This week’s new films reviewed

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Russell Crowe builds an ark to avert the forthcoming flood in Noah

NOAH (12A)

Jennifer Connelly and Russell Crowe in Noah

Jennifer Connelly and Russell Crowe in Noah

The story of Noah and his three sons unfolds across six chapters of the book of Genesis.

Director Darren Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel expand this lesson into a sprawling narrative about one man’s tireless quest to save innocent animals from the apocalypse.

This Noah is both a parable about self-sacrifice and a bombastic spectacle replete with computer-generated battle scenes that wouldn’t look out of place in Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth.

Our Lord Of The Rings, if you will, although the script never directly references God.

The Nephilim, interpreted here as fallen angels, are re-imagined as gargantuan stone creatures not too far removed from the lovable Rock Biters in The Neverending Story, who aid Noah’s epic construction.

“In the beginning there was nothing,” booms an opening voiceover, condensing the fall of Adam And Eve and blood spilt between Cain and Abel into a mosaic of haunting images.

While the descendants of Cain spread greed and wickedness, the descendants of Seth – Cain’s surviving brother – work the land, taking only what they need.

The last of this righteous bloodline, Noah (Russell Crowe), lives with his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and sons Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman) and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll).

One night, Noah experiences a vision of a devastating flood.

“All life blotted out because of what man has done,” laments the father.

A visit to the mountainous lair of Noah’s grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) confirms the dire prediction and Noah accepts his task to build an ark capable of temporarily housing one pair of “all that creeps, all that crawls, all that slithers”.

He is aided by the three boys, adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson) and an army of rock-encrusted fallen angels.

Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), a bad apple from the other branch of the family tree, stumbles upon the ark and threatens to storm the vessel to escape the Creator’s wrath.

“There is no escape for you and your kind,” proclaims Noah, instigating a fight to the death between the two men.

Noah is fascinating yet flawed.

Quieter, thoughtful sections of the film, when the titular character wrestles with his destiny, beg provocative questions about devotion to a higher power including an extraordinary scene of attempted infanticide.

Crowe delivers a compelling central performance as a humble man, who accepts his own frailties.

“We will work, complete the task – and then we will die, like everyone else,” he forlornly instructs his family.

Regrettably, Aronofsky also has to recoup a hefty budget so he punctuates his characters’ emotional rollercoaster with bombastic action sequences that are as soulless as they are spectacular.

When the pivotal deluge finally comes, it’s a tour-de-force of visual effects and swooping camerawork that is over in a matter of minutes.

Time and tide wait for no man, not even Russell Crowe.

RATING: 6/10

RIO 2 (U)

Intoxicating samba rhythms and the exuberance of Brazilian carnival get toes tapping in Carlos Saldanha’s assured and undemanding sequel, which transports the feathered protagonists away from Rio de Janeiro for a rollicking rumble in the Amazonian jungle.

As with the original film, Rio 2 promotes a serious ecological message: the wanton destruction of the rainforest and its impact on native wildlife.

This cri de coeur is woven by Saldanha and co-writer Don Rhymer into a familiar yarn about love overcoming adversity, a story that sees one neurotic city bird stripped of his home comforts and fluttering back to nature in order to please his family.

“Happy wife, happy life,” counsels a Toucan called Rafael (George Lopez).

He is one of the wacky computer-animated critters who festoon the colour-saturated screen and guarantee hordes of happy children.

Little ones will gurgle with glee at the slapstick including a hungry anteater called Charlie, whose lasso-like tongue is always on the prowl for tasty snacks.

Adults meanwhile can savour the dry humour of musical interludes including a ballad between a toxic tree frog and a cockatoo entitled Poisonous Love which includes the delightful boast, “If you play ping pong, I’ll play ping ponger”.

Neurotic blue macaw Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway) are at the centre of the action once again.

The birds have settled with owners Linda (Leslie Mann) and Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) in Rio and have three children, Carla (Rachel Crow), Bia (Amandla Stenberg) and Tiago (Pierce Gagnon).

