The Summer of Sci-Fi

Okay, I will admit it: only fairly recently have I jumped on the sci-fi bandwagon. I have always enjoyed the odd science fiction film, but I used to be much more of a drama or comedy guy. Not anymore. Over the past two years, I have really begun to develop an admiration — through intrigue and awe — for science fiction. I think it started around the time Ridley Scott’s Prometheus was announced. Having never watched the Alien films (I have now) I was surprised that Prometheus had grabbed my attention as much as it did. The plot sounded interesting, the poster looked ominous, the actors lined up were of a very high calibre. Then the trailer arrived and I was completely sold. The mood set in the trailer was outstanding — total atmospheric eeriness. In terms of the film itself, I went to the cinema to see the day it came out and, in my opinion, it lived up to the hype. Perhaps having not seen any of the Alien films beforehand I went in with a different mindset to those who had seen them — I was not expecting a lot of Alien-related content because I didn’t really know what Alien-related content would look like.

But I digress. This summer — and beyond — we have the pleasure of being offered a significant number of science fiction films in cinemas. Having just finished my exams at university, I have only been afforded the chance to go to the cinema once in the last few weeks and that was to see Iron Man 3. But now that I am off university and free to do what I like for five months, the cinema beckons along with the upcoming sci-fi films. Up first, at the end of March The Host was released in cinemas, starring Saoirse Ronan, and having been panned more or less by critics — holding a 9% rating on Rotten Tomatoes — it has performed pretty well at the box office. Up next, the highly anticipated Oblivion, starring Tom Cruise. I regret not seeing this film in cinema as, at least for an hour, it harps back to classic sci-fi films like Silent Running and Total Recall according to Mark Kermode of Mayo and Kermode’s Film Reviews on BBC 5 Live. Other reviews have been moderate to favourable and the film has grossed over $200 million dollars. Of course, the biggest and most looked forward to science fiction film of the summer has to be Star Trek: Into Darkness (which I plan to do a blog post on soon, watch this space).

Following that are films such as The Purge (2013) starring Lena Heady and This Is the End (2013) with an ensemble of comedy stars. In July, Pacific Rim hits cinemas — perhaps literally going by the trailers. Billed as Giant robots vs. Giant monsters, Pacific Rim has a tough job in ensuring it does not just become a film where, well, giant robots hit giant monsters. The well-publicised Elysium begins screening towards the end of August — a futuristic take on current political issues, helmed by Matt Damon and Jodie Foster. Before the summer ends, The World’s End (hopefully not) will complete Edgar Wright’s “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy” and again it boasts the funny duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Even after summer, the science fiction fountain keeps flowing with the likes of Riddick, Ender’s Game and the second part of The Hunger Games franchise — Catching Fire.

I guess the reasoning behind this blog post is to not only give you an insight into how I got into science fiction, but also encapsulate how much the genre dominates our cinemas. Back in the 1970s and 80s — when I was not alive — sci-fi films were at the forefront of cinema: films like Blade Runner, Silent Running, The Terminator, and even before then Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Perhaps now, in 2013, science fiction is on a parabolic rise and hitting a return to form. Or maybe not. Perhaps it is simply an easier way for filmmakers to grab an audience’s attention with awesome visuals. But why can’t it be both? I for one am very much looking forward to this summer and am excited to get stuck into some sci-fi — are you?

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Iron Man 3 (2013)

★★★

Director: Shane Black

Release Date: April 25th, 2013 (UK); May 3rd, 2013 (US)

Genre: Superhero

Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce

The third instalment in the Iron Man franchise takes place sometime after the events of The Avengers. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey Jr) finds himself suffering from nightmares and panic attacks as a result of his experiences in New York with the Avengers. An increasingly apprehensive ‘Pepper’ Potts (Paltrow), Stark’s girlfriend and CEO of Stark Industries, struggles to maintain Stark’s attention due to his obsession with building countless Iron Man suits. Meanwhile, a series of bombings orchestrated by an uncontrollable and decisive terrorist known as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) has left the world in panic. Stark must find a way juggle his personal life with Pepper, whilst protecting her, with fighting back against the Mandarin and the path of destruction he has left behind.

The very first thing I would like to say about this film is that — despite its shortcomings — it is very entertaining. Shane Black has recaptured the fireworks that Iron Man 2 had lost, providing a fast-paced plot. The huge set pieces such as the plane (shown in the trailer) and the dock sequence are hugely impressive, with engrossing action that never at any point lost my attention. As a matter of fact, the action in this film is equally as good as the action on display in Iron Man. Shane Black obviously not only has an eye for amazing visuals, but also an ear for wit as Iron Man 3 produces the best comedy of the three films — primarily from the on form Downey Jr, displaying his usual acting tendencies. The success of the witty, smart script is most likely a product of Black’s work with Downey Jr in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The cast are also solid, with actors such as the dependable Don Cheadle contributing genuine performances.

“I must be losing my mind.”

Having said all of that, I do not believe that Iron Man 3 quite met the lofty heights of Iron Man. The plot, while fun and entertaining, was not as intriguing, and any intrigue it did have in the first half of the film was lost after a key plot development that I will discuss in the spoilers section of this review. The most disappointing aspect of this film for me though, was the misuse of two of its characters. Rebecca Hall — who plays former love interest of Stark and botanist, Maya Hansen — undergoes more attitude changes than Jack Nicholson in The Shining! Whilst she plays the role absolutely fine, the role itself is flawed and might have benefited from a little more screen time, or, in a perfect world, more development.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

I have seen many character twists in numerous different films in my fairly short existence, but I cannot remember being more disappointed than by the development of Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin in Iron Man 3. For an hour or so, the Mandarin is depicted as a merciless, creepy, fearful villain — perhaps the best villain of the Iron Man franchise so far. Then, out of nowhere, we discover he is merely an actor (how ironic) hired by Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian to be the face of a new terrorist plot — shielding Killian from any suspicion and allowing him to develop and undertake a plan to capture Pepper Potts and inject her with his Extremis virus (which regenerates body parts) in order to gain Stark’s attention and force him to fix the faults in the virus — or risk losing Potts. Killian is a decent, sly villain however he is nothing compared to the Mandarin and the potential Shane Black had created with that character in the film’s opening hour. I would have much preferred it if Killian turned out to be a sidekick to the Mandarin and not the actual Mandarin himself.

“I am the Batman.”

Finally, the last few scenes were also slightly problematic to me. We are to understand that after all off the ordeals Stark and Potts have gone through, that Stark is now putting Iron Man on the back-burner (which obviously cannot be true anyway) to rekindle his relationship with Potts. But then, after having the shrapnel removed from his heart and after destroying his Iron Man costumes, Stark visits the location of his former home and collects part of the machinery controlled by JARVIS — perhaps indicating that he is not done with Iron Man. Where the problem lies for me is that if he did plan on recovering such machinery (the same machinery he uses to create Iron Man suits) why did he destroy all of his Iron Man suits in the first place?

SPOILERS FINISHED

Despite its shortcomings, Shane Black succeeds in creating a fun, entertaining and hugely enjoyable third part to the Iron Man franchise which is funniest instalment to date.