Heroes United: Meet the Justice League

Heroes United: Meet the Justice League

Get to know the members of DC’s flagship cinematic superhero team

By Jedd Jong

In 1940, editor Sheldon Mayer and writer Gardner Fox created the first comic book superhero team: the Justice Society of America. Two decades later, after editor Julius Schwartz asked Fox to revisit the idea, Fox created the Justice League. The cover of The Brave and the Bold #28, depicting Green Lantern, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, the Flash and Martian Manhunter locked in battle with Starro the Conqueror, has become a defining image in the history of DC Comics.

47 years after that first appearance, the Justice League is finally coming to the big screen. In the intervening years, the team’s roster has expanded and changed, and various incarnations have appeared in comics, video games, animated and live-action TV shows and other media.

After a decade in development hell, during which Mad Max director George Miller was attached to direct a film called Justice League: Mortal, a Justice League film has come to fruition. This is the fifth instalment in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), following Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman. Zack Snyder directed the film, with Joss Whedon taking over during post-production and reshoots after Snyder left the project due to a family tragedy.

At the end of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Superman sacrifices himself to defeat Doomsday. To ensure that Superman’s heroism is not in vain, Batman and Wonder Woman seek out superpowered ‘metahumans’ to join them in a fight to save the earth from alien invaders. Leading the enemy charge is Steppenwolf, Darkseid’s right hand man from the planet Apokolips. With an army of Parademons at his command, Steppenwolf will stop at nothing to recover three powerful artefacts from Apokolips known as Mother Boxes, which are hidden on earth.

Here’s what you need to know about our heroes, and the supervillain they must defeat, before watching Justice League.

#1: BRUCE WAYNE/BATMAN (Ben Affleck)

In Batman v Superman, we saw a bitter, vengeful Batman blinded by rage. It seems that he’s become a little friendlier after realising the error of his ways, endeavouring to work better with others and taking on the role of bankrolling the Justice League. “In Batman v Superman, he was at the end of his rope. But in Justice League he’s finding hope again,” Affleck revealed. For fans who took issue with the dour tone of Batman v Superman, take heart: Affleck says Justice League is “very different from the tenor of the last movie.” Describing this depiction of Batman being “much more traditional,” Affleck promised fans that Batman is “heroic”.

As is expected of the billionaire crime-fighter, Batman’s bringing more hardware to bear: we’ll get to see specialized vehicles such as the Nightcrawler mecha and the massive Flying Fox transport plane in action. Naturally, the Batmobile will make an appearance too, and can be deployed from the Flying Fox.

#2: DIANA PRINCE/WONDER WOMAN (Gal Gadot)

The Wonder Woman solo film was a big success for DC, with the consensus being that the Patty Jenkins-directed movie is the best entry in the DCEU so far. The Amazonian warrior is back, and things get personal when Steppenwolf threatens Wonder Woman’s mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and all her compatriots on the island of Themyscira. “She understands the enemy better than anyone else,” Gadot said, hinting that this might not be the Amazons’ first encounter with the marauding Parademons. In her civilian guise, Diana is an antiquities dealer and restorer of ancient artefacts. It is speculated that since the Wonder Woman film was such a hit, the character’s role would be significantly increased during reshoots, but Gadot clarified this, saying “Diana serves as the glue of the team. She finds moments to support every one of the team and makes them feel stronger or believe in themselves, but this is not a Wonder Woman movie.”

On how the character has evolved over the 100 years between the events depicted in her solo movie and the Justice League film, Gadot said the character is “wiser and more educated about the complexities of life and the world and mankind,” but the is still the same at heart, and that “she’s always full of compassion and warmth and love for everyone.” Everyone, we assume, except Steppenwolf and the Parademons. After all the ass-kicking Wonder Woman did in her solo film, fans can expect Diana to be in the thick of the action again – after all, Gadot was a combat instructor in the Israeli Defense Forces in real life.

#3: CLARK KENT/SUPERMAN (Henry Cavill)

As mentioned earlier, the events of Batman v Superman have left the world without its powerful alien protector. The very last frame of Batman v Superman showed the dirt Lois Lane (Amy Adams) sprinkled on Superman’s grave levitating for a moment, hinting at the character’s resurrection. The death and return of Superman was a long, involved ordeal that played over several months in the comics in the 90s. While Superman will presumably rise from the grave in Justice League since Cavill is appearing in the film, the exact circumstances and details surrounding Superman’s return are being kept secret. Cavill was contractually obligated to keep the moustache he had grown for Mission: Impossible 6 when he had to do reshoots on Justice League, so Superman’s facial hair had to be digitally removed.

While Cavill has kept mum about what role Superman plays in the Justice League film, he has acknowledged that the DCEU might have made a few missteps along the way. Cavill conceded that the DCEU “hasn’t necessarily worked,” adding “yes, it has made money but it has not been a critical success; it hasn’t given everyone that sensation which superheroes should give the viewer.” Saying the “right mistake has been made” and calling the Wonder Woman film “the first step in the right direction,” Cavill assured fans that with Justice League, the DCEU is on the right track.

#4: BARRY ALLEN/FLASH (Ezra Miller)

Like in several previous other media versions of the Justice League, the Flash looks set to be the film’s comic relief. While Barry Allen is typically depicted as a Central City crime scene investigator, Ezra Miller’s incarnation of Barry is a little younger, and is a student at Central City University. Some elements of Barry’s back-story will be familiar to fans of the ongoing Flash television series on the CW. A scene in the trailer shows Barry visiting his father Henry (Billy Crudup) in prison – in the TV show and in the comics, Henry was wrongly convicted for killing his wife Nora.

Miller found it easy to relate to the character. “I definitely was feeling like Barry, stepping into the big leagues with this incredible group of collaborators,” he said, adding that just like Barry, he was focused on “trying to do the best job [he] could do.” Discussing the process of putting on the elaborate, multi-segmented Flash armour, Miller joked “I would feel like a Victorian lady with my chambermaids. Sometimes I would ask them if they could brush my hair and ask me about the boys whom I fancied.” One of the iconic, but arguably somewhat silly, elements of the character from the Silver Age comics is that the Flash’s costume can fit into a ring he wears. This will not be carried over into the Justice League film. “We want to apologize to the fans who are mad about the ring thing,” Miller quipped, adding that “there’s gonna be other cool things” for fans to look forward to in the film.

#5: ARTHUR CURRY/AQUAMAN (Jason Momoa)

The half-human, half-Atlantean warrior king Aquaman is a character who’s been the butt of jokes for a long time, owing to his silly portrayal in the Super Friends cartoon. The character was given a makeover in the comics in the 90s, complete with a scraggly beard and a hook for a hand. Jason Momoa’s take on the character seems to be tough, but not without a fun side – the character’s mannerisms in the trailer have led some to call this version ‘Aqua-bro’.

Momoa said that when director Snyder brought him in to audition, he was asked to read Batman’s lines, but Affleck had already been cast as Batman. Momoa was taken aback to find out the role he was up for was Aquaman. “All I could think of was the traditional Aquaman from the comics – who is white and blond and wears the orange and green costume. I thought he had to be joking,” Momoa recalled. However, Snyder sold him on his vision of Aquaman as an outsider, someone who belongs to two worlds but doesn’t feel he fits in either one. Momoa related to this because he was born in Hawaii but grew up in Iowa, where he felt like an outsider. He considers it “such an honour” to play Aquaman because Hawaiian culture, like that of many islands, has water gods.

Amber Heard is playing Aquaman’s wife Mera, with Willem Dafoe as Atlantean scientific advisor Nuidis Vulko. Both actors will reprise their roles alongside Momoa in the Aquaman movie that swims into theatres in December 2018.

#6: VIC STONE/CYBORG (Ray Fisher)

The former college football star-turned cybernetically-enhanced superhero Cyborg was a character created as part of the Teen Titans team. In 2011’s New 52 reboot in the comics, the character was promoted to a founding member of the Justice League. In Batman v Superman, we see Vic’s father Silas Stone (Joe Morton) attempt to create a robot body for his son, who is near-death. The key component that successfully animates Cyborg seems to be a Mother Box from Apokolips.

Fisher made his feature film debut in Batman v Superman, clinching a highly sought-after role. We’ll only see part of Fisher’s face in the film, with the rest of the character being computer-generated. According to Fisher, the character “attempts to deal with everything he’s lost: his body, his mother, and the life he once knew.” Morton says that some tonal changes were made to the Cyborg character during reshoots, so maybe he will end up closer to the goofy character we know and love from the Teen Titans cartoon. Fisher hinted at Cyborg’s constantly-evolving abilities, saying “He has powers within him that even he isn’t yet aware of…whenever he encounters an issue that he’s not initially equipped to handle, his technology can transmogrify and immediately adapt to that situation.

#7: STEPPENWOLF (Ciarán Hinds)

The fledgling Justice League will face a formidable opponent: Steppenwolf, who hails from the planet Apokolips. In a deleted scene from Batman v Superman which was restored for the Ultimate Edition, Lex Luthor can be seen communicating with Steppenwolf, who appears in hologram form. In the comics, Steppenwolf is the uncle of Darkseid, the tyrannical ruler of Apokolips, and serves as Darkseid’s right-hand man. Steppenwolf commands an army of Parademons – these insectoid soldiers were also glimpsed in Batman v Superman, as the troops fighting alongside an evil Superman in the dystopian future of Batman’s ‘Knightmare’ vision. While many might point out that Darkseid is similar to Marvel’s Thanos, Darkseid’s first appearance in the comics precedes Thanos’ by two years.

Irish actor Hinds is portraying the role via motion capture, and sought advice from his fellow countryman Liam Neeson, who played the titular monster in A Monster Calls. Hinds said that he’s “never read any of those comic books as a kid”, and that the offer to play Steppenwolf came “out of the blue”. Hinds called the motion capture suit “very tight and embarrassing”. Hinds described Steppenwolf as “old, tired, still trying to get out of his own enslavement to Darkseid,” hinting that while Steppenwolf is vicious and destructive, there might be some reluctance to his villainy.

