Robert Downey Jr.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

This movie is just as entertaining and smartass as its title suggests. Penned and directed by Shane Black, who did The Nice Guys, another highly entertaining buddy/neo-noir comedy from last year, it similarly dances on the right side of knowing and snarky, and features another odd couple and much riffing on the noir detective tropes. It’s also a sign of being on the other side of 35 that this movie turned out to be twice as old as I thought it was. I could swear it was maybe six years old, but nope it was released in 2005.

The movie’s narrator, Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.), is a small-time crook turned accidental actor, after he happens to literally run into an audition while being chased by the police. This leads him to the bad, mad world of Hollywood, where he’s told to team up with the tough-guy private detective Perry van Shrike (Val Kilmer), also known as Gay Perry, who is supposed to help him prepare for his screen test. Harry also runs into his childhood sweetheart Harmony (Michelle Monaghan), in town to, gasp shock, chase the movie star dream. One night, as Harry follows Perry on an assignment, they land in a middle of a lurid Chandler-esque murder mystery – a dead body of a young woman which later turns up in Harry’s own apartment. In another plot thread, Harmony begs Harry to help investigate the mystery of her sister’s apparent suicide, after mistaking him for a real deal detective.

It’s just as well that I didn’t watch the movie at the cinema, because it moves fast and I lost the track of the labyrinthine plot on a few occasions, even though it all comes together and makes sense in the end. Also, Robert Downey Jr. might possess preternatural onscreen charisma, but clear diction is not his strongest suit. Somebody, get him a Professor Higgins! Even with the benefit of the subtitles, the plot developments, snappy dialogue, one-liners and visual gags rush at the viewer at a breakneck speed with barely time to digest it all, which, on the plus side, I suspect makes the film all the more rewatchable.

And, despite a few huh wait what moments, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a total blast and pleasure to watch, funny, cleverly written and with fabulous, enthusiastic performances from all three leads. It has cheeky meta fun commenting on noir clichés and playing around with the narration, with Harry frequently addressing the audience, “rewinding” the scenes to run through a forgotten detail, lamenting his own poor storytelling skills, admitting a cheap cop-out to the story, and testily reminding that he’s the only narrator we have. The movie is also peppered with zany, wrong-but-hilarious moments you’re unlikely to ever see in your average blockbuster, like Harry’s variation on the Russian roulette that goes spectacularly wrong. It’s a shame that neither this nor The Nice Guys did well at the box-office.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

avengers-age-of-ultronI’m a bit over superhero movies to be honest but I was in a mood for a big blockbuster and they don’t come any bigger than this. Unlike most people it seems I wasn’t a fan of the original Avengers, which, in hindsight, had a lot to do with hype and expectations. It got great reviews, it was written/directed by Joss Whedon, so I was all pumped up to see it expecting something special. Granted, the super team-up concept was special and something we’ve never seen before, but otherwise I thought it was deeply average in all respects and not even particularly fun, with thinly sketched characters, simplistic plot and all the warmth and soul of a business summit. Expectations really make a difference – I went to see Age of Ultron with no expectations whatsoever and ended up enjoying it a great lot more. It had many of the same problems as the first movie, but there was also a whole lot more to like about it.

Ultron is the classic case of technology-gone-wrong, created by Tony Stark in order to keep the entire world safe; needless to say that backfires in a big way as Ultron decides that in order for world peace to happen humanity needs to be wiped out for good. I gotta say, Ultron’s moving mouth was a terrible character design decision. Why on earth would you go to the trouble of creating a big scary robot with the creepy James Spader voice, only to undo it completely with that goofy moving mouth? Same goes for Ultron’s never-ending quips; yes the movie points out that Ultron mirrors his creator which I guess could include Tony’s constant snark, but again, it’s completely at odds with the look of the character which is clearly meant to inspire fear.

Speaking of quips and snark, maybe I’m just a bit over Whedon’s style in general, but they rarely got a chuckle out of me here, and the constant barrage of one-liners and would-be witty responses got well and truly obnoxious in the final battle. Way to undercut tension and pathos; the characters even quip before they die for god’s sake. It reminded me of a Buffy episode in Season 3 (and I’m a big fan of the show) which made me want to scream, could you please cut out the witty crap and just talk like normal people for a bit?

On the plus side, I enjoyed the main characters much more this time around; now that we’re done with introductions and getting-to-know-yous and everybody had settled into the team, it’s fun to watch the Avengers’ interactions and quiet moments. The party scene in which everyone has a go at lifting Thor’s hammer was hilarious. There will probably come a time when Tony Stark feels as stale as Jack Sparrow, but it hasn’t yet and Robert Downey Jr. is still entertaining to watch. Thor is still just kind of there and Captain America doesn’t get that much to do either, but whatever, Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans are pretty. Hawkeye was a bit of a nothing character in the first movie, but here he’s given a lot more depth, which was a nice surprise. The Beauty and the Beast romance between Black Widow and Bruce Banner sorta comes out of nowhere (and the eventual kiss was rather cheesy), but the actors make it work. As a random aside, somebody please make a 1940-s set noir movie with Scarlett Johansson as the lead.

I loved Paul Bettany’s Vision, an enchantingly strange and angelic creation who is a gamble that initially brings the team to blows. I also liked Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch (despite the rather dodgy Eastern European accent), and while this movie’s Quicksilver is not as much of a showstopper as Evan Peters‘ in Days of Future Past, he worked reasonably well. I was happy not to see Nick Fury as much this time around. Samuel L. Jackson is awesome but I just don’t think he’s a good fit for playing authority figures. He was a bore in Star Wars prequels and I find him bland as Fury as well.

I liked the story much better than in the first Avengers; technology-gone-amok is nothing new but it’s still heaps more interesting than a bunch of boring aliens with vague motivations. There were still heaps of problems though. Everything is way too rushed. The movie throws in some intriguing strands and ideas that are covered with a couple of lines of dialogue and never get explored any further, because the plot has to plot. Also, I am getting tired of the whole franchiseatis and movies setting up things for other future movies. I don’t even get why they bother – am I really going to remember a couple of brief scenes three years later when the next movie comes out? It’s just all unnecessary flab. Still, I look forward to the final two-parter in this series a lot more than I thought I would.