Category: Film (page 2 of 3)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Nearly two decades after the first of George Lucas’ widely reviled prequels there’s a new Star Wars film, something which for a long time just seemed like an impossibility until Disney bought Lucasfilm and with it the Star Wars franchise.

J.J Abrams was hired to attach some jump leads to the franchise much like he did for Star Trek back in 2009 and along with co-writer Lawrence Kasdan he does a distinctly better job than the last Star Wars films to grace the big screen. That though isn’t saying much and it should be noted that The Force Awakens is far from a great film. Whilst there are some things that work really well there are plenty that don’t which drag the film down.

There will be major spoilers so anyone who has yet to see The Force Awakens should probably stop reading if they’re concerned about that sort of thing.

Set three decades after the defeat of the Galactic Empire now there is a new threat The First Order which wants to dominate the galaxy. The Resistance lead by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and backed unofficially by The Republic are fighting against them. Meanwhile Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamil) has disappeared. The Resistance has sent a fighter pilot named Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) on a mission to try and track down the whereabouts of a map said to lead to Luke Skywalker’s location.

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One of the first things to note about The Force Awakens is that it is intentionally very similar to the first film in the franchise, 1977’s A New Hope, the plot centres around trying to destroy a new considerably bigger version of the Death Star called Star Killer. There are numerous scenes which are reminiscent to those seen in the first film. This is done in a knowing way though and Abrams is well aware that nostalgia is a big part of the appeal of the new Star Wars films.

So what does The Force Awakens get right?

One of the impressive feats Abrams has achieved is blending the new and the old in a way that doesn’t feel forced or grating. Whilst the story starts on the sand blasted planet of Jakku where Dameron , Rey (Daisy Riddle), Finn (John Boyega) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) are first introduced it doesn’t take long for familiar sights and faces to show up and when they do they are well utilised.

There are numerous nods to the original trilogy both visually and via dialogue which are well done and not just clunky fan service. When Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) first show up it’s slightly surreal. Ford despite his advancing years is flawless as the now older but still as rogueish Solo and his relationship with Chewbacca, that of a bickering married couple, is responsible for some of the films best comedic moments. This isn’t just shameless fan service either the pair are worked effectively into the narrative.

There’s definitely a sense of fun throughout too, with several scenes being played for humour, even if it’s a dark sense of humour. This is something which was distinctly missing in the prequels.

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One of the undeniable new stars though is new droid on the block BB-8 who has featured in the films trailers and is central to the films other major plot. BB-8 Dameron’s droid has part of a map to the location of Luke Skywalker (more on that later) and The First Order is desperate to capture the droid for the map before the droid can deliver it to The Resistance.

The new droid quickly becomes the faithful partner of scavenger Rey after Dameron is captured and follows her on her journey. Not only is BB-8 brought rather impressively and amusingly to life ,despite communicating via bleeps and sounds much like R2-D2, but there’s obviously been some thought put into how the droid would actually function in various environments and situations which makes the droid seem far more real and like an actual character. That this new droid can seamlessly fit in with iconic droids R2 D2 and C3PO is a testament to the design and approach to the new droid.

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Where The Force Awakens really excels though is in its action scenes, special FX, sound design and score. Unlike the vast majority of blockbuster films with their woefully unconvincing and bewildering digital mayhem everything here seems real. Everything seems to have mass and weight and environments feel and look real. Exactly how special FX should work in a film. This doesn’t just apply to how the film looks though. One of the most fundamentally important elements of Star Wars is sound. No other franchise is associated with sound quite like Star Wars. Nothing invokes a sense of nostalgic glee quite like the sound of a Tie Fighter tearing through the sky or the sound of a lightsabre being used in combat. Equally important though is composer John Williams who returns with another impressive score.

So where does it go wrong?

The Force Awakens is rife with narrative developments that are reliant on handwaving, pure coincidence or have no apparent explanation at all or the “it’s about space wizards with laser swords just go with it” explanation. The Force Awakens also features high profile characters that are woefully underused. There are clearly going to be some story elements that are left unexplained as this is the first film in a trilogy, like who Rey’s parents are amongst other things, but  hand waving, pure coincidence or events with no apparent explanation for the sake of plot advancement are just bad writing.

Luke Skywalker’s Lightsabre just happening to be in a box in the basement of Maz’s watering hole, a weird mix of Mos Eisley’s cantina and a castle, for some reason.  Maz  merely mentions the reason for it being there as being a story for another time . Luke’s lightsabre prompts a scattered and confusing flashback or forward for Rey which is a vague explanation for most of the unexplained events she is involved in.

Finn is a Stormtrooper that deserts from The First Order but there’s very little time devoted to showing why a Stormtrooper would just decide to desert from The First Order. Apparently this is because Stormtroopers are not clones but rather children kidnapped and put into service by The First Order.

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Finn, despite apparently only working in sanitation, nearly defeats Kylo Ren the film’s antagonist in a lightsabre duel.

Luke Skywalker disappeared after a young Ben Solo aka Kylo Ren ,now a high ranking figure in The First Order, slaughtered his fellow students after being seduced by The Dark Side. Despite disappearing because of the slaughter and leaving his friends behind there is a map to Luke’s exact location which The First Order and The Resistance are both wanting.

A major plot thread is the  map  to Luke Skywalker’s location, apparently the first Jedi Temple. R2 who has been in hibernation of sorts for an extended period after Luke’s disappearance “wakes up” at exactly the right moment to show Rey and the others the map to where Luke is. Apparently BB-8 says something to R2.

Captain Phasma turns off the shields for the Star Killer ultimately allowing The Resistance to destroy it after being threatened by Finn. Phasma already knows that Finn is not a killer and that is  apparently why he deserted from The First Order.

Dameron  after surviving the crash with Finn forgets all about the important mission he previously spent his time telling Finn about, showing up later with The Resistance .

