Rise Of The Guardians (2012)

It sounds like the opening to a potentially offensive joke. Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy walk into a bar…

DreamWorks Animation gets the last laugh with Rise Of The Guardians, though. Their latest CGI adventure is a glittering yuletide yarn that just about overcomes its gimmicky concept.

Following on from the successes of How To Train Your Dragon and the Kung Fu Pandas, ROTG warps traditional fairytales as childhood ‘Guardians’ North (ie Santa, voiced by Alec Baldwin), E. Aster Bunnymund (Hugh Jackman) and Tooth (Isla Fisher) unite against nightmare-spreading boogeyman Pitch (Jude Law).

Notions that this is basically a Christmas version of Avengers Assemble, though, prove unfounded.

With its watery opening shot of soon-to-be-Guardian Jack Frost (Chris Pine) drifting in icy purgatory, it’s more like a kiddies Bourne Identity.

As Frost battles his amnesia and becomes an action hero, all that’s missing is Matt Damon ramming pens into unfortunate places.

Also missing, sadly, is a script that really gets its larger-than-life characters interacting with each other. Despite all the rampant, twinkly magic, there are few sparks flying between our motley crew.

The best exchange comes when everybody clambers into Santa’s pimped-out sled. “I hope you like loop-the-loops,” the jolly fellow bellows. “I hope you like carrots,” mutters Bunny.

Visually, things are bright and crisp as Christmas morning. With Guillermo del Toro on producing duties, ROTG looks a million bucks.

The 3D jerks to life inside Santa’s toyshop, a banquet of background detail, while the sorcery-infused battle scenes swoop, sparkle and occasionally terrify.

The pacing also takes no prisoners – Guardians is like an OCD moppet hopped up on Haribos, which is both a positive and a negative thing.

From its mysterious opening gambit right up to its firecracker finale, there’s no fat to be found here. Even Santa’s now a brawny Russian with bricklayer’s forearms. At the midway point, big red stops to reveal what makes him tick: wonder.

He wants to be awed by things. Rise Of The Guardians takes that philosophy as gospel. It’s a film so desperate to have us gawping at its pretty visuals that it forgets to craft its story with the same amount of care.

Verdict: More “oooh… aaah” than “ho-ho-ho”, ROTG is so full of yuletide razzmatazz that only true Scrooges will have trouble stomaching it. If only Santa’s workshop had given the script more of a tinker… 3/5

Via Total Film

The Story Behind Kung Fu Panda 2

“Since the release of Kung Fu Panda, there has been one burning question that people are desperate to answer,” says director Jennifer Yuh Nelson. “The question that defies explanation is: Why is Po’s dad a goose?”

It’s a head-scratcher, to be sure, especially since the Po in question is that film’s eponymous panda. An irksome conundrum, and a fittingly oddball one for a film that came out of nowhere and surprised even the most ardent Pixar fans with its creative animation and winsome storyline.

Released in 2008, Kung Fu Panda amassed a colossal $633m worldwide, garnered warm reviews (“A master [course] in cunning visual art and ultra-satisfying entertainment,” said TIME) and landed an Oscar nom in the Best Animated Feature Film category.

A return trip to ancient China and the world of Po (Jack Black) was pretty much a sure thing – and the seeds of a sequel had already been sewed in that paternity mystery.

“For Po, the Dragon Warrior, it was logical for him to finally realise his father is not his biological father and to seek his origin,” agrees Nelson. Adds producer Melissa Cobb: “We always imagined we had more story to tell with the continuation of Po and his journey…”

Brawn off!

Two super-size trailers have crash landed online today in the form of a suped-up second Green Lantern showcase and our first look at Jason Momoa in greased-up action as Conan The Barbarian. Both look like your typical, bloated summer blockbusters, packed with soaring CGI-scapes and heroes you can really believe in. Both are for movies that seem to be generating a rippling sea of shrugs throughout the movie world.

To be fair, this fresh Lantern trailer at least gives us some awesome imagery in the form of an all-out assault on Earth, while Peter Sarsgaard looks suitably hideous as big-brained Dr Hector Hammond. Blake Lively, though, looks bored out of her mind, while the CGI Lanterns are still all, well, cheesily CGI.

As for Conan, did nobody learn from The Scorpion King?

What I really care about is who’d win in a fight between the two super men. Conan vs Green Lantern! Now that’s a trailer I’d be interested in seeing…


Green Lanterns away

Briefly: there’s a new poster out for Green Lantern. And much like all the other promotional material for the film, it’s not exactly set my world aflame with nail-chomping anticipation. With news arriving this week that the film’s received a budget boost of $9m to fix its special effects (that’ll teach them for robbing Ryan Reynolds of a real super-suit), it looks like the debate over just how bad Lantern could be is going to rage on right up to its 17 June release date.

Admittedly, I have the same concerns for Lantern as I did for Thor (which, actually, I ended up really liking). Namely that all the crazy CGI and space-y stuff will feel too hokey when set down next to a modern-day Earth setting. That said, it does have some pluses going for it – Blake Lively impressed with The Town (tonally a million miles away from Lantern, true), Ryan Reynolds can be charismatic if he checks the goofy gurning at the door (see Buried), and director Martin Campbell is definitely no hack (he gave us Casino Royale and GoldenEye, but he also gave us the woeful Edge Of Darkness).

In short: jury’s still out concerning whether or not Warner Bros can turn Lantern into a massive money-maker while delivering something of franchise-birthing quality. But based on promo work like this, which is just too Photoshop-heavy for my taste, we’re still in for a very rough ride.

Christina Ricci Q&A [Speed Racer]

So this is your first big action blockbuster…
You’re right, I haven’t done an action film before in any way, shape or form. And this movie, even though a lot of things are [CGI], it’s still very action-y, we still had to train for things, there’s still a lot of fighting in it. So it was really, really fun. Afterwards I was just like, ‘I only wanna do action films.’

The action sounds like it was a blast…
My shining moment was when I learned from our head stunt person – [Chad Stahelski] who doubled Keanu in The Matrix – how to pick up a gun mid-cartwheel, land, and aim. I’m like, ‘I’m done. I have arrived, that’s all I need.’

What was it like working entirely against green screen?
Every day we walked into a giant neon green sound stage. What I did was give myself over to Andy and Larry’s imagination. If you let go of any self-consciousness and just kind of go for it, you trust them and you look at it as fun, it ends up just being fun. You feel like you’re a kid play acting all the time.

What attracted you to the part of Trixie?
She’s an awesome role model for girls. She does things like fighting and driving, she flies her own helicopter. But she has a special outfit for each activity, so she gets to be as girly as she wants and do all the things the boys do. That’s feminism, right there.

Via Total Film