of Douche - sorry, Ren, destroy Luke Skywalker's New Jedi Temple. this is what I'm talking about!  It looks like we're going to get a mass fleet battle in this film, with what looks like Resistance frigates of some sort taking on the First Order.  And yes, that is an A-Wing!  Great to see this fighter back from Return of the Jedi.

One of my favourite moments in the original Trilogy is the mass battle between the Rebel and Imperial Fleets at Endor in ROTJ; I'm looking forward to seeing another massive space battle in this film!

"It's time for the Jedi... to end."  Luke's weary voice, indicating some of the heart-break and disillusionment he must feel after the destruction of his fledgling Jedi Order, really got me in the feels.  Hopefully it indicates that we can look forward to some of Mark Hamill's best work in the role, following from Harrison Ford's excellent work as Han in TFA.

So this was a really good trailer - we see the new fan favourites from TFA return (Rey! Poe! Finn! Kylo! Phasma!); we get a glimpse of what looks like some classic Star Wars action and battle scenes; but only the vaguest smidgens of what the plot could be.  If this film can build on the best parts of TFA (the new characters, the energy, the clear love for the franchise) and avoid it's mistakes (rehashing plot from earlier films, and not killing off classic characters in a wasteful and insulting manner), then it should make for a really fun trip to the cinema, and a worthy entry to the Star Wars Saga.

Now, shall we watch the trailer again?  ...and again?  ...and again?  ...and again?!?!

Thursday, 29 December 2016

My 5 Favourite Films of 2016

I think most of us are glad 2016 is over, but thankfully there have been some decent films to entertain us, give us a place to escape to - or even reflect on the state of the world we're living in.  In no particular order, here are my 5 favourite films of the year.


Financially, Disney have had the most successful year of any film studio, ever - thankfully, the quality of their output has not been impacted by the pure pursuit of financial gain.  They started this year with this surprisingly deep but still highly entertaining animation.  yes, it wears it's messages very blatantly on it's sleeve, but - aside from the usual 'believe in yourself and never give up' platitudes that the genre has in spades - the messages about division and fear are very timely.  It's a visually dazzling and imaginative, fun film, populated with entertaining characters, that effectively draws from the buddy-cop and crime genres to tell its story.  It's a film that young and older audiences will enjoy, on multiple levels.

Rogue One - A Star Wars Story

This was the Prequel we were waiting for; this was the true Star Wars experience that we wanted, that The Force Awakens almost delivered.  Though not a perfect film (a couple of the expositional scenes don't work entirely, occasionally the CGI is distracting), this delivered an exciting and thrilling Star Wars experience.  Perhaps Jyn Erso and Captain Andor's characterisation suffered slightly as a result of the much-debated re-shoots - but story wise this managed to be gripping and - despite the fact we know the outcome - it managed to throw some real surprises in there.  And yes, there was one moment in this film that made me weep with joy - a real throw-back to being a child, watching the final act of 'A New Hope' over and over.  This was a film made by people who truly love Star Wars, for people who truly love Star Wars.  It bodes well for the future spin-off Star Wars anthology movies.


On the surface, this is a serious sci-fi drama, an examination of how the world would genuinely react in a 'first contact' situation with an Alien race; what I wasn't expecting was how it is ultimately an emotional and meditative reflection on choice, the future, and loss.  Anchored by a typically strong performance from Amy Adams, and imaginative designs, the premise is plausibly executed - so much so that it makes the finale even more effective, an unexpected gut-punch.  Given the pedigree of this film (the director, the cast) I was expecting a well made and intelligent film, but I wasn't prepared for its emotional intelligence.