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Bringing the hills to life: The Sound of Music press call

For inSing

BRINGING THE HILLS TO LIFE: THE SOUND OF MUSIC PRESS CALL

inSing gets a preview of the legendary musical as it returns to Singapore

By Jedd Jong

The Sound of Music is among the most enduring and iconic stage musicals every created, and it has returned to Singapore. inSing was at the Marina Bay Sands Theatre to attend the press call for The Sound of Music, where the show last played in 2014.

The Sound of Music is a fictionalisation of The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, the real-life Maria Von Trapp’s autobiography. The story revolves around Maria Rainier free-spirited former nun who is hired as the governess to an unyielding Naval captain’s seven children. The children, whom she teaches to sing, eventually warm to Maria, and the family becomes known as a singing group. However, their idyllic existence is threatened by the onset of World War II, and the family must plot their escape from the Nazis, who have ordered the Von Trapps to perform for them.

The team of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II created such memorable songs as “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”, “My Favourite Things”, “Edelweiss” and “Sixteen Going on Seventeen”, many of which have become standards within the showtune genre. The show debuted in 1959 and was adapted into an Oscar-winning film in 1965. The film, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer and directed by Robert Wise, recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.

This iteration of the show was first staged in 2006 at the London Palladium, produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber. An agreement between Lloyd Webber’s The Really Useful Group and the Rodgers and Hammerstein estates means that this is the only production that is currently granted permission to use the songs that appear in the film version.

Associate director Frank Thompson has been with the show since 2006, and was the Resident Director of The Sound of Music when it was performed at the London Palladium and for its subsequent UK tour. Thompson remarked that while most touring productions of musicals are pared down from the original staging, The Sound of Music seems to have gotten bigger – seven-eight shipping crates are required to transport the show’s equipment, sets, backdrops, props and costumes from country to country.

Carmen Pretorius and Nicholas Maude

“You can’t get anything better than live dialogue and live music and the experience through that tangible medium,” Thompson said, when asked why audiences should come to see the show live. “Sometimes we are so attached to technology that we don’t feel it as much.”

The lead role of Maria is played by South African performer Carmen Pretorius, who previously portrayed the oldest Von Trapp daughter Liesl when the show last came to Singapore. “Artistically, it’s a very big step up,” Pretorius said of her ‘promotion’. “It’s a challenge, it’s exciting and it keeps me on my toes. Liesl was a little bit less challenging. It’s been a very exciting journey and I’ve gotten to know the show very well from two different angles.”

Pretorius described the process of breathing life into the show performance after performance – the show runs eight times a week. “The key for any good actor is to be in the moment. Although a lot of things are set, we do have to play off each other, and that’s what keeps the magic alive.” Pretorius added that it is key to remember that each audience is comprised of completely different people, and many might be seeing Maria melt the Captain’s heart for the first time.

“It’s very easy to melt when you look at Carmen, you just do that,” said Nicholas Maude, who plays Captain Von Trapp.

“It’s very easy to melt when you look at Nick,” Pretorius replied, the actors demonstrating their chemistry.

Being in a touring production of a musical is tough on the body. Pretorius’ secret weapon: ginger. In addition to drinking ginger tea, Pretorius “bites ginger like an apple”. She also swears by Pei Pa Koa, the traditional Chinese throat remedy.

On the children in the cast, Maude remarked ““They’re so professional and it’s inspiring,” adding that he would not have been as confident and professional at that age. “When I was younger, I was gawky and insecure. They’re so good, they’re so talented, and they really give on stage.”

Pretorius agreed, saying that working with the young cast members reminds her of when she was starting out as a theatre performer. “You forget being that little kid going to your first audition and having big dreams about being on stage. You can see that happening on their faces and it reminds you of your own journey; we all relate to that.”

“They’re going to teach me about Snapchat,” Maude quipped.

Left to right: Emily Riddle, Jane Callista, Chloe Choo, Alfie Hodgson, Sophea Pennington, Mateo Fuentes, Zoe Beavon

The role of Liesl is played throughout the tour by Zoe Beavon, but the younger Von Trapp children are cast with local child actors from each city that the tour visits. A total of 18 children share the six roles, and we met some of them at the press call.

Being a part of the production is an educational experience for these budding theatre actors, many of whom are already accomplished despite their age. “We get to learn all the theatre rules and get to meet all these incredible people and professionals,” said Jane Callista, who plays Marta. Callista was a finalist on The Voices Kids Indonesia in 2016.

From left: Jane Callista, Frank Thompson, Chloe Choo

Chloe Choo, who plays Brigitta, is no stranger to the stage. She recently played Small Allison in Pangdemonium’s staging of the musical Fun Home. The 11-year-old Choo is no stranger to The Sound of Music either, having played the role of Gretl in 2014. Thompson joked that when the show returns in 2080, Choo will play Maria.

13-year-old Mateo Fuentes, who plays Friedrich, said that the cast has become “like [his] family”. Being in the show has given him the opportunity “to learn with people who come from all around the world.”

From left: Mateo Fuentes, Sophea Pennington, Alfie Hodgson, Chloe Choo, Jane Callista, Emily Riddle

The Sound of Music was the first musical that Emily Riddle, who plays the littlest Von Trapp child, watch. When asked if she is living her dream, she replied empathically “I am!”

“I think the show is very beautiful and I think it touches many people’s hearts,” Sophea Pennington, who plays Louisa, remarked. Pennington’s family moved from Australia to Singapore four years ago, and she has played several leading roles, including Annie in the Stamford American International School production of the musical. “It really does bring people together,” she said of the show.

Alfie Hodgson, who plays Kurt, said he enjoys the experience of “having a professional job and meeting all the cast”. Hodgson has acted on the MBS Theatre stage before, in 2016’s A Right Rubbish Christmas.

Janelle Visagie

Janelle Visagie reprises the role of the Mother Abbess, which she also played in 2014. Like Pretorius, she is from South Africa, and has performed in multiple productions for the Cape Town Opera, including Madam ButterflyDon Giovanni and Rigoletto. Viasagie laughed heartily when this writer suggested that the Mother Abbess is like Maria’s Yoda. “Carmen and I are really good friends in real life, and I am a little bit older than her, so it makes it a bit easier to go into that role of being a caregiver type,” she said of playing the role of mentor and spiritual guide.

What Viasagie admires most about Singapore might be surprising – it’s the way we manage our water resources. “The way Singapore uses their water, reuse and recycle, it’s not a tourist thing, but for me it’s one of the most amazing things about Singapore, how effective they are. Everything is so efficient and clean,” she said.

The Sound of Music is an Andrew Lloyd Webber, David Ian and The Really Useful Group production, presented by Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, BASE Entertainment Asia, Sliding Doors Entertainment and David Atkins Enterprises. The show runs from 7 November to 2 December 2017 at the MasterCard Theatres in Marina Bay Sands, Sinapore. Ticket prices start from $65 (excluding the $4 booking fee per ticket). Visit www.MarinaBaySands.com/ticketing or www.sistic.com.sg to purchase tickets.

Red Dot; Silver Screen: SGIFF showcases Singapore films

For inSing

Red Dot; Silver Screen: SGIFF showcases Singapore films

Glimpse the future of local film with the festival’s Singapore Panorama program

By Jedd Jong

The Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) is an annual event that takes pride of place on the calendars of local cinephiles. Now in its 28th year, the festival and its associated mentorship programs have served as a platform and incubator for homegrown filmmakers. In addition to showcasing cinematic hidden gems from around the region and in-competition films that are judged by an international jury panel, SGIFF shines a spotlight on homegrown talent.

The Singapore Panorama section of the festival is home to a varied selection of feature-length and short films created by Singaporean and Singapore-based filmmakers. The festival has served as a launching pad, helping to boost the careers of notable Singapore filmmakers including Eric Khoo, Kelvin Tong, Kirsten Tan, Royston Tan, Boo Junfeng, and K. Rajagopal, whose films have gone on to garner acclaim at home and abroad.

At the Objectifs gallery, inSing heard from several filmmakers whose works are being included in this year’s line-up. The festival’s Executive Director Wahyuni A. Hadi and Programme Director Pimpaka Towira moderated the panel, as the filmmakers discussed their influences and experiences in creating their works. Hadi is a film producer, author and curator who has been SGIFF’s Festival Director since 2009, while it is Thai writer-director Towira’s first year as a member of the SGIFF team.

Back row: Ric Aw, Chew Tze Chuan, Gavin Lim, Don Aravind, Michael Kam, Ivan Tan, Chiang Wei Liang, Wesley Leon Aroozoo, Hamzah Fansuri
Front row: Pimpaka Towira, Wee Li Lin, Wahyuni Hadi, Laavania Krishna, Tang Wan Xin, Rachel Liew, Shammini G

Some of the films that audiences can take in at 28th SGIFF include Diamond Dogs, a gritty revenge action thriller in which a deaf-mute man is forced to do battle in an underground fight club; I Want to Go Home, a moving documentary about a Japanese man who lost his wife in the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake/tsunami; Areola Borealis, a light-hearted comedy-drama short in which the uptight mother of the bride frets over an inconvenience-turned-crisis at her daughter’s wedding; hUSh, a documentary about an aspiring singer who moves ventures from Bali to Jakarta to find success and live out her wildest dreams, and Angel, a coming-of-age short of a young man struggling to fulfil his grandmother’s last wish as he and his family grapple with the grief of losing her.

I Not Stupid

There will also be screenings of two landmark Singaporean films, which are both celebrating their 15th anniversary this year: Jack Neo’s comedy-drama I Not Stupid, and Woo Yen Yen and Colin Goh’s satirical anthology satirical comedy TalkingCock the Movie. I Not Stupid portrayed the struggles faced by schoolchildren who must endure Singapore’s unforgiving education system, while TalkingCock the Movie was an expansion of the satire website TalkingCock.com, founded by lawyer-turned humourist and illustrator Goh.

Nyi Ma Lay

As is SGIFF tradition, the winner of the previous year’s Best Singapore Short Film award is commissioned to make a new film to screen at the current year’s festival. Chiang Wei Liang, who helmed the award-winning Anchorage Prohibited last year, directed Nyi Ma Lay (Little Sister). The dialogue-free 20-minute-long film is about a troubled young Burmese domestic worker. Chiang wanted to bring attention to the plight of Burmese domestic workers in Singapore, many of whom under-report their age to get work here. In June 2017, a Burmese domestic worker leapt to her death from a condominium in Singapore.

