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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, 29 August 2022 14:18

A not-so-good ‘Samaritan’

Superheroes continue to rule the cinematic roost. Whether we’re talking about the megablockbusters put forth by the Big Two or smaller fare, capes have become a constant.

Of course, when you’re talking about this sort of sheer volume of production, the level of quality is going to vary significantly. Sure, there’s a pretty high floor when it comes to stuff like the MCU and DCEU (although perhaps not as high as it once was), but still – even a superhero homer like myself has to acknowledge that some of these offerings are … not great.

The latest in that line of not-great super fare is “Samaritan,” currently available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video. It’s an odd bit of IP maneuvering, actually – the story began as a spec script, but actually became a graphic novel in 2014 before the film was ultimately made. Unfortunately, that might be the most unique aspect of the entire experience, considering the tossed-off and generally derivative nature of the final film product.

With a meandering narrative, cut-rate effects work and a lead performance from Sylvester Stallone that would kindly be referred to as disinterested, “Samaritan” seems content to simply toss a bunch of cliches and other formulaic nonsense into the hopper to be churned and blended into a bland and uninspired mess.

Published in Movies

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is absolutely packed with heroes. You can’t throw a rock without hitting an Avenger or some Avengers-adjacent superhero. There are tiers, of course – your mainstays and your supporting players and whatnot – but there’s no disputing the sheer numbers.

Here’s the big question, though: with all of those characters, all those beloved spandex-clad derring-doers on the roster – your Iron Man, your Captain America – how is it that Thor is the first one of the bunch to get to four solo outings?

“Thor: Love and Thunder” marks the fourth film to center everyone’s favorite Norse god of thunder. Directed by Taika Waititi – who also helmed the previous Thor outing, the delightful “Thor: Ragnarok” – it’s a continuation of the irreverent tone and comedic evolution of the character, even as he continues to deal with cosmos-altering entities.

It is Waititi’s unique take on the character that has led to Thor being the first to four. While Iron Man and Captain America both came in hot, each getting to three films in short order, they were also somewhat handcuffed by the larger MCU story arcs. And then, eventually, the narrative required them to move on. Thor, on the other hand, was the perfect combination of important and irrelevant, giving an auteur type like Waititi the flexibility to steer the character in a more idiosyncratic direction.

With “Ragnarok” and now “Love and Thunder,” we get films that, while still slotting into the overall MCU house style, also have plenty of their own flavor. This new film is fun and funny, with a lot of the same goofball energy that powered its predecessor, though it should be noted that those who are looking for significant advancement of the larger Phase 4 narrative may be a little disappointed – in many ways, the story told here is self-contained, with relatively little impact on the grander arc (though if we want to talk about that as a symptom of the disconnected nature of this phase thus far, there’s a real discussion to be had).

Still, that’s OK – there’s definitely more room for fun when these films aren’t as constrained by the need for greater advancement. This one isn’t quite stand-alone – the Guardians of the Galaxy are here for a minute, for example – but for the most part, “Love and Thunder” is content to be its own thing. How you feel about that will likely play a major role in your enjoyment of the experience.

Published in Movies

What if the biggest franchise in the history of cinema was given carte blanche to do (and undo) whatever they wanted in the name of storytelling?

That’s essentially what happened with the Marvel Cinematic Universe once the concept of the multiverse was introduced. Basically, the MCU can now do anything and everything it chooses to any character, all with the knowledge that, should they so choose, they can simply handwave it away with one sentence about another universe.

The latest entry in the series (number 28, but who’s counting?) is “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” directed by the legendary Sam Raimi from a script by Michael Waldron. It’s an effort to go deeper into the implications of the aforementioned multiverse and the impact that can be had on it by those who possess both the willingness and the capability to cross from universe to universe.

It’s a sequel to 2016’s “Doctor Strange,” of course, but it also connects directly with an assortment of other MCU properties from both the film and television realms. The film features more horror and horror-adjacent action than other MCU films while also embracing moments of genuine slapstick, both of which are Raimi hallmarks.

However, this is a movie that lost its original writer/director Scott Derrickson midstream … and there are spots where you can definitely see the seams, particularly in the film’s front half. It is busy and a bit confusing at times. And while it’s always advisable to be caught up with previous offerings when you go in, you almost have to have seen a couple of things – “Wandavision” most prominently – to fully understand what’s going on.

Still, the pros outweigh the cons. Benedict Cumberbatch has the snarky charm cranked up, there are a ton of cameos and Easter eggs and Sam Raimi gets to show off the uniquely skewed style and aesthetic that made him famous. It’s a Marvel movie infused with cosmic (and comic) horrors, a combination that results in an engaging, albeit uneven superhero adventure.

Published in Movies

Let’s just get this out of the way off the top - I loved “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” LOVED it.