As for wasted characters Maz Kanata ,voiced by Lupita Nyong’o, is the thousand year old alien owner of The Force Awakens version of the Mos Eisley cantina. Maz is this films version of Yoda, basically Yoda as an orange old lady with glasses only without any of the charm or relevance. This is one of the most grating callbacks to the original trilogy because you’re not going to upstage Yoda with a character who has pretty much the same physical appearance and pretty much no narrative relevance.

Maz only exists as a means for Rey to get Luke’s old lightsabre which is sequestered in her basement for some reason. There’s no indication at all as to whether Maz even survives the assault on her castle which is destroyed by The First Order. The important thing is you have no reason to care because the character is rendered irrelevant narratively and no longer serves any purpose.

There are numerous aliens featured in Maz’s castle anyone of these could’ve potentially been Maz but they decided to go with a design that is almost exactly the same as Yoda’s.

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Captain Phasma, Gwendoline Christie, is utterly wasted in a role that amounts to little more than a cameo. The intimidating leader of the Stormtroopers has only a few brief scenes. An early scene features Finn fighting a random Stormtrooper who calls him a traitor, this could’ve been Phasma and would’ve given the character some actual purpose and also given the pair some history to build from in the on-going narrative.

Some of the main narrative problems with The Force Awakens lie with Rey though. Daisy Riddle’s Rey is in essence a great character and it’s fitting that the first new Star Wars film features a female protagonist because they are in distinct short supply. The problems aren’t with Riddle’s portrayal either, she’s a capable actress. Rey is introduced as a scavenger scraping a living by selling parts salvaged from crashed ships. Rey is no damsel in distress either, quickly dealing with hoodlums attempting to steal her salvage at one point.

Max Landis recently uploaded a video explaining his problems with the character and Finn after coming underfire for apparently being sexist and a racist for commenting on the characters via social media.  His problems with the characters had nothing at all to do with the characters gender or race but the writing, this says a lot about fandoms inability and unwillingness to accept any criticism of what they are a fan of.

Rey gets the most handwaving of all, she can somehow pilot the Millenium Falcon despite never being on the ship before and also knows how to run the ship better than Han Solo does. Her life of being a scavenger and selling salvaged ship parts apparently explains this.

The real problem though is as the story unfolds there are never any stakes at all for Rey. Throughout the story she deals with every situation she finds herself in with ease, in fact the only time she makes a mistake it works in her favour. She is only really in any kind of peril once when she is subdued by Kylo Ren and kidnapped. Then Rey uses The Force to make a Stormtrooper release her when captured and then later,despite having never used a lightsabre before and not being trained by anyone in the ways of The Force, Rey manages to not only call Luke’s lightsabre to her hand but also bests Kylo Ren before an earthquake due to the planets imminent destruction seperates the two in the films third act.

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Kylo Ren is supposed to be amongst the best that The First Order has to offer, the leader of the Knights Of Ren, trained by Luke Skywalker in the ways of The Force and later the pupil of the mysterious Lord Snoke the supreme commander of The First Order. Yet he is easily bested by Rey who never for a moment seems to be in any actual danger and nearly bested by Finn too. This says a lot about how woefully inept The First Order really are if Kylo Ren is the best they have. The underlying theme of Star Wars is good ultimately triumphs over evil but there’s no actual pay off if there’s no actual struggle between the two. There’s no narrative weight if Rey can easily deal with any obstacle in her path as easily as she does in The Force Awakens.

Just because Kylo Ren was winged by Chewbacca’s bowcaster after killing Han Solo and Rey possibly had some sort of training from Luke or someone else that was blocked or removed from her memory that she is now remembering doesn’t excuse such sloppy writing.

Despite the massive success of The Force Awakens at the Box Office and having a female protagonist Disney have still unsurprisingly fumbled massively on the merchandising front by apparently not even featuring Rey, the main character of the film, in a lot of their merchandise. The hashtag #WheresRey soon becoming popular on Twitter.

Kylo Ren is himself though a rather underwhelming antagonist. He wears a mask for no real reason other than trying to be intimidating but is prone to temper tantrums which is played for laughs more than being intimidating. One of the film’s most amusing scenes is when two patrolling stormtroopers stop their patrol and do a 180 when they realise Kylo Ren is having a tantrum and hacking things to bits with his lightsabre.

The frustrating thing is The Force Awakens is shot really well. The lightsabre duel in the snow covered forest is atmospheric, Kylo Ren’s confrontation with Han Solo is shot really well, The Resistance fighters battling with Tie Fighters is shot really well. Visually The Force Awakens is for the most part excellent it’s just a shame about the writing.

The main problem with The Force Awakens is good storytelling will make everything that happens seem feasible and be engrossing if the world and its characters are well crafted and failing that it should be executed that well that an audience are sucked into the narrative so overlook any such shortcomings. Ideally it should be both. Just expecting an audience to overlook things under the assumption they will be explained in the next film is the kind of writing that works on TV, because TV is episodic, but also you don’t have to wait 18 months or longer for the next episode and hope it all makes sense.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens isn’t a terrible film but it’s by no means an amazing one either.

The Potential of David Ayer’s Suicide Squad

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For those that don’t know Suicide Squad is a DC comic which first appeared (in this form anyways) in 1987. The basic concept, a black ops team made up of superpowered or highly skilled criminals working for a clandestine part of the U.S government. The team is overseen by Amanda Waller (played by Viola Davis in the upcoming film) a high ranking U.S official, the team is officially referred to as “Task Force X”. The team gained its other name due to the highly dangerous nature of the missions they are sent on which they are not expected to survive. Throughout the years numerous characters have featured in the squad with some like Deadshot becoming popular. DC relaunched the title recently as part of the New 52 with Harley Quinn, Deadshot, El Diablo and several other characters in the team.

One of the biggest assets that Suicide Squad has going for it though is it fits the “gritty” world setting far more than the woefully bad Man Of Steel did and will hopefully be less reliant on characters throwing each other into vehicles and then buildings in a poorly executed orgy of destruction. Taking the basis of the classic film The Dirty Dozen and reworking it as a Government black ops team made up of some of the worst and most dangerous criminals in DC’s universe is packed with potential. That the director and co writer is David Ayer, the writer of Training Day and writer/director of Fury and End Of Watch is yet more evidence that this could be one of the best films that DC has been involved with in years but how much the characters stay true to their comic origins remains to be seen.