Diamond Dogs

Gavin Lim, who has directed television shows and short films, makes his feature debut with Diamond Dogs. The gritty, violent action thriller stars actor/stunt performer Sunny Pang as a cancer-stricken deaf-mute man who is coerced into competing in an underground fight club for the entertainment the sadistic uber-rich. “For me, it’s to make the hero suffer, then we make the villain to be someone you love to hate,” Lim said. “It’s a fight show, there are 12-14 fights,” Lim said, adding that there were no injuries on set. The film also stars MediaCorp artiste Andie Chen and Japanese adult film starlet Anri Okita.

I Want to Go Home

Wesley Leon Aroozoo’s documentary I Want to Go Home is about Yasuo Takamatsu, a bus driver who learned how to dive so he could search for the remains of his wife, whose body was lost after she was killed in the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake/tsunami. After hearing about Takamatsu’s heart-rending quest, Aroozoo reached out to the Japanese man. Over a year’s worth of communication, Aroozoo decided to tell Takamatsu’s story in the twin forms of a novel and a documentary film. “It took a few months to track him down,” Aroozoo said, saying it was only after seven months of translated email exchanges that he raised the subject of Takamatsu’s search for his wife. Twin animators Harry and Henry Zhuang contributed animation to the film. Aroozoo hopes to raise awareness about emergency evacuation measures and how similar tragedies can be prevented. I Want to Go Home had its world premiere at the Busan International Film Festival in October 2017.

Areola Borealis

Having helmed films like Gone Shopping and Forever, Wee Li Lin is no stranger to the local film scene. For her cheekily-titled short film Areola Borealis, she turned to real events for inspiration. Wee was attending a friend’s wedding, and the bride’s bra broke right before the ceremony. Wee was called on to save the day: “I had to loan her my bra, and we weren’t even the same size!” Wee recalled. Wee ended up sitting out the wedding, eating room service and watching TV in a bathrobe upstairs. “It was so female, and so odd in a hilarious, sad way,” she observed. Wee embellished the story for the short film, centring the story on the mother of the bride. While the film is light-hearted, it addresses the theme of inter-generational attitudes towards race in Singapore. “Interracial marriages still strikes an ugly chord in people and can manifest a lot of deep-seated discrimination,” Wee said.

Rotan

Hamzah Fansuri’s short film Rotan is a drama in which a school’s Discipline Master faces his reckoning when his own son, a student at the school, goes astray. Fansuri wanted to depict the “unbridled lack of power and control that a parent has towards a child during the stages of youth,” illustrating how even despite a parent’s best efforts, their children might wander down the wrong path. The title refers to the long piece rattan stem used for caning, which is still enacted as corporal punishment in some Singaporean schools.

These films and many more await audiences at SGIFF. The festival runs from 23 November to 2 December 2017. Please visit www.sgiff.com for more information on the films, including screening schedules and ticket bookings.

 

Thor: Ragnarok – Meet The Characters

For inSing

Thor: Ragnarok – meet the characters

Get reacquainted with the God of Thunder and meet his new allies and foes

By Jedd Jong

This week, the Norse god of Thunder/Avenger Thor returns to theatres in Thor: Ragnarok, which promises to be a wild and woolly cosmic adventure. Under the direction of New Zealander filmmaker Taika Waititi, Thor: Ragnarok looks set to be crammed with humour, action and eye-catching visual splendour.

This adventure finds our hero stripped of his armour and his magical hammer Mjolnir, imprisoned on the other side of the universe and forced to fight in a gladiatorial arena. Meanwhile, Hela, the goddess of death herself, makes a play for control of Thor’s home Asgard and the realms beyond it.

Before watching the latest Marvel movie, here’s a quick rundown of some of the characters we’ll see again, and some whom we’re meeting for the first time, in Thor: Ragnarok.

#1: THOR (Chris Hemsworth)

The God of Thunder is a cocky, self-assured character, so it’s no surprise that many stories see him being humbled and brought down to earth. That was a key part of his original arrival on earth, and in this film, Thor is defeated by Hela and held captive on the planet Sakaar. Hemsworth had considerable say in shaping the story, saying “I got a bit bored of myself and thought we’ve got to try something different.” Since Thor and Hulk/Bruce Banner haven’t had much interaction beyond the latter punching out the former in The Avengers, Hemsworth requested that the Hulk play a major role in Thor: Ragnarok. While some viewers might mourn the loss of Thor’s luscious locks, Hemsworth found Thor’s fuss-free new hairdo quite liberating. “It allowed the whole thing to take on a different attitude. It felt like a completely different character,” Hemsworth said.

#2: LOKI (Tom Hiddleston)

Tom Hiddleston has become this generation’s runaway unlikely sex symbol, winning legions of female fans with his seductive, darkly charming performance as Loki, the god of Mischief. Hiddleston has had the privilege of playing the role across multiple films – typically, supervillains in comic book movies don’t last more than two films. Since the conclusion of Thor: The Dark World, Loki has been ruling Asgard in the guise of his adoptive father Odin, and his reign has been all about self-aggrandisation at the expense of good governance. In serving his own ego, Loki has ignored the looming threats to Asgard, chief among them being Hela herself. In Thor: Ragnarok, Hiddleston had fun “trying to find new ways for him to be mischievous”, while also further exploring Loki’s insecurities. “The idea that Thor might be indifferent to Loki is troubling for him, because that’s a defining feature of his character is, I don’t belong in the family; my brother doesn’t love me; I hate my brother,” Hiddleston reasoned. Thor and Loki must reluctantly work together, but we know that as is always the case with Loki, things are never what they seem.

#3: HELA (Cate Blanchett)

The Marvel Cinematic Universe adds yet another Oscar-winning thespian to its ranks in the form of Cate Blanchett. The character of Hela is based on the Norse deity Hel, the ruler of the underworld also called Hel. Hela is yet another iteration of the “long-buried evil entity breaks free” archetype: “”She’s been locked away for millennia getting more and more cross, and then, with a mistake, she gets unleashed and she ain’t getting back in that box.” In the comics, Hela’s cape enhances her physical strength and maintains her youth. Hela can manifest weapons at will, and wears an elaborate headdress which she can also use as a weapon. The headdress is a defining part of the character’s design, but was cumbersome for Blanchett to wear, so Blanchett performed a portion of the role using motion capture technology. To prepare for the physically intensive role, Blanchett trained with stuntwoman and oft-collaborator of Quentin Tarantino Zoë Bell, and Hemsworth’s personal trainer Luke Zocchi, studying the Brazilian dance-infused martial art Capoeira.

#4: THE GRANDMASTER (Jeff Goldblum)

Jeff Goldblum might well be the best part of Thor: Ragnarok, as Jeff Goldblum is wont to be. The Grandmaster is an Elder of the Universe who pits lesser beings against each other in battles for his own amusement. Two other Elders of the Universe, Taneleer Tivan/The Collector and Ego the Living Planet, have appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy films. The Grandmaster can be seen dancing during the end credits of Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2. In some versions, the Grandmaster and the Collector are brothers. The Grandmaster is so powerful, that in one story, he controlled DC’s Justice League in a game against the DC villain Krona, who controlled the Avengers. Goldblum describes the Grandmaster as “a hedonist, a pleasure-seeker, an enjoyer of life and tastes and smells.” While the character has blue skin in the comics, Waititi opted to let Goldblum retain his own skin tone, because he didn’t want the character to invoke the blue-skinned alien Goldblum played in the comedy Earth Girls are Easy.

#5: VALKYRIE (Tessa Thompson)

Thor: Ragnarok marks the Marvel Cinematic Universe debut of Valkyrie, a key supporting chacrater in the Thor comics who was, at one point, set to appear in Thor: The Dark World. The character is based on the shieldmaiden Brynhildr, a formidable warrior from ancient Germanic mythology. Valkyrie is not to be trifled with, and is a former soldier in Odin’s elite troops who has become a mercenary working for the Grandmaster. Valkyrie is traditionally depicted as white, and Thompson is of African, South-American and European descent. Director Waititi is adamant that the casting is not to fulfil diversity criteria: “I’m not obsessed with the idea that you have to cast someone just to tick a box… You should cast people because they’re talented,” Waititi said. The director also stated he did not want the character to be “boring and pretty”, but someone would “be even more of the ‘guy’ character than the guys.”

The character is usually seen in the comics wearing armour, but Thompson said “she’s such a bad ass that she doesn’t need a lot of metal to protect her. I’m essentially in leather.” The character is equal to and in some ways superior to Thor, changing the dynamic between Thor and the female lead, who in the two previous Thor films was Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster. Valkyrie is set to appear in future MCU movies, and Thompson has pitched an all-female Marvel movie to studio boss Kevin Feige. “Just to be the girlfriend or the wife…to not have your own agency is something that I just can’t relate to because I don’t see it in my life,” Thompson said of the roles often given to women in action films.

#6: HEIMDALL (Idris Elba)

As Heimdall, the Asgardian keeper of the Bifröst Bridge, Idris Elba did not get a huge amount to do in the first two Thor films. Perhaps that will change with the third instalment. No longer clad in gleaming golden armour, Heimdall has gone into exile after Hela’s invasion of Asgard, living in the woods as a wild man. Elba was notoriously outspoken about not enjoying the process of making the Marvel movies, calling them “torture”. While promoting Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Elba griped about having to go to London while in production on Mandela for contractually-obligated reshoots. “There I was, in this stupid harness, with this wig and this sword and these contact lenses. It ripped my heart out,” he said. This go-round, however, Elba seems to have enjoyed himself. “The last one [Ragnarok] was fun,” he said. “The others weren’t fun. They’re work. But on this one, Taika was great,” Elba said, praising the film’s director.

