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One of the longstanding truths about the realm of comic books is that death isn’t really death. With vanishingly few exceptions, the death of a Marvel or DC character tends to be more of a temporary setback than any kind of permanent loss.

Of course, that isn’t how the real world works.

When Chadwick Boseman passed away, we lost a truly gifted artist. We lost someone whose immense talents were evident in everything he did, from Jackie Robinson to James Brown to Thurgood Marshall to, yes, T’Challa, the Black Panther. An irreplaceable star in the cinematic firmament was extinguished too soon.

And yet … the show must go on.

The massive critical, commercial and cultural success of 2018’s “Black Panther” – as well as its prominent placement in the mythology of the Marvel Cinematic Universe write large – meant that there was always going to a sequel, but what shape could that now take? Was it possible to make a film that both respected the memory of its fallen star and carried forward the singular and general narratives? Could even a filmmaker as talented as Ryan Coogler pull this off?

The answer to those final two questions … is yes.

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is a fascinating work of popular culture. Somehow, the parties involved have crafted a superhero film that is good in all the ways that these films need to be good – big action set pieces, memorable characters, some decent laugh lines, a story that works in micro and macro contexts – yet still maintains the more sophisticated effort to explore thornier societal ideas. All that, while also being immensely respectful and reverent of Chadwick Boseman’s memory. Threading that needle would seem nigh-impossible – but Coogler does it.

Published in Movies
Monday, 24 October 2022 14:41

The Rock of Eternity – ‘Black Adam’

Passion is a funny thing. Sometimes, the ideas that consume us will seem strange to the outside observer. No matter – when the muse strikes, we must follow it.

And when the muse strikes The Rock, well … he winds up starring in a massive blockbuster revolving around a relatively obscure comic book character who vacillates between hero and villain depending on who happens to be writing him at the time.

“Black Adam” is the latest installment in the DC Extended Universe. Directed by Jaume Collet-Sera and starring the aforementioned Dwayne Johnson, this film places Black Adam – a Shazam-adjacent villain who has in recent years evolved into more of an antihero type – at the center of the frame.

While certainly not in the top-tier of well-known DC properties, Black Adam has a couple of things going for him as a character. He’s got a power set that matches well with the DCEU’s heaviest hitters, which helps. And he’s the type of guy who maybe isn’t so worried about how alive his foes are when he’s done with them.

Oh, and the Rock has apparently been obsessed with him since childhood, so that certainly doesn’t hurt when it comes to getting a movie made.

“Black Adam” isn’t the best DCEU movie we’ve gotten, but neither is it the worst. It is firmly in the middle. There’s a ton of pretty good action and superheroic violence. The narrative – such as it is – is rather lacking. And there’s a bit of “ends justify the means” moralizing that gets a bit complicated, along with some ham-fisted attempts to address things like colonialism and complex geopolitics – problems that can’t be solved by punching them. Still, there’s some fun to be had here. And let’s be real – it was long past time we got to see The Rock do the superhero thing.

Published in Movies
Monday, 04 April 2022 15:36

‘Morbius’ kind of sucks

I’m in the bag for comic book content. Anyone who knows me or has read me knows that to be true. My love for the form was instilled early and never went away, so I have little issue with the plethora – some might call it a glut – of superheroic cinema out there.

That said, I’m not an unquestioning follower. And when I see something that doesn’t make a lot of sense, I’m going to address it. For instance, a Spider-Man-centric universe without Spider-Man in it doesn’t make a lot of sense. A Venom movie – let alone two Venom movies – without Spider-Man doesn’t make a lot of sense.

And hoo boy, let me tell you – “Morbius” doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The film, directed by Daniel Espinosa and starring everybody’s favorite Method weirdo Jared Leto as the titular living vampire, would be an odd choice in any cinematic universe. In these specific circumstances? I'm genuinely not sure what anyone was thinking.

Even so, one can see that this might have potentially worked. And we’ve definitely learned that a character’s relative prominence in the culture (or lack thereof) isn’t necessarily a detriment to the quality of film that can be made featuring said character. It might have worked … but it definitely didn’t.

“Morbius” is a mess, a jumble of barely coherent story points surrounded by some shoddy and occasionally inexplicable CGI action. While we don’t generally have high expectations of comic book movies, they should still make a modicum of sense, at least within their own parameters. This movie does not. It is a wild misfire, albeit one that will almost certainly prove commercially successful enough to justify moving forward with a transparent effort at franchise construction.

