Snow White And The Huntsman (2012)

Naturally, it begins with “once upon a time”. And yes, along the way there’s romance, a poisoned apple, a stimulating smooch and a queen with a heart as black as coal.

But despite Kristen Stewart’s pasty-faced princess catching the covetous moongazes of at least two would-be suitors, this fantasy epic’s more about kicking arses than kissing them.

This isn’t the same gilded fairy-land Tarsem Singh upchucked with his yawny Mirror Mirror. Within minutes we’re neck-deep in a bloody battlefield, where King Magnus (Noah Huntley) discovers the bedazzling Ravenna (Charlize Theron), takes her as his new queen, then finds himself at the wrong end of a very sharp blade.

Seizing the throne for herself, Ravenna banishes her step-daughter Snow White (Kristen Stewart) to a dank cell and plunges her kingdom into a rotting fug. When Snow comes of age, she flees the castle, only to have Ravenna send the strapping, booze-glugging Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) into the Dark Forest after her. Will it all end happily ever after?

It’s never really a question. Though first-time feature director Rupert Sanders is keen to subvert the original Grimm tale for goth-action thrills, he shies away from all-out revisionism.

A former ad man (he directed an impressive Halo 3 commercial), Sanders got the gig on the strength of a promo reel he stitched together to show off his idiosyncratic vision for the film.

That vision is SWATH’S main strength. Haunted woods, Theron bathing in a vat of creamy milk, then smashing apart into dozens of flapping ravens… The images are stark and effective, and SWATH heaves with tangibly craggy landscapes that are part Dagobah, part Winterfell, entirely believable.

Sadly, the story never matches the exhilarating optics. While Theron’s mental, soul-sucking queen offers theatrical menace, and the numerous action clashes easily get pulses pumping, the plot’s limited to a series of encounters between Snow and often unremarkable B characters.

Of those, Sam Claflin’s useless Prince William (no really) comes off the worst, while poor old Lily Cole puts in a blank, blink-miss performance. Even Hemsworth’s loveable lug is lumbered with an off-kilter Scottish burr.

Leave it to Bob Hoskins and Ray Winstone’s octet of mushroom-loving dwarves to lighten the often funereal mood. Singing, dancing, adorably savage, they brighten up SWATH’s second act with warmth and humour.

In a film more in love with its eye-catching terrains than its characters, that’s no shortcoming.

Verdict:
A visually inventive, deliciously dark fairytale reheat. The story’s far from the stuff of legend, but Theron makes for a ferocious meanie, helping to flush away Mirror Mirror’s sugary aftertaste. 3/5

Via Total Film

So that was Comic-Con 2011

Every year, the San Diego Comic-Con – to embrace geek speak – shoots by faster than a speeding bullet. And the 2011 Con was no different, with four whirlwind days of nerdtastic programming screeching by at a breathless pace. Most of my time this year – as with in 2010 – was spent in the dark and hallowed Hall H, where all number of fantastic panels rolled out stars and exclusive footage. Even films that I had no interest in (uh, Underworld 4…) had their plus points (in that case, an on-form Kate Beckinsale).

Highlights? Clear frontrunner The Amazing Spider-Man took the biscuit with its exclusive clips and exhaustively entertaining panel (Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, director Marc Webb). Snippets showing off Garfield both as Peter Parker and Spidey himself had a more-packed-than-ever Hall H heaving with whoops and cheers, as the webhead reboot proved that Webb had a perfect hold on the dark drama as well as the more comic-book-y humour.

Not only that, but we got our first glimpse at Ifans as the villainous Lizard – replete with the CGI antagonist’s stunning reveal. Sam Raimi’s trilogy clearly has its fans, but after seeing this footage, I’m more than confident that Webb can blow Raimi’s increasingly-dated movies out of the water.

The other main standout of Comic-Con 2011 was the eagerly-anticipated panel for Prometheus. Though director Ridley Scott and star Noomi Rapace couldn’t make it, they still showed fans some loving by speaking live via video link from Iceland, where they were completing the final week of shooting on the sort-of Alien prequel.

In Hall H, writer Damon Lindelof and other star Charlize Theron traded banter, before presenting the first ever footage from the flick. And even though the film’s not based on a comic book, the images chucked our way were a marvel. Scott’s crafted a film that – while not a direct prequel to Alien – is visually and stylistically linked to it. From the sliding Alien-like title card to the set design and music, all Scott’s talk of Alien DNA suddenly made sense.

Charlize Theron was also part of another stand-out panel, this one for Snow White And The Huntsman. Joining her castmates Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth and Sam Claflin on-stage, the quartet had apparently only met on the plane to the Con, but were already trading barbed banter like pros.

The film hasn’t started filming yet (it starts shooting this week here in the UK), but director Rupert Sanders still managed to wow the crowds by debuting images of the cast in their Snow White costumes…


Not bad, nuh? Equally impressive was the mood piece that Sanders had crafted for Universal to show them his vision for Huntsman. Though it was only shot in three days, the short film contained some stunning images, and hints that Sanders’ version of the fairytale will be both visually rich and forboding in tone.

