Monday, May 14, 2012

Review Catch-Up: The Avengers/Mirror Mirror/21 Jump Street

(On behalf of whoever created the posters for these three films, I apologise.)

The Avengers
Directed by Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlet Johansson
Grade: C+

The word is ‘shattered.’ Buildings shattered; Glass shattered; Box-office shattered, and by the time “The Avengers’” forty-minute climactic action sequence had finished, I was shattered too. By now its name has already been etched in the record books, and this comic book adaptation (only the third of Marvel’s six that I’ve seen) remains the film on everybody’s lips. Perhaps it shouldn’t be a pleasant surprise that the Whedonian (?) humour hits really well, mocking each of the super hero supergroup for their faults – the impulsiveness of the Hulk; Captain America’s coveted sense of nobility; Iron Man’s artificiality, and Thor’s ancient outlook – and really uniting these characters as a force worth rooting for.

But while “Serenity,” with its pulsating, Western-plucked conceit felt as if an entire geographical landscape was waiting for its band of soldiers, “The Avengers” has a portal and a cube – neither of which, it seems, has a consistent, discernible function. The lazy plotting extends to villain Loki (Tom Hiddleston camping it up in a fresher mode than his lazy Snow King turn in Thor), whose motivations for wreaking havoc on the Earth are vague, and his cunning master plan the very essence of cautious passive aggression. All of this casts doubt on whether Whedon and cast have earned an extended finale, which bears more commonalities with the Transformers series than many are willing to admit. He has already proven again this year that he can be at the head of an excellent genre movie; Hopefully when people look back on 2012, they’ll realise “The Avengers” isn’t it.

Mirror Mirror
Directed by Tarsem
Starring: Julia Roberts, Lily Collins, Armie Hammer
Grade: B

If the upcoming “Snow White and the Huntsman” looks to be the gothic offering cornering moody teen girls, “Mirror Mirror” is its distant, eager relative, hopscotching through the Grimm brothers’ tale with keen, cynical aim. Julia Roberts’ Wicked Queen never once directly asks her pithy magic mirror who the fairest of them all is, but this update of the story is still strenuously camp, with Armie Hammer’s Prince dashing around with the crazed aimlessness of James Marsden’s Prince Charming in “Enchanted” (with considerably funnier results) and the late Eiko Ishioka’s awesome costumes putting a fairytale spin on Euro-royal court attire.

“Mirror Mirror” is essentially a revisionist piece, but doesn’t overhaul this legendary story, giving Snow White added motivation, a stronger sense of self-sufficiency, and an active role in cultivating her own happiness, but still promoting an ideology which sees beauty as a product of one’s own personality as much as their external appearance. In part a reaction to this narrative formula remaining so ingrained within artifacts of popular culture, “Mirror Mirror” opts for shapeshifting (and yes, admittedly conservative) juxtapositions of setting, pitting dark wildnerness against candy-cane domesticity to arresting, delightful results. With derisive reaction to “The Cell” and “The Fall,” Tarsem is fast becoming the most criminally undervalued auteur among critics. You can add “Mirror Mirror” to that list, too.

“21 Jump Street”
Directed by Starring: Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Ice Cube
Grade: B -

In an era in which a film like “The Hangover” is regarded as a bastion of the young male community, it’s difficult to whip up excitement for a studio’s latest round of boysy humour. Were it not for the overly positive word from writers I respect and admire, I wouldn’t have even chanced “21 Jump Street,” the latest past-it TV series to get a big screen adaptation, but as it happens I’m pleased that I did. A story of two young men separated by high school hierarchy but united in later life through their desire to join the police force, “21 Jump Street” quickly asserts the strengths and weaknesses of its pairing of Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, who, as best buds, are forced to go undercover as students, and assigned the task of infiltrating a network of drug suppliers at a local high school.

“21 Jump Street” still resorts to generate comedy from familiar stereotypes and cliches, such as the duo’s strict African-American police chief (a periodically funny Ice Cube), who grasps at any opportunity to poke fun at the duo, and one particular drug-induced sequence which affords Hill and Tatum the opportunity to go all-out. What’s refreshing about the approach of the film towards masculine inadequacy is that intimacy and feelings aren’t dismissed as a form of weakness. “21 Jump Street” uses physical comedy between the two in a way which feels harmlessly awkward rather than a grotesque form of homophobic paranoia. These friends are comfortable with each other’s flaws and generally aware of where to draw the line between jovial teasing and outright cruelty, and consequently the humour comes off as more balanced and honest than abrasive slinging of insults potentially would have. This film may not be revolutionary, but it’s one of the most valuable cinematic depictions of ‘bromance’ yet.

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