Sunday, 29 April 2012

Avengers Assemble an Ikea Bedstead - sorry, they come together. Review.

Avengers Assembling
Mash-ups entice us. When I was a child I used to imagine that all the books I read interacted; somewhere, there existed a world where Snow White drank tea with Alice, and Gandalf the Grey companionably locked horns with Sparrowhawk over a game of wizard chess; Middle Earth was just a boat's ride away from Narnia, in my supra-fictional framework.  There is a lot to be said for cross-hybridisation. I haven't read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but it seems like quite a funny idea. But in my experience, those mixtures tend not to work, as some part of the original artistic whole is invariably compromised. Gandalf the Grey looks a little greyer beside Sparrowhawk. Dumbledore wouldn't even get a look in.

Avengers Assemble is different, of course. (When I first saw the film's title I thought - Avengers Assemble what? An Ikea bedstead? That's pretty damn hard, but  a whole film about it? Really?) The heroes already exist in the same comic book universe. Bringing them together is a fan's dream. It also stems from the childhood need to collect all your playthings into one big meta-playground. The film sees Earth under threat (again) from the usual mysteriously motivated aliens with big weapons, and an energy source called the Tesseract, a hyper-cube that can open portals into other worlds. If it falls into the wrong hands... well, you can probably guess. Oh, and Loki, Thor's brother, (a fantastic Tom Hiddleston, who really ought to be given his own film) struts around smiling a lot and looking inscrutable because that's what monstrous evil people do, isn't it?

There are three problems with Avengers Assemble. But first, let's get the good stuff out of the way. Joss Whedon manages to leaven proceedings with a bit of wit - if it was a curry it would be a lamb korma. The actors give it their best shot, too, with some particularly good lines from Chris Hemsworth as Thor, and everyone yomps and punches and fixes things (there's a lot of fixing things) with aplomb.

So. The first problem is that the threat is so vague. Oh dear, the earth's under attack, again. What is it this time? Giant scaly flying tortoises? Sigh. Things that are alien have all but ceased to be frightening: things are much more scary when they come from within.

The second is that though the film consists of one frenetic scene after another, it actually manages to drag. That's largely because of its entirely predictable arc. Yes, there is a bit of friction between the Avengers; yes, there will be a moment when everything looks like it's going to fail; but yes, of course, it doesn't. And the film itself knows this. One of the characters (with whom I think the director thinks we have a lot more sympathy than we actually do) says to Loki that he'll never win. We know this. That's partly why we're watching this film; we don't go to watch superhero movies to see the world blown up. But the film would have had more of a hook if the threat felt genuine; the villains more pressing; the tensions less contrived.

The third problem relates to the assembling (I ought to call it mustering, really) of the heroes. Though the film managed not to spend too much time on their back stories, and getting them all together, there really were too many of them to care about. And since they're all super heroes - bar Black Widow and Hawkeye, who as far as I can see are just pretty handy in a fight - it's not that interesting watching them fight. The film does a good job of adding some spark to the battles, particularly with the Hulk. Ultimately, though, one can't help but feeling that these uber-men ought to be kept apart.

A much more interesting proposition would be to see Loki having to become good. That I'd love to see - the monster redeemed. The problem with heroes like Captain America is that they're just too damn boring. It's the same as Galahad, or Jesus Christ in Paradise Regained. You need your Lancelot, just as Milton knew that Satan was more interesting to write about. So, Marvel, I ask you: give Tom Hiddleston a chance. Avengers Assemble might be a comic book fan's dream - but maybe it should have stayed that way.
Read my review of Thor

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Goldfish with Machine Guns: A Talk with the Liberators at Cranleigh Library

To Cranleigh,  for a reading group at the well-stocked and inviting library, where I was very warmly welcomed and given cake (which is a Very Good Thing.) We discussed bits of The Liberators and The Other Book, and also wider aspects of writing in general. It was interesting to hear what the children (aged between 11 and 12) were reading: a lot of Hunger Games and Twilight. I went round the room to discover what would be in the ideal book, and this is what they came up with:

A haunted house. A squirrel. A goldfish with a machine gun. Alien dinosaurs with jet packs. A magic mirror opening onto another world. A mystery. A flying pig called Gordon. A giant dog-eating ant. And a man-eating cake.
So if you could put all those together into a book, you'd be rich. (Possibly.)

It was a fun afternoon: an enormous thank you the the staff of the library, and to the reading group themselves - who have chosen to call themselves The Liberators, which is an accolade a man can hardly dream of. (Liber, of course, meaning book in Latin, as well as free. And of course liberi means children.)

It's a powerful argument for keeping libraries going - providing a place for children to get together and read and talk about books, and to come across things that they wouldn't necessarily have done. All power to the Liberators of Cranleigh

Interview for First Story: Chelsey Flood talks to Philip Womack

What ho chaps. Chelsey Flood, whose novel is coming out very soon, has interviewed me for First Story, and the Periscope Post have put it up on their website. Check it out here.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Philippa Gregory talks about her new YA novel, The Changeling

Toodle-pip, chaps: I've interviewed the lovely Philippa Gregory about her new Young Adult book, The Changeling, for The Daily Telegraph. I went up to Yarm to meet her in a country house hotel on a day that blazed with sunshine. We talked about witchcraft, werewolves, history and time. Check it out here, funsters.


Monday, 9 April 2012

Silver by Andrew Motion: Review in Literary Review

Hello, and a very Happy Easter to one and all. I've reviewed Andrew Motion's Silver, a sequel to Treasure Island, for the April issue of Literary Review. It's a fascinating book. The issue is a great one, too, with an incisive Foreign Parts section, and a lovely piece on the artist Prunella Clough, amongst other things. Check it out, my friends.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones: review

Pip pip chaps, I've reviewed The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones for The Daily Telegraph. Read all about it here.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection by Alexander McCall Smith: review

What ho, I've reviewed Alexander McCall Smith's latest addition to his No 1 Ladies' series for The Observer.