#7: BRUCE BANNER/THE HULK (Mark Ruffalo)

At the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron, the Hulk was seen in a Quinjet, flying off to some unknown destination. Kevin Feige intended to keep it ambiguous where Hulk would end up, and fans speculated that Marvel were setting up for a Planet Hulk movie. In the comics, Planet Hulk is the storyline in which a group of genius Marvel characters called the Illuminati launch Hulk into space. He ends up on the planet Sakaar, becoming a gladiator and eventually taking over the planet. Elements of this story are incorporated into Thor: Ragnarok. Ruffalo discussed a solo Hulk with Feige, but because Universal Studios holds the rights to any Hulk-led films, this proved untenable, and Hulk was made a supporting character in Thor: Ragnarok. The character is evolved further, and now has a limited vocabulary beyond the grunts and roars we’ve heard from the Hulk in earlier MCU movies. “He’s much more of a character than the green rage machine you’ve seen in the Avengers movies,” Ruffalo said. “He’s got a swagger. He’s like a god.” In the film, the Hulk persona has been repressing the Banner side for years, and the film marks a further separation of the two personas. Hulk’s character arc in Thor: Ragnarok is set to carry on into Avengers: Infinity War and its sequel.

Resilience Under Fire: Miles Teller Interview for Only the Brave

For inSing

RESILIENCE UNDER FIRE: MILES TELLER TALKS ONLY THE BRAVE 

The actor tells inSing about making the fact-based firefighting drama

By Jedd Jong

Only the Brave tells the harrowing true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite crew of firefighters within the Prescott, Arizona Fire Department. In June 2013, the Hotshots battled the fearsome Yarnell Hill fire, resulting in a staggering loss of life. When then-Vice President Joe Biden attended the memorial service for the firefighters killed in the incident, he said “all men are created equal. But then, a few became firefighters.”

In the film, Miles Teller (Whiplash, The Spectacular Now, War Dogs) plays Brendan “Donut” McDonough, a young ne’er-do-well slacker who decides to pull his life together and become a firefighter after his ex-girlfriend gives birth to their daughter. The film also stars Josh Brolin as the team’s leader Eric “Supe” Marsh, Jeff Bridges as Eric’s mentor Duane Steinbrink, and Jennifer Connelly as Eric’s wife Amanda. James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch, Scott Haze and Ben Hardy are among the actors who play fellow firefighters. Joseph Kosinki (Tron Legacy, Oblivion) directs from a screenplay by Ken Nolan (Black Hawk Down, Transformers: The Last Knight) and Eric Warren Singer (American Hustle, The International).

Teller spoke exclusively to inSing over the phone from Los Angeles about making the film. He discussed meeting the real-life Brendan McDonough, working with Josh Brolin, the physical preparation he undertook to play the role and working with the stunt team to film the realistic firefighting scenes.

INSING: The character you play, Brendan McDonough, starts out as irresponsible and aimless and embarks on a journey towards heroism. Tell us more about that journey.

MILES TELLER: Brendan, he was a little, I guess ‘aimless’ is a good word. I think he was lacking some kind of mentorship or some kind of guidance, something that at that age is really helpful in terms of helping you to become the person you’ll become later. I think at that age; a lot of people are battling with immaturity and irresponsibility. Brendan, he was into drugs and committing some small crimes. He ends up going to jail, and when he goes back home, his mum throws him out of the house. That was an ultimatum. For him, he realised it’s time to stop being so selfish and get his life together. That’s when he decided to try out for the Granite Mountain Hotshots, and he met Eric Marsh, who became such a strong fatherly figure for him, up until the day of the tragedy.

Leading on from that, I think that after enduring JK Simmons yelling at you, nothing would faze you, but was it intimidating having someone like Josh Brolin play your boss?

No, it’s actually kind of the opposite of intimidating. I was really grateful, and I think we all benefitted from Josh’s leadership on the film. He got rid of any kind of divide or any kind of ego that could’ve been there, just because he’s done 50 movies and there were certain guys on the movie that it was their very first film. He was the best, man. He was having guys come to his house to work out and his trailer door was always open. He was really such a leader, not even just in the physical portion of the film. He would always be the first guy in the line, whether we were doing running, racing, cardio workouts. He’s in great shape and we really benefitted in the cast by having Josh as #1 on the call sheet.

What about the story of Brendan McDonough and of the Granite Mountain Hotshots resonated with you the most?

I have so much respect for anybody who’s in the position to be a first responder. The town that these guys came from, kind of a Southwest small town, I grew up in the south in a pretty small town. Especially after going to their hometown, I felt like I would’ve been friends with those guys, those were my kind of guys. Then obviously the tragedy that happened, and to get the opportunity to put a story like that of real-life heroism on screen and to do the story justice and celebrate their lives, then you’re lucky, because not every story has that kind of integrity to it.

With Brendan, I like any character who goes on a journey, a big arc or any character who goes through a big transition. And Brendan, starting out on the drugs and committing crimes to where he ends up being such a high-contributing member of society, that was interesting to me.

What was it like meeting the real-life Brendan McDonough?

I flew down to Prescott, Arizona, where the story takes place. I met Brendan, and it was uh, I’ve played a few real-life people at this point, and the first interaction is always…I was going down there basically to show face, and to show him that I was taking this very seriously. I just kind of allowed him to talk, and say what he wanted to say, and get any weird feelings about making a movie about his life out of the way, and then after that, we just hung out. We just got along and hung out for a couple of days. Apart of the work, it was fun, but it was also beneficial in playing the character.

What was it like working with director Joseph Kosinski?

Joe was great. Joe is everything that you want in a director: he’s extremely prepared, he’s extremely intelligent and thoughtful, and he absolutely wanted to maintain the integrity for these guys, he wanted the authenticity to play. That’s something that, for a movie of this budget, you don’t always get that. He was our captain on this thing, and he was also open-minded. He was open to ideas from the guys as to what they wanted to do with the character, and he’s a master behind the camera, but also in front of, in terms of talking with the actors. I couldn’t have asked for a better director.

In meeting with real-life currently active Hotshots and firefighters, what was the most surprising thing that struck you about these guys?

The actual people, like not too much. The work that they do is extremely tough. It is difficult. I have no idea what these guys go through to be able to fight these wildfires. I guess what surprised me about the guys is that they’re guys, they’re Hotshots and you feel “I’m sure I could lift more weights”, but the work they’re doing is extremely tough. And the guys that make it through, some of them surprise you because on the surface they don’t look like it, but really it’s an inner courage and strength that these guys have, that keeps them going week after week, month after month during fire season.

How does the physical work you had to do for this film compare to the preparation for a movie like Bleed for This?

It was different. For this one, we have like a two-week boot camp, where everybody got their butts kicked and got into shape. It’s a lot of physical labour, whereas boxing is such a different kind of training. Boxers are training to go 12 three-minute rounds in a fight, whereas these guys it’s more cardio, endurance, longevity. So the training was a little different, but both are tough.

What was the camaraderie like between the crew when you were training and filming, and out of all your castmates, who do you think you bonded with the strongest?

We had a great camaraderie, and I think it was very smart of the producers and the director to have that be the first introduction to everybody. To me, that brought us closer than any kind of rehearsing the scenes would have done, because you’re all links in a chain. When you’re doing these workouts, it’s not about the individual at all, it’s all about the group. I felt that was a really smart way to get everybody all in. They brought in some real Hotshots to do the training so we knew it was authentic, and everybody just bonded from the beginning.

It wasn’t necessarily one individual. We all got close. There were 20 guys including Brolin, and we were all hanging out. We were in Santa Fe, fairly small town, and we were all just hanging out.

With any film that’s based on a real-life disaster, there’s a balance between how respectful the film has to be while delivering the spectacle it has to, without being exploitative. How do you feel Only the Brave pulls that balance off?

It’s tough, because I don’t know how many people who are going to see the movie necessarily know what happened with the true story; people can look it up. I think a lot of people are going to see it based on the actors that are involved, the occupation that it is, firefighting, Joe the director, and these different elements, but I think what Joe and our screenwriter Eric Singer did is not rushing to the tragedy, not building this movie on the last catastrophe. They really do a good job of showing these guys and what they stood for, and not exploiting them for their deaths. They did a good job of not skipping through the first two-thirds of the movie just to get to that ending, which you know is going to be emotional and tragic and all those things. They did a really good job, and that is difficult to do – and there is nothing cliché about this movie at all.

What was it like working with the stunt team and the special effects crew, learning how to work with the practical fire elements?

The stunt team did a really great job. I had a stunt double for a few things, really not that much, but the entire stunt team and production too, they were able to construct this fake area of wild lands so that they could control the fire. There were times, absolutely, when the fire was really, really hot, but that’s how it goes. In real life, these guys, that’s what they’re feeling and they still have to focus and do their job. It added a sense of realism for the actor, which is always helpful.

It gives you something to interact with and act off against.

Yeah. The fire, there actually will be some CGI fire just to show the scope of it, but when you see the actors feeling the heat of the fire, that’s real fire.

I’m a big comic book movie geek, and in this movie, there are so many actors who’ve been in comic book movies. Were there any moments when anyone on set went “there’s Mr. Fantastic, there’s Gambit, there’s Thanos, there’s Obadiah Stane” and was geeking out over there?

No…I think when we were filming, Josh had [just] been cast as Thanos, so we would chat with him a little bit about that. This story was so important to everybody, everyone was kind of focused on that and wanted to do these real guys justice.

Finally, do blondes have more fun Miles?

Um, they do. When I dyed my hair blonde, I felt just very free and liberated. I just felt better about myself than when I was a brunette.

That really holds true?

Yes.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – 7 Best Moments from Trailer #2

For inSing  

Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer #2 – 7 moments that have us shook
We dig into the much buzzed-about trailer that has everyone excited for The Last Jedi

By Jedd Jong

As Darth Vader put it so well in The Empire Strikes Back, “it is useless to resist”. The second trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi has us, and numerous Star Wars fans around the globe, in its thrall. The eighth instalment in the main series of Star Wars films continues the stories of Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and the villainous Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), characters who were introduced to audiences in The Force Awakens. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and his sister General Leia (Carrie Fisher), reeling from the events of the last film and events preceding it, also return.

This being a Star Wars film, secrecy is key, and the marketing for the film must maintain a balance between guarding the details of the plot while doling out enough morsels to maintain high anticipations levels. The trailer for The Last Jedi does just this, demonstrating an expansive scope and giving us a glimpse of the various new locales and large-scale battles that will feature in The Last Jedi.

The trailer also promises intense and emotional arcs for its key characters, especially for Rey. It seems to imply that as Luke Skywalker trains his new pupil, he is taken aback by the power she demonstrates, power that could make her susceptible to the Dark Side. The trailer is tantalising, but also appears to be craftily edited, combining and changing the order of scenes to plant red herrings in audience’s minds.