The first trailer for the upcoming Suicide Squad was shown recently at SDCC but was inevitably leaked,with woefully bad quality video popping up on various websites. A short time later the suits at Time Warner after some standard blah,blah,blah about piracy being bad actually switched their brains on and released the trailer in HD. David Ayer’s film has a large ensemble cast playing a host of characters some more well known than others here’s some thoughts on a few of them.

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Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn

There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth throughout The Internet when the first shot of the cast in costume appeared. Those expecting the classic Harley Quinn (as originally seen in Batman The Animated Series before transitioning into comics due to the characters popularity) were left wanting and pretty much everyone else was left to complain about how the Harley Quinn as seen in the recent New 52 Suicide Squad wasn’t Harley Quinn anyways. This ignores the truth that characters in superhero comics change constantly in both appearance and often in abilities too.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Robbie ends up stealing the film. Robbie’s Harley is featured in the most memorable scenes shown in the trailer, including one that features her tearing through the streets in a car with Ben Affleck’s Batman holding on as she says “I hope you got insurance” flashing a big grin. Exactly what the origin of Harley is in the cinematic universe DC/Time Warner are making isn’t clear yet and neither is her relationship to another character namely The Joker. Much like The Joker Harley Quinn is criminally insane and shares his madcap sense of humour.

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Jared Leto as The Joker

Whether it’s the clowning of Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s 1989 film, “Where does he get those wonderful toys?”, or Heath Ledger’s unhinged turn in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight in 2008, “Let’s put a smile on that face!”, The Joker is the ying to Batman’s yang and Jared Leto faces the challenge of following two very different but very memorable takes on the character. One of the things that will set this take on The Joker apart is the character’s appearance which is a stark contrast with earlier depictions. An early shot of Leto’s as The Joker quickly generated a considerable backlash with many finding the characters appearance unintentionally comical.

What isn’t clear is exactly what the relationship between The Joker and Harley Quinn is in the cinematic universe DC/Time Warner is creating, anyone familiar with the characters will know that The Joker and Harley Quinn are connected originally having one of the most twisted relationships in comics before recent changes seperated the two characters with Harley setting out on her own path .

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Will Smith as Floyd Lawton aka Deadshot

The casting of Will Smith seemed somewhat at odds with the rest of the cast which is made up of relatively unknown actors. Floyd Lawton aka Deadshot is another of the most popular characters to feature in Suicide Squad but first appeared in Batman in the ’50’s. Lawton’s disregard for others and skills as a marksman make him an ideal assassin. The most recent comic had Deadshot as the leader of the Suicide Squad, a role which quickly grates on him, whether this will be his role in the upcoming film remains to be seen. Having Smith ,a charismatic actor who is associated with playing good characters, playing Deadshot is a bit leftfield given Deadshot is pretty much a sociopath.

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Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Waylon Jones aka Killer Croc

Originally appearing in Batman in the early 80’s Waylon Jones aka Killer Croc is one of the more interesting members of Ayer’s Suicide Squad and if the character stays true to his comic origins one of the few who has metahuman abilities. Killer Croc unlike most is more of a tragic and sympathetic character. Born with a variation of epidermolytic hyperkeratosis (bolstered by the presence of a metagene) Jones has the appearance of a reptile and various other associated attributes including enhanced strength, sense of smell and is adept at moving underwater. His appearance lead to being abused as a youth and beyond leading to a building sense of bitter misanthropy.

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Jay Hernandez as Chato Santana aka El Diablo

One of DC’s more obscure characters El Diablo has had several incarnations but this one, Chato Santana is a heavily inked former gang member with the ability to conjure and control fire. Much like Killer Croc El Diablo is another somewhat tragic character haunted by the innocent women and children he unintentionally killed after burning down a building whilst attempting to collect a debt he was owed. El Diabo is often consumed by self loathing and one of the more stoic characters often brooding and pensive contrasting with the likes of Harley Quinn.

Suicide Squad is set for release August 2016 check out the trailer below.

Jurassic World

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As frankensteinian in its creation as one of its main stars Jurassic World was stuck in development hell for several years and features a script that has been written and rewritten by numerous people and it really shows.

Set 23 years later on the island featured in Spielberg’s iconic film this time around the park has been inherited by wealthy playboy Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) and has been running like any other theme park. Just like any other theme park it needs new attractions to entice visitors as “de-extinction” is apparently old news. Jurassic World is betting on its latest “asset” a genetically engineered dinosaur built from scratch to wow visitors.

Young brothers Zak (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) are visiting their aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) Operations Manager for Jurassic World when unfortunately things don’t quite go to plan and it’s down to park ranger of sorts Owen (Chris Pratt) to deal with the fall out whilst Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) head of Ingen Security has his own plans.

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Jurassic World has plenty of similar narrative devices as its progenitor which is both good and bad.

There’s always been some sort of other worldy appeal to dinosaurs, something that seems so fantastical but isn’t because they were real living and breathing creatures rather than figments of the imagination. Jurassic Park tapped into this magnificently with an across the board appeal and Jurassic World a long awaited follow up, which wisely side steps two inferior sequels, will definitely have a distinct nostalgic appeal to a certain generation who were young teens when they saw Spielberg’s film and the idea they might be taking their own kids to see this film might explain its record breaking box office haul.

It should be said that logic has no place in Jurassic World, the idea that the park could be not only functional but thriving after the events of Jurassic Park is just one of several things that will derail this train. When it works it works brilliantly but when it doesn’t work it not only completely shatters your suspension of disbelief and makes plotholes (of which there are several) stand out but serves as a reminder of how Jurassic Park did everything better pretty much.