Published in Movies

Comic books have become the dominant source material for franchise filmmaking. There is a staggering amount of IP out there, ripe for exploration on the big screen. And yet, there are a handful of characters to which we invariably return. Characters upon whom filmmakers can’t resist placing their own stamp.

Few characters have seen the kind of churn that we’ve gotten from Batman over the years – a churn that continues with the release of “The Batman.”

Since Tim Burton’s “Batman” hit in 1989, laying the groundwork for the superhero explosion that would eventually follow, we’ve seen numerous artists and artisans embrace the character in their own way. Early on, we got Burton’s neo-Gothic vibes and Joel Schumacher’s candy-colored neon fever dreams. After that, Christopher Nolan’s trilogy redefined the possibilities of what the character – and comic book movies in general – could be. Next, we got Zach Snyder’s stylized grimdark take as the character was moved into a wider expanded cinematic universe.

And now, Matt Reeves has entered the ring.

“The Batman” promises a more grounded take on the character, moving away from the more extreme interpretations and focusing on a younger Batman, one still learning the logistical challenges and harsh realities that come with costumed vigilantism. With Robert Pattinson assuming the cowl, the film seeks to dig into the early years of the hero and his development.

The film seeks to embrace verisimilitude – at least, to the extent that a movie based on a superhero comic can – and focuses more on the idea of Batman as detective, an aspect of the character that has largely been underplayed or outright ignored by previous adaptations. The result is a movie that, while uneven, offers room to evolve and expand in ways we haven’t yet seen on the big screen.

Published in Movies

I’ll be the first to admit that much of the current cinematic landscape leaves a lot to be desired. Formulaic blockbusters laden with CGI, too-similar stories being told again and again. And I assume it’s challenging for an actor who is serious about their craft to treat them, well … seriously.

That said, there’s nothing worse than watching a famous actor go through the motions in one of these films, clearly there for a check and trying their damnedest to appear above it all. You can’t always pick up the full “I’m too good for this” vibe, but when it’s there, it’s a downer.

But there’s a flip side. The flip side is when actors who are wildly talented and incredibly devoted to their work gleefully embrace the madness and go for it. That’s when you can see real joy, these performers who understand that what they do is about play and that every character, no matter how seemingly strange or nonsensical, can shine so long as that character is treated with respect.

Tom Hardy is an incredibly talented actor. He is also, by every indication, a strange dude. But one thing you can say for certain – no matter what the situation, Hardy is ready to give everything he has. And in his new movie “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” he has clearly been told to go big.

And he. Goes. Big.

The film – a sequel to 2018’s “Venom” – is directed by Andy Serkis from a screenplay by Kelly Marcel (it’s worth noting that Hardy has a story credit). It’s a glorious mess of a movie, a slapdash mélange of buddy comedy and superhero CGI and weird body horror that absolutely should not work … and yet it does. Well, kind of. It’s an uneven experience, one where the story sometimes gets lost in the noise. But hey – the noise is a hell of a lot of fun.

Published in Movies

It’s tough to refute the notion that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become the most significant segment of the cinematic landscape over the past 15 or so years. The MCU is omnipresent, as close to a fully shared movie experience as anything.

But time waits for no one. Not even superheroes.

The characters who have served as the foundation of the MCU – as well as the actors who play them – are moving on. The shift was always inevitable, but now, in Phase Four, things are really starting to snowball.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” – directed by Destin Daniel Cretton – reads as a bit of a departure for the powers that be at Marvel. This is a character that is arguably the most obscure yet to receive a headlining film of their own, a character that is fundamentally different in many ways – both overt and subtle – than those that have come before.

It’s a bold choice – and an effective one.

This film tries to do something we haven’t seen before from the MCU. Yes, the Marvel formula is still in effect, but it is being applied in a novel way. We’ve seen these movies riff on other genres – space operas and paranoid thrillers and war movies – but this is the first time we’ve ventured toward the realm of Eastern action cinema. This is a Marvel movie that both stars and is directed by people of Asian descent.

Do you want to see an MCU kung fu movie? Because that’s what this is. And it works.

Published in Movies

If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.

That’s the attitude that the powers that be at Warner Brothers have taken with regard to DC’s team of villains-turned-reluctant-heroes known as the Suicide Squad. We first met this collection of reprobates in 2016 via director David Ayer’s “Suicide Squad.” Now, thanks to James Gunn, we have “The Suicide Squad.”