The Big Short

In a way, this was the most important film anyone will have seen this year.  In the year of Brexit and Trump, when the real cause of the socio-political and economic problems of today have been forgotten by the majority, this film - about the run up to 2007's collapse of the banking sector - reminds us the real underlying (and unaddressed) cause.  It might be too knowing for some, and others may find the financial jargon too hard going, but this film effectively - with wry humour, and no small amount of righteous anger - tells the truth: that the investment banking sector knowingly and deliberately sold worthless shares on the mortgages that were going to fail.  If you don't watch this film, then you absolutely have to watch this one scene - it's the must watch scene of the entire film:

Finally, before the last of my favourite films this year, I just wanted to talk about the one that disappointed me the most.  Suicide Squad is not a terrible film, it's not even a bad film; it's just merely OK - and that's the problem.  The trailers sold a film that looked to be a truly edgy, mischievious and witty riposte to the usual dry, straight-laced super-hero/super team-up film.  At one point, it may have actually delivered this.  But then a nervous studio, disappointed by the critical, commercial and audience reaction to the film that was supposed to make their DC franchise rival Marvel Studios, took a hatchet to it, and delivered a product.  A by-the-numbers, formulaic super-hero movie, that had some of the most-anticipated performances edited to near-incomprehensibility.  Add in by-the-numbers mid-2000's alternative soundtrack (bit of White Stripes? Check!  Bit of Emimen? Check!), some typically over-CGI'd action sequences - and some cheesy performances that come embarrassingly close to the campiness of Batman and Robin; you've got a film that could have done something brave and original, but plays it disappointingly safe.  If I was Jared Leto, I'd be talking to my agent about who is editing the next film that Warner Bros employ him as the Joker - if it's the same person who butchered this, I'd pass.

That rant over, here's my final favourite:

Captain America: Civil War

Back when it was a rumour, I was doubtful it would work - but, my goodness, this was a compelling, thrilling, emotional and satisfying film.  A true pay-off to a number of threads running through several previous Marvel Studios movies, this film is as close to perfect as a blockbuster can be.  It delivers spectacle, solid characterisation, and a plot that presents no small amount of moral complexity to the audience.  As well as that, it's a comic-book fan's delight, with the introduction of two important characters (Black Panther and a new Spiderman) superbly handled, contributing to a truly incredible action sequence.  As well as being one of the best super-hero/comic-book movies of all time, it sets the bar high for other blockbusters with its intelligence, emotion and set-pieces.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Carrie Fisher: Actress, Author, Iconic Princess of Pop Culture

Today I had planned to write about my 5 favourite films of the year, but I've been knocked sideways by the confirmation this afternoon that Carrie Fisher has sadly passed away.  When news broke that she had suffered a heart-attack, like millions of others I was wishing and hoping she would recover.  Maybe it was for selfish reasons - I couldn't imagine the new Trilogy of Star Wars movies being concluded without the leadership of Princess Leia.

But sadly, it was not to be.  And like the rest of my generation, I am in mourning for an actress who, as Princess Leia Organa, was an iconic part of our our childhoods, and the films we still love today.  When you think about why Star Wars was so successful, why it became so huge a part of culture, of people's lives, is down to a great number of things, and people.  Not just George Lucas' vision, not just the wizards at ILM that realised the worlds, not anyone actor in their roles.  It was all of those things - and Carrie Fisher was part of that.  Han Solo was iconic because of Harrison Ford's swaggering performance; Mark Hamill was the embodiment of Luke's youthful idealism and energy.  And then there was Carrie Fisher's Leia: a Princess who needed to be rescued, but was not a damsel in distress - she was a fighter, a warrior, a leader, a diplomat.  It is easy to imagine that, without the attitude, spark, determination and grace she brought to the role, then a vital ingredient would have been missing to the whole.  I don't have a daughter, but if I did I would be more than happy if she aspired after Princess Leia: the way she didn't stop fighting for what is right, even when her back is to the wall; to be there for friends, and to trust they'll do right for you; and to tell scruffy-looking nerf herders where they can get off.  In fact, those aren't values just for girls to look up to - they're values for everyone.