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After the amazing Mad Max Fury Road turned the rules of cinema on its head with glee the formulaic gender roles here are a bit grating, Howard in particular suffers at the hands of the script which features characters who are distinctly lacking in development. Howard’s Claire is a thinly sketched detached workaholic who doesn’t appreciate her family and through the course of the film demonstrates behaviour which makes her out to be not only utterly helpless but also rather stupid despite being the person apparently in charge of Jurassic World.

Pratt meanwhile fares better as the rugged archetypal hero who is more than just a gun toting grunt but rather channels some of the same charm seen in his turn as Starlord in Guardians of the Galaxy. Owen is one of the few people who realises the potential for disaster in Claire’s new attraction for the park and the whole “dino whisperer” aspect is played surprisingly well. Whilst D’Onofrio has little to do besides being one of the most obviously shady characters since Burke in Aliens, another film which this one borrows a scene from practically wholesale.

As for the obligatory “kids in peril” the contrast between the siblings is well played with Gray the younger of the two being a hyper dino expert giddy with excitement at the prospect of seeing real life dinosaurs whereas his older teenage brother is blasé about the whole affair and more interested in teenage angst and checking out girls at the park but you’re seldom actually invested in what happens to them.

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One of the more interesting aspects is the way the reality of Jurassic World is shown with various attractions rather the Safari Park affair seen in Jurassic Park, a Seaworld esque area housing a vast Mosasaurus (featured prominently in the trailers) being just one of numerous different attractions looking realistically plausible. There are numerous nods to Spielberg’s film throughout from visual cues like the infamous scene featuring the flock of stampeding Gallimimus to acknowledging the previous incarnation of the park in a more meta way.

Indominus Rex the new attraction could be seen as a walking nightmarish commentry about the effects that captivity  can have on animals, something which Pratt’s Owen makes abundantly clear to Howard’s oblivious Claire.  Knowing nothing other than the walls of its environment and being fed via crane a hostile first encounter with actual people is just a further catalyst for the fearsome beast to wreak havok on the island it’s experiencing for the first time . The contrast between Owen who see’s the dinosaurs as animals and Claire who sees them as “assets” with an attached cash value for the park underpins the pairs relationship dynamic.

This leads into one of the odd things about Jurassic World, you’re not really sure who’s side you’re supposed to be on the clueless Claire and the oblivious visitors to the park who number in the thousands or the dinosaurs. Indominus Rex isn’t “evil” but rather a product of its environment and callous treatment at the hands of its creators.

Jurassic World is marketed as a blockbuster film after all Jurassic Park was a milestone in cinema for numerous reasons but one being its breathtakingly realised visual FX a seamless blend of then cutting edge CG and practical FX work which still looks amazing today even 20 + years later so this should be mind blowing and yet for the most part it isn’t and it becomes really obvious as to why.

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Jurassic World is awash in CG FX to the point that it breaks your immersion at some points, seemingly existing in a world where gravity and mass don’t exist which has the complete opposite effect of what visual FX should have, it pushes you out of the film instead of sucking you in and you lose interest because you don’t care about the characters enough to stay grounded in this world. For every scene like this though there’s another that works impressively well but it is telling that one of the most effective scenes utilises practical animatronic FX rather than CG.

Ever since Sam Neil scared the shit out of that kid with a Velociraptor claw they’ve been an iconic part of the franchise and whilst other elements might not work brilliantly the ‘raptors are used to profoundly impressive effect and feature in the best scenes of the film by far and there’s a definite case of less is more in the utilisation of the franchises other big star which is a surprising and deft move.

Jurassic World is flawed, at times seemingly descending into self parody, but at times it also makes you feel like a 12 year old kid enthralled with the magic of cinema with a third act that is so utterly sublime you will become drunk on the joy of it and features a closing shot that sums up everything brilliant about the franchise.

Predator Dark Ages raises the bar for fan films.

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I mentioned Predator Dark Ages before a while back and I also wrote a review for Geek Pride before it premièred at MCM this past weekend but I thought I would mention it here again as it is now available to view and I’m one of the people who backed their crowd funding campaign.

Generally when it comes to fan films the passion and enthusiasm from those involved makes up for whatever it may lack in  production values and as much as I admired the concept and ideas behind Predator Dark Ages I wasn’t really expecting anything that different, then I watched it and it blew whatever preconceived notions I might have had into pieces.

Predator Dark Ages raises the bar for fan films simply put, in fact calling it a fan film seems to be somewhat derogatory for what the team of writer/director James Busche and DP Simon Dowling have achieved which is an incredibly well produced and well shot short film with a great cast based on a concept which is far more interesting the last big screen outing for the alien hunter.

Mad Max Fury Road

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Mad Max and its two sequels The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome remain some of the best B movie cult cinema there is starring a then unknown Mel Gibson and set in a post apocalyptic world in the badlands of Australia, a world where society has collapsed and oil is a scarce valued commodity.

George Miller’s sand choked world of warring gangs, desperate communities and vehicular combat has influenced numerous others in the years since its release with Beyond Thunderdome the third film being originally released in 1985, which to younger generations means centuries ago. The idea that the long mooted fourth Mad Max film is here in 2015 is a bit surreal really.

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The original trilogy were made on shoestring budgets even Beyond Thunderdome, the biggest production of the three, had a budget which amounts to peanuts compared to today’s blockbusters. Anyone who’s wondered what a Mad Max film would be like with a megabucks budget doesn’t need to wonder anymore but it does pose the question of whether a B movie is still a B movie if it has a blockbuster budget?

Marketing is a strange thing in film, especially now, where trailers are often packed with spoilerific highlights taken out of context, bereft of atmosphere and almost always undermine the viewers enjoyment of a film when it actually turns up and is inevitably disappointing being a victim of its own unending hype machine.

When the first trailer for Mad Max Fury Road turned up it pretty much blew everything away with its sheer visceral insanity but contrary to the norm the film itself more than lives up to the hype.