Jewel fears the brood is too domesticated so when Tulio and Linda uncover evidence of thriving blue macaws in the Amazon, the mother insists her entire family answers the call of the wild.

In the lush paradise, the city birds are reunited with Jewel’s long-lost father Eduardo (Andy Garcia) and her tuneful childhood pal, Roberto (Bruno Mars).

Jewel is thrilled – “We found our family. This changes everything!” – but Blu struggles to acclimatize to his new surroundings.

Meanwhile, deranged cockatoo Nigel (Jemaine Clement) and love-sick amphibian sidekick Gabi (Kristin Chenoweth) hatch a diabolical scheme to exact revenge on the unsuspecting macaws.

“I’ll be pooping on your party promptly,” cackles the flightless villain to himself.

Rio 2 is a predictable fish-out-of-water adventure that forces Blu to ditch his sat nav and lead the flock in a battle against illegal loggers, who are tearing down the jungle.

The enduring love between the hero and his passionate wife invariably trumps mankind’s voracious greed.

Comic relief from Clement, Chenoweth and the supporting cast is gentle and inoffensive and the soundtrack shimmies to upbeat numbers from Hathaway, Mars and an infectious opening refrain from Janelle Monae entitled What Is Love?.

Even if some gags induce groans rather than giggles, the rhythm is gonna get you.

RATING: 6/10

DIVERGENT (12A)

Adapted from the opening book of Veronica Roth’s best-selling trilogy for young adults, Divergent is a rites of passage story baked to a similar recipe as The Hunger Games.

Neil Burger’s film separates a gung-ho heroine from the people she loves and compels her to undergo a series of gruelling challenges, killing fellow teenagers to ensure her survival.

Spookily, the running time of the two films is almost identical, although this dystopian fantasy earns its 12A certificate without spilling as much innocent blood.

Shailene Woodley, who was deservedly nominated for a Golden Globe opposite George Clooney in The Descendants, is perfectly cast as the teenage protagonist, who leads the rebellion against a corrupt system.

She is the beating heart of the slickly engineered film and effortlessly tugs heartstrings in pivotal scenes of loss.

A slow-burning romantic sub-plot ensures the target audience will swoon as the heroine suffers exquisite pangs of first love, while a tub-thumping denouement sets the scene for the next two instalments, Insurgent and Allegiant, released in 2015 and 2016 respectively.

Futuristic Chicago is divided into five factions – Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless and Erudite – which exemplify positive aspects of the human personality: selflessness, cordiality, honesty, intelligence and courage.

On a specific day each year, 16-year-olds undergo an aptitude test that reveals their destiny.

Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) is poised to take that test.

She lives in Abnegation with her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and parents Andrew (Tony Goldwyn) and Natalie (Ashley Judd) but questions where her future lies.

“Everyone knows where they belong, except for me...” she laments in voiceover.

The results of Beatrice’s test are inconclusive and Tori (Maggie Q), who administers the procedure behind closed doors, tells the 16-year-old she is a Divergent.

Beatrice must hide her status because Divergents threaten the finely balanced system and are being hunted by Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet), strident leader of Erudite.

When the time comes to choose her destiny, Beatrice opts for Dauntless and begins rigorous training under hunky instructor Four (Theo James).

Fellow newcomer Peter (Miles Teller) takes an immediate dislike to Beatrice and attempts to bully her out of Dauntless.

However, she is resilient and draws encouragement from three new friends, Christina (Zoe Kravitz), Al (Christian Madsen) and Will (Ben Lloyd-Hughes).

Divergent feels a smidgen light on exposition and character development but Woodley is terrific and she catalyses smouldering on-screen chemistry with James.

Winslet sinks her pearly whites into her first villainous role, and director Burger obscures the actress’s baby bump – she was five months pregnant during filming – with an array of laptops and folders that becomes a running joke by the end credits.

Dutch music producer Junkie XL is an inspired choice to compose the soundtrack and provides the film a strong, electronic pulse that perfectly fits the futuristic setting.

RATING: 7/10