Colin Le Sueur

Colin Le Sueur

colin@colinlesueur.com
Colin Le Sueur

The Avengers

I’d been waiting a long time for this film to come along. Growing up it always bugged me that the worlds depicted in superhero films were always so self-contained. Batman would never run into Superman or Spider-Man never called on the X-Men for help. Due to tight restrictions on trademarks, studio control meant that the only place you’d ever see your favourite heroes teaming up is in the comics. However, thanks to Marvel’s new vision of a shared filmic universe, I can finally see the film I’ve been waiting for my whole life. In The Avengers, Joss Whedon has skilfully built on an existing handful of strong standalone films (though designed to exist in the same continuity) and delivered an amazing action film with a solid foundation of character and heart.

In an ensemble film, there’s always the risk of one actor or character overshadowing the others. Whedon manages this difficult task expertly, alternating focus between the major players and weaving in and out of multiple narratives to give everyone equal attention. This works especially well on a character level, as the power levels of the different Avengers exist on a wide spectrum, ranging from talented assassin to Asgardian god. None of the heroes ever feel superfluous or out of their depth.

All of the Avengers have great moments in the film but the Hulk really stands out. Both Mark Ruffalo as Banner and the CGI Hulk offer terrific performances (including some genuinely hilarious moments of physical comedy). Even though there’ve been two previous cinematic versions of the Hulk in the last ten years, Whedon really delivers the quintessential iteration.

Even though the action sequences are amazing, The Avengers never totally disappears under a CGI haze. The focus always comes back to character interaction and that’s one of the main reasons this film works so well. All the characters are believable and I truly cared about what happened to them. The Avengers also managed to surprise me more than once, even given the massive marketing blitz, and that’s down to Whedon’s writing and direction.

The Avengers is an epic superhero crossover event and has easily become one of my favourite films from the past few years. Here’s hoping that DC sees this as an example and works toward that Justice League film we’ve been dreaming about for 30 years.

Super 8

Growing up, I always wanted to be part of an adventure, one of a group of kids ready to fight monsters (like in The Monster Squad) or hunt for pirate treasure (like in The Goonies). These kids were tough and brave and put themselves in the path of danger because no one else would. My adventurer aspirations didn’t last very long but these films had a big impact on me. Super 8 brought back a lot of those memories and if I’d seen it back when I was a kid in the 1980s, I would’ve been first in line to join their group of adventurers, shooting zombie movies and investigating the mystery of an Air Force train crash.

Abrams does an excellent job of capturing the idea of smalltown life in the 1970s. The kids roam the neighbourhood on bikes, hang out at each other’s houses and generally spend all their summer together. Leaving aside whether this is an accurate depiction, Super 8 hits all the nostalgia points head on, recreating the feeling of the 70s. This is strengthened by the terrific and natural performances from the main actors. The acting in general is quite good, though Eldard seems out of place as a troubled father.

The most interesting element in the film is the characterisation of the creature, which is given complex motivations and behaviour. Alternating between sympathetic and menacing, this nuanced depiction creates a genuine feeling of peril and ensures a steady level of tension throughout the film. Refreshingly, Abrams reigns in the anthropomorphic tendencies seen in similar films and presents a truly frightening creation.

With a likeable cast and an interesting creature, Super 8 is both a nostalgic look at childhood lost and a new interpretation of an old idea.

Rubber

There seem to be decreasingly fewer truly unique films released these days, a glut of remakes, sequels and re-imaginings taking the place of smaller, independent features. While franchises have their place, it’s nice to see a film so strange and surreal that it almost defies description. On the surface, Rubber is a story of a rubber tire that comes to life and kills people with its mind but the actual film is a commentary on Hollywood films and the role of the audience in cinema.

The film begins with a character addressing the camera directly in a monologue regarding arbitrary decisions in Hollywood films. This scene shapes the rest of the film, with a clearly arbitrary object chosen in the role of protagonist/antagonist. The tire is anthropomorphised, good editing and a clever movement mechanism helping to give a sense of real character to the inanimate object. More than just movement, the tire also has telekinetic powers and uses these to drive the plot, exploding all living creatures he comes across.

Rubber exists in a strange metafilmic reality, with a group of spectators literally standing in the desert and watching the action of the film through binoculars, occasionally offering commentary or opinions. The inclusion of an audience as Greek chorus is interesting; they begin by replicating a typical group of cinema-goers, kept at a distance to the action but get gradually drawn more and more into the narrative. The spectators are shown as mostly ignorant, consuming anything given to them regardless of the consequences.

If the main character of Rubber had been humanoid then the plot would be fairly common: dangerous stranger becomes obsessed with a woman and follows her, leaving death in his wake. However, because the main character is a rubber tire, the whole situation is made surreal and shows how hollow some Hollywood films have become. Director Dupieux knows the idea is ridiculous and uses this film to poke fun at the Hollywood machine.

TrollHunter

In the past few years the monster movie has gone through a significant and dramatic shift. From Joon-ho’s The Host in 2006 to Edwards’ Monsters in 2010, recent monster movies have begun to rely less and less on spectacle and special effects, focusing instead on character development and realism. TrollHunter continues this trend, faux documentary style strengthened by a strong factual underpinning and realistic special effects.

There’s a strong realism throughout this film, even concerning the more mythical elements. There are reasonable and scientific explanations for almost everything, from animal behaviour to reproductive cycles. Combined with excellent special effects that nearly blend seemlessly with the beautiful Norwegian countryside and a collection of naturalistic performances, the fact-based plot and characters help create an immersive and believable story.

Unlike some faux documentary or found footage films, TrollHunter keeps the handheld camera relatively stable and never goes over the top, even when the characters are running through the woods. However, the filmmakers do take some liberties with the found footage idea and cut corners in certain situations, leaving some questions unanswered or unresolved.

TrollHunter is interesting and engrossing and demonstrates that even relatively low budgets can provide a realistic and spectacular monster movie.

Scream 4

Fifteen years after the release of the clever and groundbreaking Scream, Wes Craven returns to the series that helped to redefine the slasher genre. The state of the Hollywood horror film has changed greatly since the mid-90s, with waxing and waning cycles of Asian horror and over-the-top splatter franchises. Scream 4 struggles in this new environment and never rises above the level of toothless, watered-down remake.

Although the original Scream series started strong and ended weak, there was a coherent, consistent narrative and the story came to a natural conclusion. Scream 4 is a forced return to a closed story and can’t help but feel unnecessary and contrived. The three main characters from the first series sleepwalk through the plot, serving as a weak reminder of more interesting times.

Much of the style and humour from the original film is gone, with a string of gratuitous film references and social media shoehorned into a tired setting. Self-reflexivity and meta-filmic in-jokes take the place of complex characterisation and interesting plot twists. Craven’s always been an interesting filmmaker but his style is lost here, creepy sequences and interludes replaced with familiar camerawork and vanilla editing.

There are glimpses of an interesting film in Scream 4 but it’s ultimately an overly safe and dull remake of a genre-breaking classic.