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Fury Road finds Max ,this time played by Tom Hardy, allying with the headstrong Furiosa, Charlize Theron, who is determined to find redemption by betraying her cruel master warlord Immortan Joe, played by Hugh Keays-Byrne (who played villian Toecutter in the original film). 

One thing that’s become distinctly apparent in film in the last decade or so is the slow saturation of digital FX, 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day wowed cinemagoers with its use of digital FX work but it was also reliant on the time honoured use of practical FX to ground the narrative in a believable real world. Since then though that duality has been pretty much lost leading to films which are all spectacle with nothing grounding them in the “real” world and coming off like confusing cartoons which rather than sucking you into the narrative push you out (see any of the Transformers films but especially Revenge of the Fallen onwards).

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George Miller isn’t having any of that though Mad Max Fury Road is two hours of real in your face vehicular carnage featuring some of the most insane stunts seen in film in years, and that’s not just empty hyperbole. There are digital FX here but they’re used the way they should be to enhance the practical FX.  Miller and co-writers Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris have triumphed where many assumed they would utterly fail, Fury Road leaves everything choking in the dust.

Watching the carnage unfold, Fury Road is in essence a feature length chase sequence, it not only highlights just how bad most modern action films are but also highlights the awe inspiring magic that is mostly missing from cinema now. Miller has apparently riled “mens rights activists” for a whole bunch of bullshit reasons but mainly because of his “feminist agenda” ironically though he’s also made one of the best action oriented films in years so maybe that says something about having a “feminist agenda”.

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Hardy is great as the stoic Max haunted by visions and nightmares and definitely living up to his prefix “Mad” whilst Theron’s Furiosa is arguably even more of a badass than Hardy’s Max in a role which is surely one of her all time best, Nicholas Hoult also gets a good turn as Nux.

The real star here though is the insane world that Miller has created with warlord Immortan Joe and his domain being just one small part of it, there’s no stodgy exposition here to explain things it just is and you have to hold on for the ride as Miller and co hit the gas.

Avengers: Age Of Ultron

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Avengers: Age Of Ultron was never going to have the same impact as Avengers Assemble, with that film now in the rear view mirror it’s easy to forget just how much of a big deal it was and how ambitious Marvel’s plans for a cinematic universe were. Now the Avengers are back with Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) Natasha Romanov/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) Thor (Chris Helmsworth) Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to face the threat of Ultron (voiced by James Spader) .

Succinctly put Age of Ultron does a lot of things well but others it fumbles with.

Marvel’s latest offering will probably leave those who haven’t seen Marvel’s previous films a little baffled, but given that Age Of Ultron is essentially the 11th film in a franchise then that’s a bit of a moot point really. The film starts bracingly in the midst of the group laying siege to the Hydra stronghold of Baron Von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) last seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This serves several functions narratively, it demonstrates that this is just another day at the office for the Avengers, it puts major things in place for what follows and it introduces two new characters Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) referred to as “the twins”.

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Here’s where things get messy, in Marvel’s comics X-Men’s Magneto is the Maximoff twins father, but due to a rather complicated situation involving his pregnant wife Magda running away to fictional country Transia and another character called the High Evolutionary they are raised by Romani couple Django and Marya Maximoff as their own. The twins featured in X-Men before then appearing in The Avengers about a year later. However due to a headache inducing rights issue none of this can actually feature or even be mentioned as Marvel don’t own the rights to the X-Men so can’t mention Magneto, as a result the Maximoff twins are instead reworked to be orphans whose parents died as a result of Tony Stark’s pre-Iron Man arms sales days and are picked up by Hydra and have been living for revenge against Stark ever since. This works in the context of the film, and it should be said that Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Quicksilver is a far more credible take on the character than the slacker played by Evan Peters in X-Men Days Of Future Past, but fans of Marvel’s comics might take umbrage at two of Marvel’s classic characters, both debuted in the 1960’s, being rehashed with completely different origins.

One of the best things about the Avengers films is the cast are not only excellent but have great chemistry so the scenes of them just hanging out at Avengers HQ have a vibrancy to them as well as being mined comedic beats like everyone trying to lift Thor’s hammer. Another aspect mined excellently for comedic effect is the juxtaposition between the mundanity of everyday life and the superheroic antics the Avengers find themselves in, one highlight being Renner’s Hawkeye deciding what he’s going to do regarding his home renovations whilst embroiled in a chase with Johansson’s Black Widow.  This chemistry follows through into the action scenes with the team behaving as a believable cohesive unit combining their powers to impressive effect on several occasions.

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The antagonist this time around is Ultron, a self aware A.I of Chitauri origin (a different origin to the comics Ultron) that runs amok after being programmed in secret by Tony Stark and Bruce Banner to be part of a defensive strategy to protect the Earth. Tony Stark’s ego and megalomania has been a recurring theme in Marvel’s films and really comes into play here convincing the more grounded Banner to work on the project without informing the rest of the team. One of the big hurdles that  Ultron faces is following on from fan favourite Loki played by the immensely popular Tom Hiddleston , where Loki was charismatic despite being treacherous Ultron is another thing entirely. Spader’s delivery is more akin to a disappointed teacher than a genocidal maniac.

Ultron is an enemy who isn’t bound to a single physical form and this is something which is used to impressive effect and something the theam fail to grasp at first with Spader’s Ultron pointing out to one of the Avengers fighting him “I’m already there, you’ll catch on” in a droll manner. Spader is great as Ultron with an aloof and egotistical bent to his dialogue much like Tony Stark his progenitor.

Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are summed up by SHIELD’s Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) with the phrase “He’s fast. She’s weird” and that really seems appropriate for Wanda’s somewhat  ill defined powers. Taylor-Johnson and Olsen do a good job though as the naive twins that Ultron takes advantage of who slowly realise that the world isn’t the way they though it was and there’s some genuine pathos to the pair.

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There are some impressive action pieces although occasionally it does become a case of Michael Bay style what the hell’s going on CG FX confusion but there’s still some classic old school action, a chase involving Black Widow tearing through the streets on a motorbike is particularly good, it’s frenetic and it’s always good to see it’s not just the guys that can kick ass and do the action stuff, which is something that’s been distinctly missing in Marvel’s output thus far on the whole.