Best of all, it doesn’t feel as if we’ve seen too much – Benicio del Toro, Laura Dern and Kelly Marie Tran, who are set to play significant roles, do not even appear in this particular trailer.

 

Let’s dig into seven of our favourite moments from the trailer!

#1: AT-M6 Walkers

The First Order makes no bones about displaying their military might, and the organisations inventory has only grown since the previous film. Early on in the trailer, we see a phalanx of All-Terrain Mega-Caliber 6 (AT-M6) Walkers marching on the surface of the planet Crait. These are new, heavier-duty versions of the AT-AT (All-Terrain Armoured Transport) Walkers we saw in Empire Strikes Back, but those, as well as the bipedal AT-ST Walkers, are still in use – they can be seen being deployed as Kylo Ren looks out onto a loading deck in the trailer’s first scene.

Design Supervisor Kevin Jenkins explained that the AT-M6 is inspired by the stance of a gorilla, walking on its knuckles with a high, arched back. This allows the Walker to support the Mega-Caliber cannon it carries on its back. Jenkins reasoned that these new Walkers would be impossible to take down with Snowspeeders. “I feel that it’s an iteration forward. A spitfire and a modern jet, you can see the link there,” Jenkins said, explaining the in-universe logic behind this design evolution.  “They’re part of the same thing. That was always my intention with the gorilla. It’s not a start from scratch.”

#2: Raw strength

The trailer intentionally establishes parallels between Rey and Kylo Ren, implying they could be cut from the same cloth, and that Rey has the same potential to be turned as Kylo Ren had.

“When I found you, I saw raw, untamed power, and beyond that, something truly special,” Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) ominously intones, presumably about Kylo Ren. The trailer cuts from this line to Rey igniting her lightsaber on Ahch-To, where she is being trained by Luke.

“Something inside me has always been there, and now it is awake, and I need help” Rey tells her newfound mentor. However, Luke must confront the horrifying possibility that history will repeat itself, as it is wont to within the Star Wars mythos.

“I’ve seen this raw strength only once before,” the Jedi Knight says. “It didn’t scare me enough then. It does now.” We are shown a flashback of the new Jedi Order’s temple/training facility being burnt down, an expansion of a scene glimpse in The Force Awakens. This appears the moment in which Kylo Ren, formerly Ben Solo, betrayed his Jedi master Luke by razing the facility. Something about Rey reminds Luke of his apprentice, and that can’t be good.

#3: “Let the past die”

Kylo Ren has already taken down one of his parents – the haunting scene of his confrontation with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) in The Force Awakens, ending with a lightsaber through Han’s chest, was one of the most talked-about moments in that film. Now, it appears Kylo Ren is intent on killing his mother too. With a high-tech carbon fibre-esque bandage over his scar, Kylo sits at the controls of the TIE Silencer, his personal starfighter. The TIE Silencer swoops towards the Raddus, the Resistance flagship named for the Mon Calamari Admiral who died in the Battle of Scarif in Rogue One. Standing on the bridge of the ship: General Leia. Kylo Ren has the bridge in his crosshairs, his finger on the trigger. He hesitates, and the trailer cuts away.

Does he end up killing his own mother? Or is there the chance of redemption, and that seeing his mother again might reawaken the good that lies dormant within Kylo Ren? It does seems like two separate scenes have been cut together, because the bridge of the Raddus doesn’t look like it’s in the thick of battle. Having been promised a respectful send-off for the late Carrie Fisher, we’re intrigued to see how it plays out, but know that whatever happens with General Leia, we’ll have to suppress tears.

#4: Porg!

The Last Jedi introduces new cuddly critters called Porgs, adorable little penguin-owl-otter-hamster creatures native to Ahch-To, where they have been keeping Luke company during his self-imposed exile. The Porgs seemed designed expressly to sell toys, and a wide variety of Porg-based merchandise is already available. Many Star Wars fans have become stridently anti-Porg, comparing the creatures to the Ewoks from Return of the Jedi. However, we find their inherent adorableness impossible to resist. At least one of them makes its way onto the Millennium Falcon, perched on the console as Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew/Joonas Suotamo) sits in the captain’s chair.

Director Rian Johnson was inspired by the thousands of Atlantic puffins who flock to the Irish island of Skellig Michael from April to August each year. Skellig Michael is where the Ahch-To scenes were shot. Ireland will no doubt see a spike in tourism from Star Wars fans eager to visit Luke’s hideout, but only 180 visitors a day are allowed to set foot on Skellig Michael, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Some organisations, including An Taisce (the National Trust for Ireland), have expressed worries that the influx of visitors will endanger the site and its ecosystem.

#5: Finn vs. Phasma

Before he was Finn, he was reluctant First Order Stormtrooper FN-2187. It seems that Finn will never be able to shake off his former life, and the trailer shows him facing off against Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), who trained him and other members of the FN Corps. Phasma was hyped up as being a cool new character, the first prominent female Stormtrooper in the Star Wars films, but ended up doing very little in The Force Awakens. This trailer indicates she’ll finally get to showcase her badassery: wielding a telescoping spear, Phasma fights with Finn, who is armed with a Z6 riot control baton. There already is a prequel comic detailing how Phasma escaped Starkiller Base, surviving the end of The Force Awakens.

#6: “Fulfil your destiny”

In this scene, Supreme Leader Snoke is torturing Rey. Rey is wearing her Jedi outfit, writhing in pain as she is suspended in mid-air by the tyrannical Supreme Leader. This scene apparently takes place in Snoke’s throne room aboard the Supremacy, the Mega-Class Star Destroyer that is the flagship of the First Order’s fleet. The trailer is edited in such a way as to make us think Snoke’s line “fulfil your destiny” is directed towards Rey, and that after successfully seducing Ben Solo to the Dark Side, Snoke now has his sights set on Rey.

#7: Rey turns evil?

The trailer ends with a corker of a scene that has ignited heated discussion. “I need someone to show me my place in all this,” Rey says. In the next shot, Kylo Ren extends his hand towards her, seemingly inviting Rey to join him in service of the Dark Side. Keen-eyed Star Wars fans have already seen through this apparent misdirect: the two scenes are distinct, and have been edited together to trick viewers into thinking that this is what’s going on. Since Rey is in her Resistance outfit which she wears earlier in the film while being trained by Luke on Ahch-To, it stands to reason that she is addressing Luke, and not Kylo Ren. The scenes are similarly lit, and that’s why they work cut together. The prevailing theory is that Kylo Ren is really stretching out his hand to his mother Leia, and that we are seeing part of a potential redemption scene.

Either way, all (okay, most – we’ve got to save some secrets for Episode IX) when Star Wars: The Last Jedi hits Singapore theatres on 14 December 2017.

Coming later: 5 belated sequels/prequels

For inSing

Coming later: 5 belated sequels/prequels

As Blade Runner 2049 is released, we look back at 5 other examples of the ‘sequel gap’

By Jedd Jong

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

What’s the logical thing for a studio to do when a film is successful? Make a sequel! Audiences have become to expect sequels at a steady pace: when the Harry Potter film series was ongoing, there was only a one-two year gap between instalments, and the four Hunger Games films were released one each consecutive year. In its heyday, we got a James Bond film about once every two years – now that has increased to three-four years, but the series is still chugging along.

Sometimes, audiences must wait a little longer to see how stories they’ve become attached to continue. There were eight years between The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, 12 years between Judgement Day and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, six years between Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation, and six more years between Terminator Salvation and Terminator: Genisys. Sometimes, they must wait a lot longer. The 2006 direct-to-video animated film Bambi II holds the record for the longest gap between film sequels – the original Bambi came out in 1942, a whopping 64 years earlier.

Blade Runner (1982)

There are a variety of reasons for sequels or prequels being released many years after the previous instalment in a series: a project can enter development hell with a tussle for creative control ensuing, it can take a while for a film to gain popularity or cult status that would lead to demand for a sequel, or the rights to the original film might have lapsed, with new rights holders making a sequel without the involvement of the original creators.

This week sees the release of Blade Runner 2049, 35 years after the release of the original Blade Runner. The 1982 film, directed by Ridley Scott and based on Philip K. Dick’s novella Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, did not initially catch on with audiences and critics. However, it gradually became viewed as an influential sci-fi masterpiece, and was re-evaluated as Scott released his director’s cuts of the film. A sequel has been in development since 1999, and has finally come to fruition. Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario, Prisoners) takes the director’s baton from Scott, with Harrison Ford reprising his role as Rick Deckard. Ford is joined by Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista and Jared Leto.

Here are five other sequels/prequels that took their time in getting to the big screen. We’re not counting straight reboots like the current Planet of the Apes series, but we will bend the rules a little – you’ll see if you read on!

#1: TRON: LEGACY (2010)
28 YEARS AFTER TRON (1982)

Tron Legacy (2010)

1982’s Tron, directed by Steven Lisberger, is a milestone in the development of visual effects technology. The film stars Jeff Bridges as a computer programmer who enters the digital realm of a video game and fights for survival. Tron was a modest success, and gradually became regarded as a cult film. Following the rise of Pixar, there were rumours that the animation studio would pursue a sequel to or remake of Tron. The desire for a Tron sequel was further fuelled by the release of the video game Tron 2.0 in 2003.

Tron (1982)

Development on a follow-up to Tron began in earnest in 2005, with visual effects artist Joseph Kosinksi being hired to direct the film two years later. Kosinski disagreed with Disney’s mandate that the film be modelled after The Matrix, and set about creating a proof-of-concept short film to demonstrate his vision for the sequel. This convinced Disney, and in 2008, a teaser trailer for what was then called ‘Tr2n’ was screened at Comic-Con. Jeff Bridges reprised his role as Kevin Flynn, who had been living in the Grid for many years. Kevin’s son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) goes off in search of his father, teaming up with an ‘iso’ named Quorra (Olivia Wilde) to defeat Clu (also Bridges), the tyrannical digital duplicate of Kevin. Bruce Boxleitner returned alongside Bridges from the first film. Tron: Legacy showcased cutting-edge visual effects technology, including extensive digital de-aging used to make Bridges appear younger. The film received mixed reviews, but the visual effects and the score by Daft Punk were widely praised. Tron: Legacy spawned the animated series Tron: Uprising, and development on a sequel was underway, but those plans have been shelved in favour of a possible reboot, to which Jared Leto is tentatively attached.