Of course, Carrie was not just Princess Leia.  As an actress, she was in another of my favourite films - possibly the greatest Romantic-Comedy of all-time, 'When Harry Met Sally'; although a supporting role, the wit and attitude she was becoming well known for as a writer were well in evidence.  Though she never had a role as high-profile as Leia, Carrie was respected, admired and adored for her work as an author and screen-writer, and seemed to handle her status as a Pop-Culture with a grace and knowing-wit that befitted her best-known and most beloved role.

She'll be seen on-screen one final time as Leia in Star Wars Episode VIII next year - which will now, very sadly, be Leia's final Star Wars film appearance; sadder still that we'll no longer have Carrie's disarmingly honest wit and humour, from her writing, interviews, or appearances at Star Wars Conventions.  Shortly after hearing the news I listened to the closing music from Empire Strikes Back, my favourite of John William's Star Wars scores - it contains the beautiful and melancholic refrain of 'Leia's Theme'; it sounded even more bittersweet tonight than it normally does.

Rest in Peace, Carrie Fisher; Farewell, to our Princes Leia.  You'll forever be an icon of cinema, for my generation, and Star Wars fans.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Movie Review - Captain America Civil War: Marvel's Latest Benchmark-setting Masterstroke

The most surprising thing about this latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is not how successfully it juggles a huge ensemble cast of heroes. Neither is it in how it feels relevant and timely to real-world politics. The biggest surprise is how Captain America Civil War, with its epic scope and superhero battles, is the most intimate and affecting of their movies so far.

Yes, the set up is on a grand, international political scale: Captain America (Chris Evans) continues to lead the Avengers against powerful threats, but when a mission ends in tragic loss of life there are calls for the team to submit to UN oversight. The film takes in America, Europe, Africa. There are some weighty political ideas underpinning all this: is power without impunity right? But should the ability to react to a threat be without limitations?

But for each character in this film, the decision whether or not they fall in line and submit to these 'Accords' us not a simple political one; in fact several of them make their choices from purely emotional perspectives. Take Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) - with the consequences of his actions in the films leading up to this weighing heavily on his conscience (and impacting on his personal relationships), it is easy to understand why he would be calling for the Avengers to submit to the Accords.

Team Cap are ready to fight...

On the other hand, Steve Rogers, whose moral ideals were shaped growing up in the simpler times before WW2, has struggled to find a place in a world of political espionage and intrigue; just look what happened to SHIELD. When he argues that, if the UN doesn't agree with the Avengers taking action when they deem it necessary, their hands are tied - especially if it's the other way round.

Straightaway there are so many nuances and shades of grey to the set up - both points of view are absolutely correct. When the issue is clouded further by the reemergence of Rogers' long lost friend Bucky, now brain-washed super-assassin The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) in the midst of a terrorist atrocity, the emotions behind Stark's and Cap's choices are key to igniting - and sustaining - the civil conflict that follows.

With the main character's motivations so well defined, you'd be forgiven or thinking that the cast of supporting 'Supers' are just there to make up numbers, that they're relegated to the background, with no plot or character development of their own.  Well, you'd be wrong - in this film every member of the Avengers, every character that pops up to aid either Cap or Stark, go on their own journey.  Some are greater, and have more weight than others - but at no point does any of the characters feel wasted or under-developed.  And considering this film introduces two significant new characters to the MCU - Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spiderman (Tom Holland), that is a genuine achievement -compounded by the fact that both of these characters are handled outstandingly well.  Black Panther is given the greater arc of character development, and Boseman is assured in the role, giving T'Challa an understated yet palpable sense of regalness, humility, grief, and righteous rage.  By the end of the film such is the journey his character takes, and such is the effectiveness with which he is portrayed, that if this was to be his only film appearance, only the most die-hard Black Panther fan would feel unsatisfied with the portrayal.  (Thankfully, it won't be and his forthcoming solo film is an even more enticing prospect after watching him in this one.)

The introduction of Black Panther (Boseman) to the MCU is handled exceptionally well in this film.