Another big set piece which featured in trailers is the fight between Hulk and Iron Man. Banner’s been living with the nightmare of the carnage he could cause if he lost control to the point that he and Stark have designed a contingency plan codenamed Veronica, known to comic fans as Hulkbuster. The whole scenario is comic book hi-jinks writ large, it adds nothing to the on-going narrative but it’s an impressive spectacle and one of the best FX sequences.

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It’s not all action though as Banner and Romanov have built up a believable raport with Romanov finding common ground with the haunted Banner due to her past as an assassin, it’s this that really makes gives Johansson and Ruffalo some great character work with both of them convincingly portraying how haunted and damaged they are, something which seperates them from the other members on the team. This also makes me wonder why Marvel isn’t doing a Black Widow solo film, there’s a big name attached, the character is already established, there’s plenty of potential story there but no apparently Marvel thinks nobody is interested in that.

Which is possibly connected to Disney/Marvel’s apparent indifference to a certain demographic of  their fanbase when it comes to  merchandise, prompting the hashtag #WheresNatasha on Twitter and even Mark Ruffalo speaking out on the subject. Which is apparently connected to Disney being perfectly happy hawking princess related merch to girls because that’s what girls are supposed to like and Marvel is for boys.

The rapport between Banner and Romanov is used as the basis of some pretty cheap jokes courtesy of Robert Downey Jr’s Stark, whilst it fits his character of being charismatic enough to get away with being a bit of a dick, it’s lazy writing and the sort of casual sexism you don’t really expect from Whedon.

One of the things that does seem apparent though is writer/director Joss Whedon seems to struggle at times with giving all the characters something to do, especially outside of the action. At one point Thor disappears to have a vision quest in a cave somewhere and the whole thing seems incredibly contrived (this however may be due to the editing with an extended edition apparently set to appear) and there’s a few “oh they’re busy” lines to explain away the absence of certain characters.

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 Sometimes Age Of Ultron does suffer from the classic comics problem of “just because you can feature a certain character it doesn’t mean you should” with appearances from several characters from the various Marvel films, this makes sense logically in a shared universe but not so much narratively.

If anyone is the real stand out it’s Paul Bettany’s The Vision, a corporeal manifestation of Tony Stark’s computer programme J.A.R.V.I.S powered by the Mind Stone one of the infinity gems. Bettany has voiced the A.I since Marvel’s Iron Man and whilst not on screen his voice has become as associated with Iron Man as Robert Downey Jr’s and the appearance of The Vision has been a point of discussion among fans for a long time. Bettany’s character stands out despite not having much screen time because of his mild mannered delivery and because his scenes have a real impact, one rendering the bickering team debating their next move speechless and a scene with Spader’s Ultron is particularly poignant.

Avengers: Age Of Ultron isn’t a bad film but it also inevitably fails to capture the energy and excitement of its predecessor and like many of Marvel’s films seems to follow a somewhat predictable narrative pattern, also it does leave one to wonder just how long Marvel can keep so many plates spinning before one falls to the floor and smashes.

Why you should be excited about Neill Blomkamp revitalising the flatlining Alien franchise .

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Recently Neill Blomkamp ,the writer/director behind impressive sci-fi ventures District 9, Elysium and the upcoming Chappie, announced that after posting some intriguing concept art based on his ideas for a new Alien film he’s actually been for talks with Fox and is actually set to make that new Alien film.

The Alien franchise is one of the most beloved sci-fi film franchises there is (the only real competition is The Terminator franchise) something that both franchises have in common though is the first two entries in the series are seen as the best even though they are very different.

Whilst Ridley Scott’s Alien blew film fans minds with its claustrophobic haunted house in space set up ,featuring H.R Giger’s nightmare inducing xenomorph, James Cameron’s follow up Aliens took Giger’s creature and incorporated it into one of the best sci-fi action films made. Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley ,who found herself in a seemingly unending nightmare facing shady corporations along with deadly predacious aliens, was being a strong female character before that was even a thing that people talked about.

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David Fincher’s Alien 3, the now critically acclaimed film makers debut, started off by jettisoning the characters that were so integral to Aliens namely Corporal Hicks memorably played by Michael Biehn (there’s a Terminator connection) and Newt played by Carrie Hen. The underlying theme of Aliens was Ripley’s surrogate family with Newt taking the place of her real daughter with Hicks being the father figure and Lance Henriksen’s Bishop being the wacky but cool uncle.

Could a third Alien film have worked with this surrogate family unit, that’s a debatable point that can’t really be answered but Alien 3 is probably just behind Jodorowsky’s Dune in the potentially amazing film that failed to materialise stakes. Mired with problems it was originally supposed to take place on a wooden planet inhabited by monks. The fourth film Alien Resurrection tackled the problem of Ripley dying in the last film as French auteur Jean-pierre Jeunet directed with a script from Joss Whedon, yes that Joss Whedon, but it was met by mixed responses and original alien designer H.R Giger didn’t hold back his contempt for being repeatedly snubbed by Fox despite being fundamental to the franchises success.

The nearest thing to a new Alien film in recent years has been the rather maligned Alien Vs Predator films, more on those later, and Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. Scott’s return to the Alien universe after 30 something years was kind of a big deal, even if Prometheus was to be a prequel of sorts. Unfortunately it was massively anti-climatic thanks to what many have said is woefully poor writing. Prometheus is so riddled with seemingly illogical events that lots of people have invested time in trying to actually explain why things happened the way they did.

When someone needs to make a 30 minute video explaining why everything in your film happened the way it did because the majority of people that watched it were just utterly bewildered and that explanation requires you to reference things off the internet just to understand the story of said film then it’s a sign that something went wrong somewhere. Even a star turn from Michael Fassbender and some impressive visuals couldn’t save it from being mocked by some due to all these illogical events and apparent plotholes though.