#2: INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008)
19 YEARS AFTER INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989)

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Before Harrison Ford made a belated return to Star Wars and Blade Runner, he reprised the role of adventurer archaeologist Indiana Jones in 2008’s Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas had originally made a deal with Paramount Pictures for five Indiana Jones movies in the late 1970s, but after 1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Lucas decided he couldn’t find a satisfactory plot device to base a follow-up on. Lucas turned his attention to The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, a prequel TV series in which Indy as a young man interacted with various historical figures and got entangled in world events. Ford made a cameo in the series, narrating an episode as a framing device. This led Lucas to pursue a film sequel set in the 50s, with Lucas setting his heart on making it an homage to sci-fi B-movies.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Spielberg and Ford were initially resistant to the idea of the movie featuring aliens, but Lucas convinced Ford by saying the ‘aliens’ in the movie would instead be ‘interdimensional beings’. A succession of writers, including M. Night Shyamalan and Frank Darabont, were hired. Darabont’s draft, entitled ‘Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods’, featured ex-Nazis hiding out in Argentina. After making Schindler’s List, Spielberg decided he could no longer use Nazis as cartoonish villains, with Soviet operatives chosen as the villains of the piece. Numerous attempts were made to find out more about the secretive production, with an extra violating a non-disclosure agreement, and a separate incident in which photos and documents were stolen from Spielberg’s office. Returning alongside Ford was Karen Allen, who played the feisty Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Shia LaBeouf played Mutt, their son. Cate Blanchett turned in an enjoyably over-the-top performance as the villainous Irinia Spalko. Ford is set to don that dusty Fedora again in a fifth film, due in 2020.

#3: STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999)
16 YEARS AFTER STAR WARS EPISODE VI: RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983)

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

The other franchise Lucas is known for is no stranger to significant gaps between major instalments. The production and development of the Star Wars franchise is as storied and eventful as the mythos of the films and related media themselves. Lucas had originally intended to remake the classic sci-fi serial Flash Gordon, and when the rights were unavailable, set about devising his own space opera, cobbled from influences as varied as Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, WWII-era dogfight movies like The Dam Busters and 663 Squadron, and Frank Herbert’s Dune. Weathering a torturous production process, 1977’s Star Wars became a smash critical and commercial hit, leading to the sequels The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 and Return of the Jedi in 1983.

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Lucas said he was “burned out” after working on the original trilogy, but having fleshed out the backstory, did not close off the possibility of eventually returning to make prequels. What became known as the Expanded Universe, consisting of books, comics, video games and other media beyond the films, was developing. A driving force of this was the trilogy of novels by Timothy Zahn, which took place after Return of the Jedi and introduced the villainous Grand Admiral Thrawn. These books caused a resurgence in the popularity of Star Wars in the early 90. Lucas became fascinated with the advancements in computer-generated visual effects technology, modifying the original trilogy to create the ‘special editions’, which were released theatrically in 1997. He decided that the prequels would tell the story of Anakin Skywalker, who would eventually become the Sith Lord Darth Vader. Attack of the Clones would follow in 2002, and Revenge of the Sith in 2005. The prequel trilogy has generally been derided for its over-reliance on visual effects and its poor writing and stilted performances, but there are those who enjoy it for its depiction of the Jedi and Clone Troopers.

There is a 10-year gap between Revenge of the Sith and The Force Awakens, which picks up the story 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi. The Force Awakens was released 32 years after that film, its immediate predecessor in the series’ chronology. 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was released 39 years after A New Hope.

#4: THE THING (2011)
29 YEARS AFTER THE THING (1982)

The Thing (2011)

John Carpenter’s The Thing is often cited as one of the most influential sci-fi horror films ever made. The film was adapted from John W. Campbell’s novella Who Goes There?, which also served as the basis for the 1951 film The Thing From Another World. Carpenter’s version did not perform extremely well at the box office, but went on to become a cult classic. Its gory, inventive and spectacular creature effects were devised by Rob Bottin, with Stan Winston making the dog creature when Bottin’s crew was swamped with the other creatures made for the film. The Thing begins with a Norwegian helicopter pursuing an Alaskan Malamute across the Antarctic ice. The helicopter’s pilot is shot dead by the station commander before he can fully issue his warning – the dog is not what it appears. What ensues is a frightening sequence of mistrust and monster mayhem as a parasitic alien life form wreaks havoc in the American base.

The Thing (1982)

The prequel film, also titled ‘The Thing’, sought to answer the question of what exactly happened at the Norwegian base. Producers Marc Abraham and Eric Newman convinced Universal Studios that the film should be made as a prequel rather than a remake. Writer Eric Heisserer, who would go on to become an Oscar nominee for Arrival, described constructing the story as “doing it by autopsy”. He carefully went over the original film, working backwards to ensure everything would line up. Director Matthijs van Heijningen, Jr. insisted on casting Norwegian actors to play the Norwegian characters – you might recognise Kristofer Hivju because he went on to play Tormund in Game of Thrones. van Heijningen also took inspiration from Alien, casting Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the protagonist. The film’s animatronic effects were created by Amalgamated Dynamics Inc (ADI), but most of them ended up being replaced by computer-generated effects in post-production, much to the chagrin of ADI founders Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr. The film received mixed to negative reviews, but is worth checking out to see how the filmmakers stuck to rigid parameters in creating a film that takes place just days before the events of the original film.

#5: MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)
30 YEARS AFTER MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME (1985)

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Here’s where we’re bending the rules: technically, this is a soft reboot and a sequel, and retains the same director as the earlier three Mad Max films: George Miller. Mel Gibson starred in the three films (released in 1979, 1981 and 1985). Miller refrains from referring to the film as either a reboot or a sequel, calling it a ‘revisit’. The post-apocalyptic action thriller had been mired in development hell for ages. Miller decided to make a fourth instalment in 1998, which was set to begin production in 2001. This was halted due to the economic collapse in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, which led to the film’s budget inflating. Miller decided to recast the role, given the controversies that Gibson had stirred up with his increasingly questionable behaviour. The road to making a fourth film was only beginning, with more potholes along the way for Miller and his crew to contend with: production in the Australian desert was about to begin, but unexpected rainfall put in a spanner in those works. Miller was forced to relocated to Namibia, but production was put on hold due to travel and shipping restrictions imposed as the Iraq War was beginning in 2003.

Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985)

Miller briefly turned his attention to a possible 3D animated film, but eventually abandoned these plans to resume production on a live-action film, which would now be shot in 3D. In 2010, the casting of Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky was announced. Charlize Theron joined him as Imperator Furiosa. Miller originally intended to shoot the fourth and fifth films in the series back-to-back. Shooting was set to begin in Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia, but once again, Mother Nature had different plans. Unexpected heavy rains caused wildflowers to sprout, ruining the desolate post-apocalyptic setting. The crew picked up sticks and moved back to Namibia, for an arduous 120-day shoot in the desert. Elaborate vehicular action sequences and daring stunts were staged with an emphasis on practical effects. Even so, the film ended up containing more than 2000 visual effects shots. After the R-rated cut tested better than the PG-13 one did, Warner Bros. went ahead with that version. Mad Max: Fury Road was a smash hit, praised for its feminist themes, strong performances and captivating action. It received ten Oscar nominations and won six, more than any other film nominated that year.

Heist Stakes: 5 heist movies to set your adrenaline pumping

Heist Stakes

In anticipation of Logan Lucky, here are five other caper flicks to check out

By Jedd Jong

The heist comedy Logan Lucky has been called “redneck Ocean’s Eleven”, eschewing the glitz and glamour of high-end Las Vegas casinos for the dusty heartland that is home to the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Steven Soderbergh, who directed the 2001 remake of Ocean’s Eleven, was drawn to Rebecca Blunt’s screenplay for Logan Lucky because it felt like the antithesis of the cool, slick Ocean’s movies.

Heist movies are a particularly captivating film genre: they can be light-hearted romps or intense affairs filled with double-crosses and clever gambits, and audiences enjoy seeing a complex robbery come together, then unfold – but not always according to plan. Sometimes it’s a team of scrappy underdogs reclaiming what they feel is rightfully theirs – like the Logan family in Logan Lucky. Other times, our heroes are seasoned career criminals who must outfox dogged law enforcement agents to pull off an intricate heist.

Before (or after, we won’t judge) you catch Logan Lucky in theatres, delve into the realm of fiendishly clever schemes, honour among thieves and best-laid plans going awry with these five heist movies.

#1: OCEAN’S ELEVEN

This 2001 remake of the 1960 film of the same name has arguably overtaken the original in terms of impact on pop culture at large. The 1960 film starred Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Angie Dickinson – the 2001 film matched that star power with George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Andy Garcia and Julia Roberts. Clooney’s Danny Ocean hatches a plan to simultaneously rob the Bellagio, The Mirage, and the MGM Grand casinos on the Vegas strip, assembling a team of highly-skilled experts to help him pull off the job. Johnny Depp was considered for the Linus Caldwell role, and Mark Wahlberg was briefly attached to the part, but Matt Damon clinched the role instead. Director Steven Soderbergh and the main cast would return for two sequels: Ocean’s Twelve in 2004, and Ocean’s Thirteen in 2007. Soderbergh said that after the death of Bernie Mac, who played Frank Catton, a fourth film would be unlikely. Instead, we can look forward to the all-female spinoff Ocean’s Eight, starring Sandra Bullock as Danny Ocean’s sister Debbie, alongside Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling and Rihanna, which will be released in June 2018.

#2: THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE

Based on the 1973 novel of the same name by Morton Freedood (under the pen name ‘John Godey’), The 1974 film The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is considered one of the best thrillers of the 70s. The film is about four hijackers who commandeer a New York City subway train, demanding $ 1 million to be delivered within the hour, and promising to kill one passenger per minute after the deadline expires. The leader of the hijackers, Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw) faces off against Transit Authority police lieutenant Zachary Garber (Walther Matthau) in a game of wits, with the lives of 17 passengers hanging in the balance. The Transit Authority of New York was reluctant to allow director Joseph Sargent to film in the actual subway, fearing that the movie would inspire train hijackings. The film was mostly filmed in the tunnels leading to the decommissioned IND Court St. station in Brooklyn, with the station doubling for Grand Central and 28th St. stations. The station is now home to the New York City Transit Museum. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three was remade as a TV movie in 1998 starring Edward James Olmos and Vincent D’Onofrio, then as a feature film in 2009 starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta.