And then there's Spiderman; I welled up and shed a tear at four points during this film, and one of those moments was his introductory scene, where we meet a teenage Peter Parker and his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).  This scene is so perfectly, beautifully handled, that it is easy to forget that this is the third incarnation of the character; without regurgitating the same lines - the famous ones - everything that he says communicates everything you'd hope to see, expect from the character. You know exactly what he has been through to become Spiderman without him mentioning Uncle Ben, or the responsibility that comes with etc etc.  Then when we see him in action, he brings such joy and humour to the movie - not that it is something the film needs - but it feels completely on point for the character.  If they continue to portray Spiderman as effectively as this film has, then Holland's portrayal may end up being considered the definitive one. is the introduction of a certain wall-crawling, web-slinging hero...

I mentioned this film brought me to tears - as I said, despite the political context that brings about the narrative, despite the action (that, once again, sets new benchmarks for the depiction of superheroes on film - especially during the spectacular Airport confrontation), I wasn't prepared for how emotional this film is.  Grief, guilt, anger, revenge - all play a part in the motivations that lead to the events of the narrative.  Because of this, there are no clear right or wrong decisions - some actions are more defensible than others, but all are understandable from different points of views.  Even the villain, Zemo (Daniel Brühl), eschews the stereotypical mustache-twirling or psychopathic megalomania that these type of films usually portray.  His quiet, unthreatening portrayal admittedly is at risk of getting lost in the bombast of the film's action - but is central to the movie's most devastating scene as it draws to a close.

Apart from a couple of plot points that feel a little convenient, rushed maybe; and the occasional wobbly bit of digital compositing; this film is blockbuster movie making at its most effective and exciting.  Directors the Russo Brothers bring the same feel of veracity they brought to 'The Winder Soldier's' action scenes, and handle the massive cast with such assurance that it's easy to forget just how miraculous it felt when Whedon pulled off putting 6 superheroes in 'Avengers Assemble'.  With its story that feels pertinent to real-world global politics; nuanced handling of complex issues, morality and emotions; and confident top-tier film-making, Marvel once again raises the bar of what is possible with not just Comic Book movies, but action-blockbusters too.  It is hard to see how they, or any other studio, will match their achievement with this 'Civil War'.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

From the Blog Archive: Why 'Aliens' is Possibly the Greatest Film of the 1980's

Just before I started this blog, almost 3 years ago, I wrote a couple of film-related posts on my other, infrequently-updated blog.  This next article was the first of my semi-frequent 'Most Relentlessly Awesome Movies' series, and as it's officially 'Alien Day' - marking the 30th Anniversary of the release of 'Aliens', I thought it a good excuse to re-post it...


'ALIENS' (1986)

'This Time, It's War...'
I'm going to come right out and make a very bold statement:  I seriously believe there is a case to be made that this film is THE Greatest Movie of the 1980's.  I'll state why below, but I think I should acknowledge that as I write the 1980's are a period very much on everyone's minds at the moment following the death of one of the key figures of that era, Margaret Thatcher.  Her politics define that era (for good and bad), and in many ways there are echoes of this in 'Aliens': privatisation, corporate greed over-looking communities, military interventions...  This movie is very much of its time - a bold reflection of it - but at the same time it peels back the skin and isn't afraid to comment on the ills beneath.  While it has the same gung-ho attitude of many action films of the era - and of leading politicians - it also subverts and often challenges them.

But this film is not just great because of the sub-text: it is a master-work of character writing, production design, atmosphere, tension and edge-of-your-seat action.  I first saw this movie when I was 10, and it had a profound effect on me.  For a start, it was seriously cool - you had these awesome Colonial Marines running around with their kick-ass tech; these designs were enormously iconic, and it is hard to imagine that so many beloved Sci-fi settings, across so many platforms (moviesvideo games, collectable miniatures & games) would have existed without the Colonial Marines as their template.

Ripley and some 'Absolute Bad-asses'...