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Now nearly 20 years later Neill Blomkamp is making a new Alien film.  Whilst Blomkamp’s ideas are still under wraps amongst other things the concept art shows a scarred Hicks.  Outside of rehashing the cloning plot device of Alien Resurrection this could imply that Blomkamp’s film is a follow on from James Cameron’s Aliens. This would make the upcoming Alien film something even more exciting given that Aliens is far more popular with film fans than than Alien 3 or Alien: Resurrection. Concept art also shows one of the Engineers ships, as originally seen in Alien, in a vast warehouse of some description. Further complications arise as to whether Scott’s Prometheus will factor into Blomkamp’s film or at least the Engineers which are the progenitors of the xenomorph.

One of the fundamental factors to the enduring appeal of the Alien franchise along with Giger’s designs is the memorable special effects. Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff,Jr are two of the people responsible for those effects. The pairs studio Amalgamated Dynamics Inc has worked on a variety of films and the pair have a established a legion of fans through their talent for practical film effects work. This legion of fans are the people that crowdfunded Harbinger Down and Fire City which I mentioned a while back.

The most exciting prospect of Neill Blomkamp’s Alien film is having one of the most impressive newcomers in film, whose films in a contrast to many, many others have featured some brilliantly executed digital effects potentially working with Amalgamated Dynamics Inc. The Alien Vs Predator films as maligned as they might be by many show what ADI can pull off with modern technology even on a modest budget.

There are some that might think that Fox is just rehashing it’s best known films for a younger audience (much like the upcoming Terminator Genisys seems to be doing) but if anyone is going to bring some new ideas to the Alien franchise and make an Alien film that”s actually worth making it’s Neill Blomkamp and you can bet that Fox is thinking the same.

Street Fighter Assassin’s Fist

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When it comes to video games making the transition into live action the results are seldom good. There have been numerous attempts at translating popular game franchises to the big screen and with very few exceptions they have all failed miserably. From Super Mario Bros to Tomb Raider and more they’ve left viewers, and fans especially, nonplussed or genuinely bewildered at exactly what they’ve just seen.

Taking what is an interactive experience and changing it into what is a hopefully an immersive passive experience is not easy by any means and the few exceptions are seen as a guilty pleasure, Mortal Kombat , or well intentioned but flawed curios like Resident Evil, Silent Hill . Street Fighter Assassin’s Fist might conjure up the phrase Danger, Will Robinson! given that the idea of live action Street Fighter is associated with one of the worst examples of game to film ever to materialise but ‘Assassin’s Fist is a labour of love by director/writer/actor/fight choreographer Joey Ansah and fellow actor/writer Christian Howard.

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Born of a desire to produce a live action take on the story of some of the characters from one of the most popular game franchises ever ‘Assassin’s Fist appeared as a web series on Youtube hosted by Machinima and proved so popular it’s now available on DVD/Blu-ray. The web series has now been edited into a feature length film. The story is based around two of the most iconic characters from the games, Ryu and Ken, played by Mike Moh and Howard.

The mild mannered Ryu has been raised in the secluded dojo since he was a child whilst the American Ken is more impulsive and rebellious . The pairs time learning the ways of martial arts style Ansatsuken from their sensei  Gôken ,played by Akira Koieyama, in a secluded Japanese dojo makes up just part of the story. The other part of the narrative is the past of Gôken himself as the young sensei, played by Shogen Itokazu, trains alongside his brother Goki, played by Gaku Space, under the tutelage of master Gôtetsu played by Togo Igawa.

The term web series might make you think poor quality or low budget but the crew behind ‘Assassin’s Fist make things look just as good as big budget feature. One of the appealing aspects is this isn’t aimed purely at hardcore Streetfighter fans, you don’t have to be well versed in the mythology that has built up over years to become engrossed in the unfolding narrative although there are several nods that fans will pick up on, especially music cues.

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Whatever the budget was it’s well utilised, Assassin’s Fist looks great and has some great locations. One of the perhaps surprising aspects is just how well FX are both integrated and executed in the story. Special FX are often the downfall of many a well intentioned film, even those with vast budgets can be hampered with poor digital FX which completely take the viewer out of the story.

The cast is great all ’round Howard and Moh not only look the part but are believable as life long friends that have grown up together. Koieyama makes for a good master too. Whilst there’s plenty of well choreographed action to be found more than anything the story of ‘Assassin’s Fist is one of brotherhood and the seductive appeal of power, with the bond between Ken and Ryu contrasting with the relationship between Gôken and Goki. Sayaka played by Hyunri Lee and Igawa’s Gôtetsu are fundamental to the pairs relationship. Writing, directing and doing the fight choreography wasn’t enough for Joey Ansah who also makes a memorable appearance as Akuma the antagonist of the story.

One of the impressive facets about ‘Assassin’s Fist though was that a good deal of it is actually in Japanese with subtitles, which is exactly how it should be for a story set in rural Japan. That subtitles make people avoid things is an inherently sad state of affairs and it’s great that Ansah and Howard did it anyway even if it risked alienating some viewers.

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

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A Dame To Kill For is the follow up film to 2005’s Sin City and is once again based on the graphic novels by Frank Miller and Directed Robert Rodriguez and Miller .

Again a set of vignettes featuring several inhabitants of Basin City, the shadowy city of corrupt politicians, dirty cops, dames and bruisers. This film just like the previous one is chock full of hardboiled dialogue, ultra-violence and sex, in fact it probably features more, especially of the latter. The recognisable film processing returns as well rendering the film in stylised black and white with colourisation being used to highlight certain elements throughout with many scenes replicating Frank Miller’s art .

Kadie’s Saloon once again serves as a hub for the action with Marv (Mickey Rourke) knocking back drinks and watching over dancer Nancy (Jessica Alba). Dwight (Josh Brolin) has attempted to put his shady past behind him – now making a vaguely more honest living as a P.I catching out cheating husbands however Dwight finds things spinning out of control when he stumbles across his former lover, Ava Lord (Eva Green).