#3: ENTRAPMENT

This 1999 thriller may not have the glowing critical acclaim enjoyed by the other entries on this list, but it is a sentimental favourite for this writer. In Entrapment, undercover investigator Vriginia “Gin” Baker (Catherine Zeta-Jones) becomes entangled with debonair gentleman art thief Robert “Mac” MacDougal (Sean Connery). Their partnership culminates in a plot to steal $8 billion from the International Clearance Bank located in the North Tower of the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on New Year’s Eve of 1999-2000. Malaysian viewers baulked at a scene in which a shantytown is depicted a short distance from the Petronas Towers. The shantytown is in Malacca and was superimposed over a shot of the Towers. While certainly not the first to feature a thief weaving through a ‘laser tripwire’ security system, Entrapment was one of the films that codified the trope. The film was not-so-subtly marketed with trailers prominently featuring Zeta-Jones in a slinky catsuit seductively squirming between thin red threads, as Gin practices for the heist. The leading man and lady of the film are separated by a staggering 39 years, but Connery’s charm is almost enough for it not to seem icky. Almost.

#4: INCEPTION

Christopher Nolan’s film, often cited as a foremost example of the “thinking person’s blockbuster”, puts a sci-fi twist on the heist movie formula. The film’s protagonist Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a specialist in stealing not money or diamonds, but ideas, entering the minds of his marks as they dream. He is given the near-impossible task of planting an idea, or “incepting”, but Dom is haunted by the memory late wife Mal (Marion Cotillard), impairing his ability to pull off the mission. The cast also includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe and Michael Caine. By combining spectacular action set-pieces with heady themes that muse on the subjectivity of dreams and reality, all enacted by a stellar cast, Nolan created an indelible experience that filmgoers eagerly discussed, dissected and watched repeatedly. Inception’s mind-bending dreamscapes were brought to life with a mix of practical and digital effects, including a 30-metre-long rotating set used to film the signature Zero-G hotel hallway fight sequence. The film won four Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects, and was nominated for four more, including Best Picture.

#5: HEAT

With his 1995 crime thriller Heat, Michael Mann elevated the cops-and-robbers movie to a fine art. Like any good heist movie, there’s a cat-and-mouse element at the heart of Heat: professional thief Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) is relentlessly pursued by LAPD detective Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) of the robbery-homicide division. The film is praised for featuring some of the best performances from its leading men (before either fully settled on accepting roles in bad movies to pay the bills) and for its elaborate action sequences, including an epic street shootout and a climactic confrontation at the LAX airport. Heat also stars Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Ashley Judd, William Fichtner and Natalie Portman.

The film was a remake of a television pilot that Michael Mann had made. The pilot wasn’t picked up to series, but aired as a TV movie called L.A. Takedown. This was in turn inspired by true events: the real-life Neil McCauley was a former inmate at Alcatraz who was eventually hunted down by Chicago police officer Chuck Adamson in 1964. Because of the violent, explicit depiction of the heists, Heat was cited as an inspiration for a spate of real-life armoured car robberies. The 1997 North Hollywood shootout, involving a faceoff between bank-robbers and the LAPD, was often compared to Heat. In the realm of film, Christopher Nolan took inspiration from Heat for The Dark Knight, also a sprawling crime epic.

Cruising Altitude: the high-flying escapades of Tom Cruise

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Cruising altitude: the high-flying escapades of Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise plays a pilot in American Made – here are five other times planes and other flying machines have figured in his movies

By Jedd Jong

The story of pilot Barry Seal is one that’s stranger than fiction: Seal went from being a commercial pilot for TWA to becoming a drug courier for the Medellín Cartel, a gunrunner for the Contras and the CIA, and a DEA informant. In the biopic American Made, Seal is played by Tom Cruise, and it’s easy to believe that Cruise can smirk and wink his way out of any sticky situation. Seal makes various daring take-offs from remote Colombian jungles, the underbelly of his cocaine-laden plane scraping the tree tops. One of the film’s most memorable scenes features Seal crash-landing on a residential street after he’s pursued by the DEA, tumbling out of his plane covered in cocaine, handing a bundle of cash to a bewildered kid and escaping on said kid’s bicycle.

Cruise is a certified pilot in real life, and owns a collection of planes including a WWII-era P-51 Mustang. The actor has built a reputation for doing more of his own stunts than any insurance company would be comfortable with, and he pulled off yet another hair-raising feat in American Made. Not only did Cruise do some of his own flying in the film, he left the cockpit with no one else in the plane for scenes in which Seal had to dump cocaine out the back of the plane. Director Doug Liman, who was flying alongside Cruise in a helicopter shooting the scene, was both terrified and thrilled by the commitment displayed by his leading man. “It’s one thing to have Tom Cruise alone in the airplane flying it — that’s already outrageous — now he’s alone and he’s not even in the cockpit so he’s gone beyond,” Liman said. “It was already a stunt before he left the cockpit, it was already a serious stunt.”

Before you watch Cruise wing it in American Made, here are five other times he’s been in the pilot’s seat – or somewhere less safe – on a plane or other flying vehicle in his movie career.

#1: MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION

The Mission: Impossible movie franchise has become synonymous with crazy Cruise stunts. 2015’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation opens with a death-defying feat: Cruise’s Ethan Hunt clings onto the exterior of an Airbus 400 as it takes off from a runway. This sequence became one of the film’s major selling points, featuring heavily in billboard and banner advertising. “There’s no digital Tom, and there’s no fake plane. He’s really strapped to an Airbus,” Director of Photography Robert Elswit declared. The stunt team did tests with a dummy, then with a stunt double, before letting Cruise do the stunt himself. Cruise was strapped into a harness that was wired to the plane through its door, and the runway was carefully cleared of rocks and other debris. “When he wants to do something, he’ll figure out a way to do it,” Elswit said of Cruise, describing him as “the most obsessive artist.” “If it couldn’t actually be Tom on the plane, I think he wouldn’t want the sequence in the movie,” Elswit remarked.

#2: OBLIVION

In the post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller Oblivion, Cruise plays the last man on earth – or so he thinks. It is Jack Harper’s job to repair drones that are attacked by alien scavengers, or ‘scavs’, and he routinely patrols his sector in a gleaming high-tech craft called the Bubbleship. The craft resembles a dragonfly and is inspired by the Bell 47 helicopter. The film features a dogfight during which Jack is pursued in his Bubbleship by hostile drones, with the mysterious Julia Rusakova (Olga Kurylenko) seated beside him. Production designer Darren Gilford and his team built a life-sized Bubbleship. Cruise visited the crew in the workshop while they were constructing the Bubbleship, and had input on design elements like the foot pedals and controls, so operating the craft would look natural. “It’s so beautifully designed. Every piece of it was just smooth and elegant,” Cruise said. A cockpit-only version of the Bubbleship was built to be mounted on a gimbal, which would spin around against a bluescreen backdrop like a souped-up theme park ride. Being a pilot himself, Cruise had no problems with sitting in the rig, but his co-star Kurylenko had never been in a gimbal and was nervous about it. “Olga will tell you today she wasn’t scared. She was scared,” Cruise quipped.

“The Bubbleship is a beautiful creation when it’s just standing on the ground, but you don’t want to be in there when it’s flipping around!” Kurylenko said. “In the end I liked it, I have to admit. But don’t tell anyone, I pretended like I didn’t,” she laughed.

#3: THE MUMMY

Universal Studios’ revival of its classic movie monsters in ‘cinematic universe’ form, the Dark Universe, got off to a rocky start with The Mummy. Industry watchers speculated that the film’s failure was due at least in part to Cruise’s “excessive control” over the production. Cruise reportedly personally commissioned screenwriters to fashion the project into more of a star vehicle for himself, reducing the screen time of the titular character, Sofia Boutella’s Ahmanet. The film features a big Mission: Impossible-style stunt: the crash of a military transport plane carrying Ahmanet’s sarcophagus. The production hired a zero-gravity plane from the French space agency NoveSpace, converting its interior to resemble a military transport plane. The plane would fly in parabolic arcs, resulting in brief periods of weightlessness. Cruise, co-star Annabelle Wallis and the crew all floated in zero-G to capture the scene. “We had to prepare as best we could, but then we don’t quite know exactly what’s going to happen,” Cruise said. “We wanted it to be wild and violent and spontaneous for an audience,” he explained. “They’re just seeing it happening in real time. There’s no edit, it’s there.”

#4: EDGE OF TOMORROW

Cruise first collaborated with his American Made director Liman on the sci-fi action flick Edge of Tomorrow, based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s light novel All You Need is Kill. A loving ode to military science fiction mainstays such as Starship Troopers and Aliens with a Groundhog Day time loop folded in, Edge of Tomorrow features futuristic weapons and gadgets, including powered mech suits and Quadcopters. The Quadcopters are the conveyance from which troops are deployed onto the battlefield, and resemble the Bell Boeing Quad TiltRotor. “[Production designer] Oliver Scholl came up with this great idea of this dropship, this futuristic aircraft where the soldiers in their exo-suits would be locked in like human ordnance, and they just drop you,” Liman explained. “That seemed so terrifying and would be a really great thing for Tom Cruise’s character to have to experience.”

Being suspended from the rack inside the Quadcopter might not have been the most dangerous stunt Cruise had ever executed, but it wasn’t necessarily pleasant. “Being inside that dropship, we’re like canned tuna, basically,” Cruise recalled. “I have to say, those days we’re all in there, as actors you’re just hanging in an uncomfortable way for many, many hours.”