Now, I was ALWAYS going to love it. I am fully invested in the MCU writ large as blockbuster popcorn entertainment and have been since Day 1. And I carry a deep and abiding affection for and affinity toward the character of Spider-Man, in all his many iterations. From my time as a boy reading assorted Spider-Man comics up to the present day, I ride hard for Spidey. He’s as central a figure in my own personal pop culture history as any. So this is very much a movie for me.

But here’s the thing – it’s probably a movie for you too.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is the biggest and boldest MCU entry in a year packed with them – “NWH” marks the fourth film since June – as well as being the best. It is a massive spectacle while also finding room for the smaller moments, loaded and overloaded with everything that makes the character (and the franchise) great.

It also manages not to succumb to the elements of franchise bloat and metanarrative requirements that have undermined some of Marvel’s past efforts. It’s huge but not unwieldy, fan service-y but not exclusive, epic but not crowded.

You’ve got loads of web-swinging, wall-crawling action. You’ve got quips and jokes galore. You’ve got pathos and pain and the ethical dilemmas that those things can cause. You’ve got an absolute cavalcade of familiar faces joining in on the fun.

And at the center of it all, you’ve got a kid forced to once again stand up beneath an unfair burden that circumstances have thrust upon him.

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

We might have passed the point of no return regarding superhero cinema.

Yes, there are plenty of folks who would argue that we long ago reached cultural saturation when it comes to superhero movies. But in the aftermath of the Snyder Cut and with multiple MCU offerings on the immediate horizon – plus the wide swath of recent and forthcoming streaming series drawing from superpowered source material both well-known and obscure – well … it’s a lot, not all of it good.

And this is coming from someone who LOVES this stuff.

Netflix’s latest foray into the realm of the superheroic is “Thunder Force,” a new film written and directed by Ben Falcone and starring Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer. It’s an effort to play the tropes for laughs and have some fun with the foibles inherent to the genre, relying heavily on the talents of its cast to carry the day.

It doesn’t quite work out the way they might have hoped.

What so many of these filmmakers forget is that while spectacle is at the forefront with superhero films, the story still matters. Without an engaging narrative, all we’re left with is a bunch of CGI nonsense that is difficult to invest in. And no matter how hard the actors try, they can’t salvage what ultimately becomes an effort to turn 45 minutes of story into 100-plus minutes of movie.

Published in Movies

Justice for the Justice League!

Specifically, for director Zack Snyder’s vision of the team – a vision that was undeniably disrupted by the circumstances surrounding 2017’s “Justice League.” When personal issues led to Snyder’s walking away from the project during post-production, replacement director Joss Whedon wound up putting his own very distinct stamp on the proceedings … for better or worse.

Mostly worse, as it turns out.

But now, in what is a first in the vast and varied world of big-budget superhero cinema, we’ve been given a chance to experience something far closer to Snyder’s original intent – a do-over. Thanks in no small part to massive internet outcry from fans, the powers that be at HBO gave the keys back to Snyder (as well as a hefty budget, around $70 million) to turn the film back toward his original intent, retrofitting and reshooting and ultimately restoring Snyder’s vision.

The end result is “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” a four-hour extravaganza that far outshines the film that came before it. It’s better. A lot better. Now, if you want to argue that it’s bloated and unnecessary, I won’t fight you. Think a dangerous precedent has been sent regarding the power potential of dedicated fandoms, no matter how potentially toxic? Could be. None of that changes the fact that this new film, as overwrought and overproduced as it may be, is a significant improvement.

It’s got many of the usual issues that dog Snyder’s work – the washed-out color palette, the ubiquitous slo-mo, the jittery, hard-to-follow battle scenes – but even those concerns are lesser here than they’ve been in previous films. And the storytelling gains – particularly when it comes to certain character arcs – more than offset all of that.

For me, it boils down to this. I basically shrugged my shoulders at “Justice League” in 2017. I genuinely enjoyed “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” … and I really wasn’t sure that I would.

Published in Movies

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, superhero movies have defined the industry for well over a decade and show no signs of slowing. If anything, we’re just going to keep getting more and more of them – they’re appointment films in a business that is dying for anything that will ensure big box office receipts. Considering the faltering movie theater model, expect studios to keep pushing this kind of franchise-friendly fare.

Me? I love superhero movies. Do I recognize the more cynical motives behind them? Sure! Do I care? Not in the least!

So I was thrilled to finally see “Wonder Woman 1984.” As someone who, despite my job, is still steering clear of movie theaters, having the opportunity to see this movie in my own home via HBO Max was fantastic. Given the extended drought of superhero cinema, I was primed to dig this movie even though Marvel > DC, in my opinion.

And guess what? I dug it!

Directed by Patty Jenkins – who returned to the franchise after helming 2017’s excellent “Wonder Woman” – from a script she co-wrote with Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham, “Wonder Woman 1984” is engaging enough, though it doesn’t quite capture the same lightning in a bottle energy of the previous film. There are some great set pieces, solidly charismatic lead performances and a couple of really going-for-it supporting turns – enough to make for a flawed-but-satisfying moviegoing experience.

Published in Movies
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