Elsewhere at the Con, Nic Cage showed off some surprisingly gritty and exciting footage from Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance, the cast of Knights Of Badassdom chucked us the film’s first trailer (which hinted it’s on a path to definite cultdom), Steven Spielberg revealed we’re getting a Jurassic Park 4 in the next few years, the Twilight stars unveiled some decent footage from Breaking Dawn, and Kevin Smith hosted his annual ‘An Early Evening With…’ one-man show, soaking up the love from thousands of adoring fans.

So that was Comic-Con 2011. Mad. Restless. Crowded. But just as exciting as ever. Bring on Comic-Con 2012…

For more on Comic-Con 2011, read The 12 Best Things About Comic-Con 2011 over at Total Film, which I wrote with Richard Jordan.

Thor (2011)

Watch out DC, Marvel just upped their game. After teething problems with the likes of Fantastic Four, Hulk and The Punisher, Marvel Studios have a definite game plan, and they’ve set it well and truly in motion with Thor.

Whereas DC’s Green Lantern adap has been mucking around with silly CGI suits gone wrong and truly apathetic responses to early footage, Thor knuckles down and gets on with it. That’s not to say it doesn’t have ambition – it does, in spades – but the brains behind Thor know what’s important; story, character and, yes, visual spectacle.

Marvel’s real genius here was hiring Kenneth Branagh as director. Though he’s new to the big budget CGI scene (save for that ‘90s Frankenstein adap he directed), it’s clear that Branagh’s strength resides in his ability to craft compelling family drama – something he’s honed through the course of his numerous Shakespearean adaps.

So where lesser superhero movies might paint their domestic drama in the laziest of broad brush strokes, Branagh tackles it with the courage of a true Bardian, infusing family fractures with the kind of Earth-quivering gravity that the story of warring gods deserves. When characters argue, they BELLOW. When they’re angry, they SEETHE. When they’re downtrodden, they’re BROKEN.

Barrelling out of the starting gate, Thor plummets us headfirst into the godly world of Asgard, where the Norse rulers of legend all live. In a breathless 30 minute segment entirely set amongst the stars, we’re introduced to their world, their leaders (Anthony Hopkins’ Odin, his two sons Thor and Loki), their enemies (the Frost Giants), their protectors (Idris Elba’s brilliant Gatekeeper) and everything in between.

It’s a boggling, pulse-raising opening that, though action-packed and overloaded with theatrics, makes sense in the greater context of the film. Once Thor’s been banished to Earth, stripped of his godly powers, the film settles into a more talky mid-section that’s handled with Iron Man-like wit.

Tone was always a concern. How do you reconcile the high camp setting of Asgard with the gritty real-life Earth segments without tipping the scale too far either way? To Branagh’s credit, he manages it with few niggles. Though Asgard is at times more ‘CGI epic’ than truly breathtaking, there’s no faulting the stunning production design. A glimmering green and gold paradise, there’s no doubt this is a place built for heavenly beings. Meanwhile, Branagh cleverly infuses even the Earth scenes with a comic-book kilter, keeping his lense half-crooked even in the most serious of moments.

Crucially, Thor has time for its characters. Though it’s busy, stirring in everything from references to The Sword In The Stone, a cameo from Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye and even a Terminator 2 nod, we rarely feel short-changed. The trio of scientists comprised of a spirited Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgård are a delight, championing keen chemistry and a fun sense of dry humour.

As for Hemsworth, he is Thor; built like a Viking, massive in every sense of the word. His Thor is a sort of amalgamation of other superheroes, bundled into a He-Man, Superman, God-like mass of flesh and charm. His fish out of water moments are truly hilarious, and when he gets his “fuck yeah!” moment, you’re punching the air alongside him.

Most enticingly, we know we’ve only got to wait another year to see Thor back in action. With Joss Whedon’s The Avengers currently shooting, Thor acts as a compelling prologue to that epic adventure. Unlike Iron Man 2, though, Thor also stands completely as its own entity. A thunderous, magnetic, often warmly tongue-in-cheek thrillride, it has the power to awaken the fanboy in us all. 4/5

The Making Of Thor

When you’re drawing up a list of potential directors for a big, nay, massive sci-fi action adventure film, Kenneth Branagh – better known for his period romps – is probably not the first person on your list. He’s probably not even in the top 50.

But then, that’s what makes Marvel Studios so unique. Having taken the producing reins on the movie adaptations of their prized stable of comic book heroes, they’ve consistently paired odd-choice directors with their properties to thrilling effect.

Jon Favreau and Iron Man. Louis Leterrier and The Incredible Hulk. Both courageous couplings reaped surprising, entertaining results. And now Marvel wanted to do the same with one of their most high profile characters – Norse god Thor. So who did they call? Well, Kenneth Branagh, of course…