Next, this film really creeped me out.  The scenes when the Marines touched down on the seemingly abandoned colony (remember, this was in the days before the Special Edition, so there was no glimpse in to life on the colony prior to the infestation), with the evidence of the desperate and horrific battle that had taken place there, really fuelled my imagination.  Although you didn't see what happened to the colonists, the few suggestions of their battle for survival made it seem all the more terrifying.  This was a case of how movies can use the power of suggestion to make something all the more frightening (and as 2011's 'The Thing' Prequel proved, sometimes imagining how an horrific event occurred is actually more frightening than seeing it).  And this is before you even get to the Aliens themselves, and their nests!

Finally, despite Sigourney Weaver's misgivings about the amount of gunplay in the movie, Ripley in this movie is one of my all-time favourite action heroes.  At a time when Schwarzenegger, Stallone et al were taking on entire armies armed with usually nothing more than their muscles and a knife, Ripley seemed the greatest of all of them - more determined, more driven, and tougher somehow.  The fact that she went in to the Alien's nest on her own, with none of the Military Training of the Marines, despite her fear of the Xenomorphs, just made her seem all the more heroic.  The fact she was a woman was kind of secondary; some people look at other kick-ass action women in some films as a bit of a gimmick, or debate whether there are enough empowering roles for women in those kinds of films.  Because of Ripley in this film, I've never seen female action heroes in neither way - I've always been able to accept them without a second thought, and that is because Ripley was such a great character in 'Aliens' that the fact she's a woman is not an obstacle to accepting her as an action hero.  In fact, it's arguable her gender brings another level to it, which I'll discuss later.

So aside from the fact that this is a highly regarded movie, widely lauded as one of the best sequels of all time - and a damn classic film in it's own right - what is it that would justify my claim of it being The Greatest Movie of its decade?  I think it's down to it being very much in the vein of prevalent action movie ideals of the era, but at the same time rising above (most) stereotypes and even managing to cast a critical (perhaps even satirical) eye over these and the politics of the period.

To start with, let's look at the Colonial Marines themselves.  These men and women would not have been out of place in pretty much any other '80's action-fest - they'd stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Rambo or John Matrix, and more than hold their own.  'Grunts' though they were, the script and acting allowed each to have their own distinct character and personality, regardless of screen time.  And, man, they had quality scripting - these soldiers remain amongst the most endlessly quotable characters until this very day.  I've often thought that as well as 'Talk Like a Pirate' Day there should be 'Talk Like a Colonial Marine' Day!  It's this level of writing and characterisation which elevates these 'Grunts' from the usual cannon-fodder of these types of films.  Of course, some are more significant characters than others, but each one is an example of how a good script and acting can elevate even the smallest of characters/roles.

At the same time, there is a slight subversion of the gung-ho action hero - after their losses from the first confrontation with the Xenomorphs, the survivors are not the same as before, most notably Hudson who has a (in retrospect, slightly humorous) breakdown.  I think this is a reflection of what was happening in US Cinema at the time and the decade leading up to it, as films began to tentatively explore the Vietnam war, and its effects on those that fought in it.  Although some films in the '80's seemed to be hankering for a re-fight of this war, after a couple of more reflective films such as 'The Deer Hunter' in the '70's, after 'Aliens' the likes of 'Platoon''Full Metal Jacket' and 'Born on the Fourth of July' came along. Now, I'm not saying that 'Aliens' influenced or paved the way for these films - and it certainly didn't stop the continuation of macho blockbusters - but it is interesting that cinema audiences were open to more introspective takes on the war after 'Aliens'.

The interesting thing about James Cameron's movies is that he seems to have a dual fascination for the military (check out the toys he gave these Colonial Marines and the Military forces of Avatar), whilst at the same time being fearful and critical of what military leadership means. Despite their cool toys and hi-tech equipment, the Colonial Marines are easily taken down by the Xenomorphs - all whilst their commanding officer Gorman can only issue orders they can't hear or simply ignore.  A military resolution may have seemed like the best solution to this situation (and perhaps total extermination by nuke still is!), but it proved to be fatal.  This idea that military leadership and reliance on military can only lead to needless and ultimately costly confrontation is a recurrent theme of Cameron's, from 'The Terminator', through this, 'The Abyss', and most recently 'Avatar'.