Elsewhere Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is back in town with a score to settle.

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Mickey Rourke’s anti-hero Marv is once again one of the highlights for numerous reasons not only is Rourke’s performance impressive , his gravel throated voice is exactly how you would expect Marv to sound but with some subtle prosthetics he looks so much like the character it’s uncanny. Whilst Marv is a nigh invulnerable bruiser his fractured memory and reliance on his pills add a sympathetic layer to a character who is essentially a psychotic killer with good intentions. The introductory story “Just Another Saturday Night” paints a vivid picture of an average day for Marv, dazed and confused looking at a dead body and two smashed up cars, one of them a cop car and trying to figure out how he got there and what happened.

The main story “ A Dame To Kill For” is that of Dwight as he finds himself unable to resist the pull of his old life and his old lover Ava. Brolin captures Dwight’s mental turmoil well, like the junkie who’s determined to stay clean but inevitably goes back for another fix. Green is in her element as the devious and manipulative femme fatale Ava who wields her sexuality like a weapon pulling several men’s strings and the interplay between her and Brolin is great.

Green spends as much time out of her clothes as in them which works perfectly in the context of the story, it serves to show exactly why Dwight and so many others become playthings for her to manipulate. The stylised nature of many of her scenes also renders her into shadow much like Frank Miller’s art which is never explicit in it’s depictions of sex.

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Elsewhere the story stumbles a little, Johnny’s story “The Long Bad Night” finds him seeking out the nefarious Senator Roark played with gusto by Powers Boothe. With the rest of the characters already being familiar Joseph Gordon Levitt’s card sharp stands out and not in a good way. His story seems somewhat superfluous as it has no connection to any of the other characters which is what makes Sin City work, the interconnectedness of the characters lives. This story serves more as a reminder of just how heinous Senator Roark is.

The other story “The Angel Of Death” features Alba’s Nancy as she deals with the death of Hartigan (Bruce Willis) becoming withdrawn constantly thinking about killing the untouchable Roark. Nancy and Marv’s relationship really comes into play here as the hulking bruiser really is a surrogate father to the dancer that everyone drools over. Alba is great as the haunted but feisty dancer and one exchange between the two sums them both up brilliantly with Nancy stating “Looks like trouble” and Marv replying with a laugh and saying “Looks like Christmas” . This is definitely the better of the two written for the screen stories adding a real sense of closure.

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A Dame To Kill For has rather notedly bombed at the Box Office in comparison to the previous film there are likely myriad reasons for this one of the main ones being it took so long for this film to show up, nearly ten years. Ten years is a long time. Another factor being the look of the film which dazzled people the first time around doesn’t have the same effect due to the familiarity even though it’s still impressively shot.

The first film was surprisingly popular despite its relatively unknown source material, it was a cult film that punched above its weight and viewed in the context of Marvel’s now common place smash hit films based on comics this follow up is seen unfairly as a  disappointment . This is missing the point entirely. Sin City was never intended to be for a mainstream audience, the stories are just as dark,  brutal and ugly as the characters but it’s a compelling and seductive darkness.  As Marv memorably put it Walk down the right back alley in Sin City, and you can find anything”

One thing that will puzzle those not overly familiar with Frank Miller’s graphic novels is the chronology of the story, as it isn’t linear as might be expected . Despite being seperate stories, several of the “yarns” in Sin City take place at the same time just in different places with different characters. This explains the presence of Marv here despite what happens at the end of The Hard Goodbye which was in the first film. Equally many may not grasp that Josh Brolin is playing the same character as Clive Owen did, although A Dame To Kill For takes place before The Big Fat Kill which was in the previous film in which Dwight has a new face, which explains why having Brolin play him here actually makes sense narratively. The Angel of Death however takes place after the events of That Yellow Bastard.

Predator Dark Ages

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Whilst the internet might be abuzz about Shane Black’s upcoming take on Predator , which apparently is set to be a sequel rather than a “reboot”, with zero details regarding exactly what Black and writing partner Fred Dekker are doing with the iconic alien hunter there’s another Predator oriented venture to be far more excited about – Predator Dark Ages.

The Kickstarter project from James Bushe and Simon Rowling is set to transplant the Predator into the past. The pair want to make a short film that pits a group of the Knights Templar against the Predator in the English countryside.

It’s already been established that the Predators have been hunting on Earth for hundreds if not thousands of years, as indicated in Predator 2 when Danny Glover’s Harrigan is handed an 18th century pistol by a Predator elder as a reward for defeating one of their hunters.

The Predators advanced technology also indicates they are far more advanced than man which would tie in with their hunting on Earth for many years.2014-07-01_2357

The concept for Predator Dark Ages is set in an unspecified age (but somewhere around the 12th century at a guess) and features a band of battle weary Knights Templar just returned to England from an overseas campaign only to find the countryside of their home besieged by a demon.

The Knights Templar are charged by the Church to track down the demons that is terrorising the countryside and put it to the sword.

The leader of the Knights Templar, having seen many of his brothers fall in service of an uncaring God, has lost faith though in Man and God, and the group are reliant on a single eye witness who claims to have seen the demon with his own eyes.

In essence Predator Dark Ages blends Ridley Scott’s Kingdom Of Heaven with the tone of Christopher Smith’s Black Death and the original Predator film.

If the pair manage to get £10,000 the pair are going to create a polished 25 minute short film based on the concept.

What I like most about this idea, besides showing more potential than many films with ridiculously high budgets *cough* Michael Bay *cough*,  is seeing a Predator in the past. This is an idea that’s  rich with potential after all history is full of fearsome warriors that carved out their own far reaching empires , the Vikings, the Romans, the Mongols and more besides and the Predator culture revolves around taking on worthy oponents.

Whilst the actual culture of the Predators has been loosely sketched at best, it’s been established they have a tribal culture of sorts with elders and they have a code of honour of sorts recognising and rewarding worthy foes.

For more details visit Predator Dark Ages    or find them on Facebook and Twitter

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