#5: TOP GUN

Playing a pilot launched Cruise to superstardom, and 1986’s Top Gun remains one of his best-known films. Most of us might regard the film as 80s kitsch, but in 2015, the United States Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. The film was inspired by an article in California magazine about the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons school, colloquially known as ‘Top Gun’. Mega-producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson hired the late director Tony Scott on the basis of his commercial for Saab, which featured a fighter jet. Bruckheimer and Simpson pursued Cruise for the lead role of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, but Cruise wouldn’t commit even as he received updated drafts of the script. Bruckheimer arranged for Cruise to take a flight with the U.S. Navy’s famous Blue Angels aerobatics team, in the hopes that this would convince Cruise to accept the role. Cruise had just finished filming Ridley Scott’s Legend and still had a long ponytail, so the pilots thought he was a hippie and figured they’d have some fun by flying Cruise upside-down and at three to four G Forces. Cruise was unfazed, and Bruckheimer’s gambit paid off – Cruise hopped off the plane, went to the nearest phone booth and called Bruckheimer to say he was in. The long-awaited sequel is finally coming to fruition – Top Gun: Maverick is due in 2019, reuniting Cruise with Oblivion director Joseph Kosinski.

The Drawing of the Three: Animated Threequels

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The Drawing of the Three: animated threequels

Before Cars 3 zooms into theatres, we look at the good, the bad and the okay third instalments in animated film series

By Jedd Jong

Big-budget animated films take a lot of work, and often have longer production periods than live-action films. Even with the latest technological advances, it takes weeks to produce footage that is onscreen for mere seconds. Some concepts gestate and evolve over several years. In the early-2000s, we saw a trend of animated movies receiving low-budget direct-to-DVD sequels. There have also been theatrically-released animated films that did well enough to warrant not only a sequel that also opened in theatres, but a third instalment too.

While Pixar’s Cars films are not nearly as beloved as some of the studio’s other output, they have become a merchandising goldmine, even inspiring the Cars Land section at Disney’s California Adventure theme park. The first film got a lukewarm reception, with Cars 2 receiving a critical drubbing – its 39% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes is the lowest of any Pixar film. The consensus is that Cars 3 is a marked improvement on its immediate predecessor. The film opened in the United States in June, and has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 68%.

In some cases, animated film series show signs of running out of steam at movie #3, but in others, the third instalment breathes new life into the franchise. On the count of three, here is an overview of five threequels in animated film series.

#1: SHREK THE THIRD

2001’s Shrek established DreamWorks Animation as a worthy competitor to Disney and Pixar, even though DreamWorks had butted heads with its powerful rival before. Loosely based on the children’s book by William Stieg, Shrek was energetic, irreverent and contained a resonant message about looking past appearances, and how judging someone on their appearance alone can end up negatively defining them. 2004’s Shrek 2, which introduced the villainous Fairy Godmother and Prince Charming characters as well as sidekick Puss in Boots, was a critical and commercial hit. However, the wheels came off the Shrek train with the third instalment, which was released in 2007.

In Shrek The Third, Shrek (Mike Myers), Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) embark on a road trip in search of Shrek’s nephew-in-law. The would-be heir to the throne is none other than Arthur Pendragon, or “Artie” (Justin Timberlake), who is attending a magical boarding school. The film also starred Monty Python alum Eric Idle as the voice of Merlin, and featured Fiona (Cameron Diaz) leading a posse of princesses voiced by comediennes including Amy Poehler, Amy Sedaris, Maya Rudolph and Cheri Oteri. The film drew a tepid critical reaction, with critics pointed out that it seemed to be working overtime to prove its wit with a smorgasbord of pop culture references, at the expense of the heart displayed in its two predecessors. Shrek the Third was followed by Shrek Forever After in 2010, and a Puss in Boots spinoff in 2011. The property is being ‘resurrected’, but it is not known if the fifth film will be a complete reboot.

#2: ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS

Blue Sky Studios, which has produced animated films such as Rio, Epic and The Peanuts Movie, made its debut in 2002 with Ice Age. The animated film about an unlikely collection of critters who come across a human baby, who is the target of a Smilodon. Ice Age earned a positive critical reaction and was even nominated for a Best Animated Feature Film Oscar, which it lost to Spirited Away. The film’s break-out star, a sabre-toothed squirrel named Scrat, scuttled his way into the pop culture consciousness. Alas, it seemed that this first entry was destined to be the would-be franchise’s high point, as the four films that followed have received considerably icier receptions.

The first film was followed by 2006’s Ice Age: The Meltdown, with 2009’s Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs as the third entry in the series. In this film, Sid (John Leguizamo) the sloth is pursued by a Tyrannosaurus rex after he unwittingly “adopts” three eggs that hatch into new-born T. rexes. The dinosaurs have survived the extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous period by hiding in a subterranean jungle. The film drew criticism for its tired story, but was praised for the quality of its animation. Disagreeing with the consensus was the late Roger Ebert, who awarded the film 3.5 out of 4 stars and called it the best in the series yet. Two more sequels, 2012’s Ice Age: Continental Drift and 2016’s Ice Age: Collision Course, have been produced.

#3: KUNG FU PANDA 3

DreamWorks Animation introduced the world to the loveable panda Po (Jack Black) in 2008’s Kung Fu Panda. Pretty much the ultimate promoted fanboy, Po goes from playing with action figures of the Furious Five to joining the team of warriors. The Kung Fu Panda films boast one of the glitziest casts DreamWorks, known for hiring A-list names as voice actors, has assembled. Black is joined by Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, David Cross, Jackie Chan, Dustin Hoffman and James Hong.  The three films have been consistently well-regarded by critics, with the first film receiving an 87% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the second scoring 81% and the third getting 87% as well. The series’ use of Chinese culture and traditions as inspiration for its anthropomorphic world and the energy and creativity with which its action scenes are animated have contributed to its praise. The first Kung Fu Panda film also performed well in China, leading to introspection from the Chinese film industry, whose domestically-produced animated films have often been criticised as being poor in quality. China responded with 2011’s Legend of a Rabbit, a.k.a. Legend of Kung Fu Rabbit, a knockoff of Kung Fu Panda.

In 2016’s Kung Fu Panda 3, Po is reunited with his long-lost father Li Shan (Bryan Cranston), who takes Po to a hidden village of pandas. In the meantime, the Furious Five are menaced by Kai (J.K. Simmons), a powerful spirit warrior who has defeated numerous Kung Fu masters and stolen their chi. Kai has Po, the Dragon Warrior himself, in his crosshairs. Po must train his ungainly kin into fighting-fit warriors to defeat Kai, as Shifu (Hoffman) announces his retirement, passing the mantle of teacher on to Po. Mads Mikkelsen was originally cast as Kai, but the character was rewritten and recast with Simmons. Rebel Wilson was also originally cast as Mei Mei, a panda with a crush on Po, but was replaced by Kate Hudson. Scheduling conflicts were cited as the reason, but Wilson has argued that tabloid articles accusing her of lying about her age and upbringing were what led to her being fired from the animated film. DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg has planned the series to have six chapters. A fourth movie is supposedly in development, but a release date and casting hasn’t been announced.

#4: DESPICABLE ME 3

The most recent entry on this list is Despicable Me 3, which was released in June of this year. The first Despicable Me film was released in 2010, and was the debut animated feature film from French studio Mac Guff. Mac Guff has since been acquired by Illumination Entertainment. Thanks largely to the success of the Despicable Me franchise, Illumination has become a major player in the animation scene. It was established as the family entertainment arm of NBCUniversal, and in 2016, NBCUniversal acquired DreamWorks Animation. The Shrek ‘resurrection’ we mentioned earlier? That, and the rest of DreamWorks’ upcoming animated movie slate, is being overseen by Illumination founder Chris Meledandri. The first Despicable Me film was about how the supervillain Gru (Steve Carell) eventually becomes the foster father to three young girls, but the show was stolen by Gru’s army of capsule-shaped assistants, the Minions. The Minions became a merchandising phenomenon, got a spin-off to themselves in 2015, and even have their own ride at Universal Studios theme parks.

Despicable Me 3 sees Gru meet his long-lost twin brother Dru (also Carell), while battling 80s-themed supervillain and washed-up child star Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker). A subplot sees Gru’s wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) trying to adapt to her new role as foster mother to Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Nev Scharrel). While the lively animation and larger-than-life action sequences were praised, the contrived plot device of a long-lost twin sibling was seen by some critics as a sign that the franchise was running out of ideas. By now, the Minions have become a lightning rod for scorn, with many viewers rolling their eyes at an extended subplot about the Minions mutinying against Gru and getting thrown in prison. Illumination also displayed signs of smugness, taking a hard swipe at Finding Nemo in the film’s opening minutes (Gru’s submersible slams into a clownfish, leaving its father distraught as only its son’s severed fin remains). The franchise shows no signs of slowing down, with Minions 2 set for a 2020 release date.

#5: TOY STORY 3

In 1995, Pixar Animation Studios created the first feature-length computer-generated animated film ever made: Toy Story. An industry game changer, Toy Story was an auspicious feature-length debut for a company that had been tinkering with high-tech animation techniques and showcasing them in short films for some time. Toy Story is about the secret life that the denizens of Andy’s toybox have when he is not around. Andy’s favourite toy has long been the cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks). Woody feels threatened when Andy brings home a new toy, the spacefaring Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), who believes he is an actual space ranger and refuses to accept that he is a toy. Woody attempts to win back Andy’s affections and must begrudgingly cooperate when Woody and Buzz find themselves endangered by Sid, Andy’s neighbour who takes delight in dismantling and reassembling toys.

The Toy Story films are critical darlings – the first film is one of the few in existence to have a perfect 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes. 1999’s Toy Story 2, in which Woody gets stolen by a toy collector and has to be rescued by Buzz and the other toys, also earned a 100% Tomatometer rating. In 2010’s Toy Story 3, the toys confront an uncertain future as Andy, now grown up, prepares to leave for college. In addition to boasting the usual high-quality animation and fine vocal performances that Pixar had become known for, Toy Story 3’s deep meditation on loss, nostalgia and the process of growing up moved many viewers to tears. The film has a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes – the first negative review counted by the site coming, predictably enough, from infamously contrarian critic Armond White. Other critics gave the film glowing reviews, with the BBC’s Mark Kermode declaring the Toy Story series “the best movie trilogy of all time”. The film also topped filmmaker Quentin Tarantino’s list of favourite films of 2010. While many feel Toy Story 3 works as a beautifully bittersweet note on which to end the series, Toy Story 4 is set for a 2019 release and will be about Woody and Buzz’s search for the lost toy, Bo Peep.

Cars 3 opens in Singapore on 31 August 2017.