Review Roundup - Bionic Commando


Jump starting the 'phase two' Marvel Studios releases after a shaky start seemed like a tough job, but Steve Rogers returns to put things back on track in what is a surprisingly satisfying spy thriller come action fest. The emphasis being on the latter. Where Thor: The Dark World was full of unconvincing fantasy plot elements and distracting CG, and Iron Man 3 meandered too much with questionable character developments, it's an unexpected move for this latest entry to be packed with intrigue, stunt work and what almost verges on paranoia conspiracy material. Almost. Though it falls into the trap of overblown spectacle and another doomsday device type countdown during the finale, it's far from the silly universe squashing ideas in the previous outing for the God of Thunder and uses the man out of time idea in a few interesting ways without going for more easy fish out of water comedy. Despite managing to build on a new tone for the series the darker moments aren't taken too far; and this is still a lot of fun.

While there may be one too many generic sequences and giant explosions in that third act, it's got to be said that this has a refreshing amount of real car chases, great fight choreography and a new level of grit for the Avengers franchise as a whole. It's noticeable just how many people are stabbed, shot and exploded from a pure action movie point of view. It was nice to see a vibe which has mostly been lost in recent mainstream adventure movies. Of course I don't mean that in a sadistic way but in that it allows for a certain level of impact, something which can be sanitized in a genre where primary colours and humorous banter are prevalent. It's not as intense as a lot of the material in The Dark Knight with all it's pencils and gasoline, but this time around Marvel does seem to be pushing the certificate in a new ways, and it works really well in creating a comic hero movie which doubles as a watchable thriller. While the attempts to have a plot which throws back to hidden agenda espionage stories aren't that successful, the action style seems to have gone back to the 90s. They avoid the simplistic three action beat formula and deliver a number of visceral and highly entertaining set pieces and don't pull any punches. But this is only ever as successful as the film as a whole right?

Luckily what brings all of this together is the story, though as I say it's not entirely outside the usual superhero tropes. But while this is far from a serious critique of surveillance culture, reviving the 'trust no-one' message results in a particular sense of urgency as the central characters discover the roots of their dilemma. Everyone knows by now which ones are going to be safe and sound as the credits roll, but it still comes together well enough to keep a degree of tension going. The simple virtues of the Captain himself remain a strength in a time when other protagonists are brooding and conflicted, and this is advantageous for the plot allowing it to show contrasting ideals and have him play off the other heroes - for all the subterfuge and double crossing this isn't a laugh free effort which I appreciate. That being said I still don't buy Black Widow and Nick Fury as real personalities, but they at least get a few moments. Even the titular Winter Soldier feels under utilised in what is a slightly overlong film but perhaps this can be expanded on in the future? For once I look forward to it.



Another oddball work from Joel and Ethan Coen, this musical journey has a lot of melancholy and a good deal of sly and dark humour as folk singer Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) struggles with his musical career, personal problems and a cat he doesn't own. It's a back and forth journey as he goes from one awkward disappointment to the next, and one night's sleep on a sofa to another; and it becomes clear that his decisions along the way may not be particularly wise and his own baggage may be causing issues he is unwilling to deal with. This type of character study doesn't paint a likeable portrait as many of his acquaintances are vocal about but it never creates a real arc. He is offered real friendship at least once but seems unable to build on this or take creative options that compromise his ideas a little, he'd rather have what he wants or quit entirely. This all or nothing outlook is perhaps a realistic view of artistic temperaments and I like a lot of what is done here, but in the end it isn't quite the fulfilling experience I might have expected.