The next subversion of the gung-ho action movies of the time is in Ripley herself; obviously, first of all, because in the era of steroidal he-men, the principal hero is actually a woman.  It's not so much this which makes her remarkable, it is her drive, determination and resilience - despite her obvious fears and vulnerability - in the final act which makes her an action hero who is more believable and relatable than almost every Stallone, Schwarzenegger or Lundgren character of that era.  Whilst some might critique Ripley in this film in terms of the feminine or maternal psyche, at the end of the day she is a grieving parent who has found an opportunity of redemption in the girl Newt.  If you're a parent I think you can relate to this, regardless of your gender.

'Get away from her, you BITCH!!!'

The other way that this movie both reflects, and subverts, one of the prevalent ideas of the time is the portrayal of growing Corporate influence and power of everyone's lives.  Right from the start of the film the privatisation of Space is abundantly apparent; the first lines mention 'The Company', there are corporate logos recurrent on the space station where Ripley convalesces, and all over the Colony on LV 426.  This background presence completely echoes what was happening in reality during that decade; there was an explosion of Privatisation, especially in the UK but in many other countries around the world also, as many industries were sold to be run by Corporations.  This did create opportunities for quite a few people become wealthy - however the downside was job losses in some areas, and a questioning of the ethics of many companies.

So in 'Aliens', the corporate sponsored colonisation and exploration of space provides opportunities for people to make money - it is, after all, a family of explorers, looking to stake a claim on a new discovery that inadvertently set off the events of the film.  However, just as Corporations are criticised for being monolithic, impersonal entities that put profits before people and environment, it is revealed that the 'discovery' was in fact orchestrated BY the Company.  In the decade where 'Greed was Good', this film demonstrates there is likely to be a human cost.  Corporate greed is given a face by Carter Burke, Weyland Yutani's representative, who would happily sacrifice Ripley, Newt and the military crew, to ensure he gets his financial bonus.  At this point the film perhaps becomes heavy handed with this subversion - but it reinforces at an individual level that this sort of financial greed can make people lose sight of the value of other human beings.  Greed is not always good...

There is one other reason why I think you can argue that this film is the greatest of its decade: I've entitled this series of articles 'The Most Relentlessly Awesome Films', and I think the first part of that statement completely fits this film.  It is relentlessly gripping, tense, and above all entertaining, right from the start.  If someone asked me what my favourite scene is in the film I honestly couldn't pick one, as continuously throughout the film there is something in pretty much every scene which is great: whether it is the script, the cast, the cinematography and lighting, the outstanding and iconic production design, the fantastic special effects work (which has by and large stood the test of time), the spot-on score which hits every beat from terror to heroism, there is always something to remark upon.

Briefly, which version do I prefer?  The extended Special Edition is more complete, giving more background to Ripley (making her attachment to Newt more understandable), and we get the iconic Sentry Guns sequence.  However the Theatrical, original version does not suffer for the cutting of these moments - it definitely gives the film more depth though, so as a fan I'd say I prefer the Special Edition.

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Thanks for reading - I've been really busy lately with work, my studies, and a house move; but there'll be more from this blog soon, including the next 'Son of a Geek!' video review.  So please bookmark/follow my blog for more!

Sunday, 21 February 2016

New to this Blog: 'Son of a Geek!' - my son reviews the movies...

Hello, well it has been a few weeks since my last update - I am really busy with my IT course at the moment so haven't had time to write any reviews or film related articles.  But I have been chipping away at something over a few weeks - the first video in a new feature for this blog, which I call 'Son of a Geek..!'

In this (occasional) series my son (aged 8) will review a film he's seen, just to get a different perspective (so to speak) on them.  For the first of these videos, my son has reviewed the latest Bond film 'SPECTRE', in time for its UK DVD/BluRay release (22nd February 2016) - enjoy!

As soon as I can I'll post some more reviews/articles, in the meantime thanks for watching - please leave your feedback in the comments section below.