BTSB at the Movies! June 2012

Hello Moviegoers! Once again it's been several months since you've heard from BTSB at the Movies! and so once again we'll skip the traditional DVD review in order to look at two current movies – films that just so happen to have been two of the most highly anticipated releases of 2012. That's right, it's blockbuster month here at BTSB at the Movies! Enjoy!

This Month's Reviews: 'The Avengers'

Global box-office figures strongly suggest that you've probably already seen The Avengers. After only 37 days in release it has now turned the 220 million dollar investment made on its production budget into worldwide grosses of 1.4 billion. In the process it has also become the third highest grossing film of all time, behind only Avatar and Titanic. Its advertising campaign can in some ways be considered one of the longest and most expensive of all time, beginning way back in mid-2008 with the release of Iron Man in May and The Incredible Hulk in June of that year. Along with Iron Man 2 in 2010 and both Thor and Captain America in 2011, these films not only introduced audiences to the principal cast of The Avengers, but also included brief, unannounced scenes following their closing credits, which both hinted at events to come and introduced the concept of the 'Avengers Initiative' long before the film had been shot or the script written. Thus the buzz surrounding the moment when these various superheroes would finally team up in a single movie had been building for several years. Combined with a series of epic, kickass trailers released in the months leading up to the film's premiere, and The Avengers was generally considered to be a guaranteed hit - yet nobody predicted it would be quite this big.

The basic story itself is simple enough – our main villain from Thor joins forces with an alien race called the 'Chitauri' in a plan to attack Earth. He wants to rule the world, whilst the Chitauri want to retrieve a mystical power source called 'the tesseract' that they believe will allow them to control the entire universe. All that stands in their way is a motley bunch of misfit superheroes, who spend almost as much time fighting each other as they do defending the world. However once they do finally settle their differences and start working together, an epic battle takes place between these forces of good and the Chitauri invaders, with the fate of the world at stake. It's all pretty silly of course, but it also just so happens to be a hell of a lot of fun.

The Avengers marks the third time now that Robert Downey Jr. (Less Than Zero, Chaplin) has played Tony Stark/Iron Man, and as in his previous outings he looks to be having an absolute ball. Mark Ruffalo (You Can Count on Me, Zodiac) becomes the third actor in recent years to play Bruce Banner/The Hulk, following in the footsteps of Eric Bana and Edward Norton. Yet despite the potential for confusion or disconnect he does a good job in the role, sharing some memorable scenes with Downey Jr. in particular. Chris Evans (Fantastic Four, Captain America) returns as the earnest Captain America, whilst Chris Hemsworth (Thor, Snow White and the Huntsman) plays a noticably more subdued Thor this time around, displaying much less humour and arrogant charm than we saw from him previously, though perhaps not inappropriately given the development of his character. They are joined by Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow and Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye, both of whom had cameo roles in Iron Man 2 and Thor respectively, along with Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury and the wonderful Tom Hiddleston as Loki. Yet perhaps the best decision of all with respect to this whole shebang was to hand the writing and directorial reins over to the one and only Joss Whedon, whose previous claim to fame was as the creator, writer and director of the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. After being both under-utilised and under-appreciated in Hollywood for far too long, Whedon finally got his chance to shine on a big stage with The Avengers, and his talent for action as well as both comedic and dramatic dialogue is evident throughout the entire film.

As a result, The Avengers is pretty close to exactly what you would hope for from an action/comedy, summer blockbuster superhero movie. Solid performances, well written dialogue, great action, a terrific villain and one hell of an epic climactic battle scene make for one good time at the movies. But then of course you probably already know all this, as you most likely saw The Avengers weeks ago.

BTSB's Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

...and 'Prometheus.'

A remarkable 33 years after Ridley Scott first told us that, 'In space no one can hear you scream', he returns us to that same forbidding planet to explain just how his Alien first came to be. Prometheus is the long awaited prequel to the seminal Alien franchise, recounting the events leading up to the fateful arrival of Ripley and the Nostromo, explaining the presence of the mysterious wreckage of that alien ship, the identity of the 'space jockey', and of course the origin and birth of the most terrifying creature in the universe.

Set in the late 2080's and early 2090's, Prometheus tells the story of an expedition into space that sets out to discover the origins of the human race. Their destination is a planet indicated in a series of pictograms discovered amongst the ruins of various ancient civilisations found around the world. The fact that these different peoples never had any contact amongst each other leads researchers to believe that they must have been visited by an alien race, who may well have actually given 'birth' to humans. They hope to ask these Gods themselves just how we humans came to be, but upon their arrival at the planet they discover that some catastrophe appears to have befallen them. During the course of their explorations on the planet events rapidly take a turn for the worse, and before long this intrepid band of researchers is fighting for their lives, as well as for the future survival of all humanity.

Noomi Rapace (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) plays Elizabeth Shaw, one of the driving forces behind this expedition, who longs to prove that these aliens do exist and are in fact the progenitors of the human race, and fatefully becomes a progenitor of a very different kind herself in the process. Logan Marshall-Green plays her equally driven partner Charlie Holloway, whose motivation comes from the desire to speak to these aliens face to face. The terrific Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class, Shame) is the all too human android David, whilst Charlize Theron (The Cider House Rules, Monster) is Meredith Vickers, the ice-cold, self-appointed leader of this expedition, representing the money that is making it all possible. And of course Prometheus could only ever be directed by Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Gladiator), the man responsible for bringing us the original Alien in the first place, all the way back in 1979.

In spite of a great cast and a long, rich history to draw upon from an entire film franchise spanning several decades, Prometheus unfortunately falls a little short of what I'd been hoping for. As a big fan of the Alien films I thoroughly enjoyed seeing how that particular mythology came to be as it is envisioned here by Scott in Prometheus. However as both a prequel and a stand-alone film, Prometheus has quite a lot of flaws. Fans of Alien will be left scratching their heads at a number of pretty obvious plotholes between the two films, which is perhaps unsurprising, given that the script was jointly written by the king of plotholes himself, Damon Lindelof, the man who brought us T.V's brilliant but ultimately frustrating Lost. On the other hand, audiences new to the Alien universe are likely to be simply left unmoved by characters that are too often two-dimensional, are given little to no opportunity to grow, and far too frequently act in ways that defy either logic or just plain common sense.

Having watched Alien again just days before going to see Prometheus, the differences between the cast of characters in both films could hardly be more obvious. The character development in Alien is excellent - with a minimal amount of screen time Scott is able to present us with fully realised, three dimensional characters that are then capable of eliciting a strong emotional response from us when things inevitably go all to hell. In Prometheus, a bunch of what are mostly cardboard cutouts get killed and we have little to no reason to care. And unfortunately that may be the most lasting impression left by Prometheus – overall it's a pretty good story and it has some really great moments, but ultimately its lack of character development lets it down badly. Still, Prometheus is well worth seeing, especially for fans of Alien, but I can't help thinking that it really could and should have been so much better.

BTSB's Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

BTSB At The Movies: Thanks For The Trilogy!

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