It’s tough to suss out how exactly to refer to this new iteration. It’s not quite a sequel and not quite a reboot, featuring a handful of returning characters and a slew of new ones; it’s not like the events of the previous film didn’t happen, but neither do we spend any time reinvestigating them. Call it Schrödinger’s Sequel – it both is and is not.

But whether or not “The Suicide Squad” is a sequel, one thing is for certain: it’s better. A LOT better.

With a combination of gleeful gore, compelling characters and a wicked sense of humor, this is easily one of the best offerings from the DCEU to date; “The Suicide Squad” manages to find ways to hold onto the grimdark ethos of DC’s cinematic slate while also embracing how fun comic book movies can be. It’s not an easy balance to strike, but few filmmakers – if any – are better equipped to strike it than James Gunn.

Published in Movies
Saturday, 11 July 2020 16:41

Never say die – ‘The Old Guard’

It takes a special kind of performer to headline an action franchise. Gone are the days when all it took was a willingness to bulk up, shoot guns and spout catchphrases; today’s action offerings trend toward the high-concept, particularly when looking to create or continue a series. And a different sort of action requires a different sort of actor.

To be honest, I wouldn’t have pegged someone like Charlize Theron as a likely action star, but following recent turns in films like “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Atomic Blonde,” it is abundantly clear that she has all the requisite chops to handle her business.

Her latest entry into that realm is “The Old Guard,” currently streaming on Netflix. It’s a sharp and sometimes surprising sci-fi action offering, one clearly intended to kick off a franchise for the streamer. There’s a thoughtfulness to the film that you don’t always see in this sort of offering, along with a willingness to allow breathing room for character development (although the action set pieces are high in both quality and quantity).

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood from a screenplay that Greg Rucka adapted from his own graphic novel series of the same name, “The Old Guard” is a film whose strengths are consistently complementary, finding the perfect blend of action-packed excitement and character engagement – one left wide open for future installments.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 08 October 2019 14:29

This ‘Joker’ is wild

Hollywood has spent the past decade-plus showing us that superheroes are more than capable of carrying a movie. We’ve seen all manner of comic book fare, from the biggies like Marvel and DC to more independent offerings. Superheroes are movie stars.

But what about supervillains?

With few exceptions, we haven’t seen the bad guys in the lead in these films. There’s “Suicide Squad” and … what? Now, one could argue that the single greatest performance in a superhero film was Heath Ledger as the Joker in “The Dark Knight,” but he wasn’t the star – not really.

And now, we’re getting yet another iteration of that character, only this time, it’s his story. “Joker,” directed by Todd Phillips from a script co-written by Phillips and Scott Silver, stars Joaquim Phoenix as the titular criminal. For the first time, a singular bad guy got the chance to carry a film all by his lonesome. There are no heroes here, no other villains – just Joker.

The result is a film that is unapologetically visceral and unwavering in its brutality. It paints a bleak portrait of the world and the people who live in it, using its titular character as a mirror to force society to look itself in the warts-and-all face. It is repugnant and fascinating in equal regard, driven by an absolutely mesmerizing and transformative performance by Phoenix. It is aggressive in its unpleasantness, doubling and tripling down on its unreliability as it forces us to follow along on a journey where the line between reality and delusion is indelibly blurred.

Published in Buzz
Wednesday, 17 April 2019 12:32

‘Hellboy’ is a hell of a mess

One of the things that people sometimes forget about comic books is that they can (and do) get a lot weirder than your standard superhero business – and that that can be a good thing.

Take Mike Mignola’s Dark Horse Comics creation Hellboy. That’s some weird, over-the-top supernatural stuff – eldritch strangeness that is barely adjacent to the usual superhero fare. And yet, that character preceded the MCU to the silver screen, with movies in 2004 and 2008. And thanks largely to director Guillermo del Toro and star Rob Perlman, they worked.

Unfortunately, with the new “Hellboy,” neither of those gentlemen are involved. Instead, we get Neil Marshall and David Harbour, respectively – talented folks, yes, but for whatever reason, they fail to dig into the character in the same narratively engaging manner. Instead, we get a big, loud, gory mess, a jumbled-up and chaotic slog of a movie that can’t be salvaged despite the game effort put forth by Harbour, whose delightfully slovenly dad-charisma is undermined by prosthetics and CGI.

Published in Movies
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