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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

One thing that the Disney oeuvre has long been known for is the ubiquity of their princesses. While not EVERY Disney movie features princesses, we’ve seen enough to understand it for the tendency that it is.

Another thing that Disney is known for – though not for as long – is superheroes. As the stewards of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the powers that be at Disney have embraced the various tropes of that particular genre as well.

It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of us that they’ve decided to bring the two together.

“Secret Society of Second-Born Royals” – a Disney original currently streaming on Disney+ - seeks to bring these nigh-ubiquitous entertainment elements to bear in the same film. Directed by Anna Mastro from a script co-written by Alex Livak and Andrew Green, the superhero/princess mashup plucks elements from both genres and blends them together into an inoffensive smoothie that will go down easy and then promptly be forgotten.

Overall, it’s a (relatively) successful effort, though your mileage will almost certainly vary. It’s charming in its way, though the production values leave something to be desired. Kids will probably dig it, while parents will be able to tolerate it well enough. It’s not good enough to care about or bad enough to avoid – an adequate time-passer that leaves the door open for more.

Published in Movies

Everyone knows that superhero movies are big business these days. The MCU and DCEU have both proven to be massive moneymakers, bringing in billions of dollars for the studios. What we sometimes forget, however, is that these films are being built on a foundation of source material that runs decades deep. That depth provides a wealth of ready-made narrative and loads of context.

As you might imagine, these means that creating movies based on more limited or obscure source material can result in varying degrees of success. And when you start talking about wholly original ideas, with no IP serving to shore them up structurally, well – you’ve got a task ahead of you.

Netflix has offered up just such an idea with their new movie “Project Power.” Specifically – what if there was a pill you could take that would give you superpowers for five minutes? But there’s a catch: you won’t know what your power will be until you take the pill … and there’s a chance you might just explode.

“Project Power” is a big-budget action-adventure that, while liberally borrowing from other sources, still manages to be more or less its own thing. Sure, it’s a touch derivative in spots, but it also has a couple of top-tier talents heading the call list (Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and an up-and-coming directing team at the helm (Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman). It’s not a wheel reinvention; this movie hits the beats we’ve come to expect from superhero cinema and does so in a familiar way. However, there’s just enough different here to make things interesting not just for the average viewer, but for the hardcore Marvel and DC stans as well.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 18 March 2020 12:18

‘Bloodshot’ a complete misfire

One of the things that we’ve learned as various studios try to construct their own cinematic universes in the wake of the massive success of the MCU? It’s hard to do – much harder than Marvel makes it look.

That doesn’t mean folks are going to stop trying.

The Vin Diesel vehicle “Bloodshot” is intended to serve as the jumping-off point for yet another cinematic universe – this one built on the IP of Valiant Comics. It’s a rich source of material, albeit one far less familiar to the layperson than the works of either Marvel or DC; Sony is counting on a better outcome than what they got with their efforts to make Spider-Man a going concern.

Alas, it’s not looking good.

Leaving aside the very real logistical issues that have sprung from the global situation with the coronavirus, the truth is that this movie just isn’t very good. There’s a lack of energy to the proceedings that undercuts any effort to excite the viewer about the movie they are watching, let alone future films that might come along. With iffy effects work, sloppy screenwriting, pedestrian direction and a particularly leaden performance from Diesel, “Bloodshot” simply misses the mark.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 11 February 2020 11:57

‘Birds of Prey’ offers high-flying fun

It’s fair to say that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has far outpaced its DC counterpart. One of the biggest reasons for the difference in levels of success has been tone – the MCU has always found ways to make its films fun, while DC has largely produced movies weighed down by a sense of bleak, gray self-seriousness.

Recently, however, the DCEU has started finding its way out of that grimdarkness. Films like “Wonder Woman” and “Aquaman” have done a better job of finding the fun. And their latest offering – full title “Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn” – continues in that vein, producing a piece of candy-colored weirdness that is as enjoyable to watch as any film in the franchise thus far.

It’s worth noting that this film is female-driven – not just in front of the camera, but behind it, with Cathy Yan directing from a script by Christina Hodson – in an organic fashion that never comes off as forced or pandering.

It’s not a perfect film – the narrative is a bit haphazard and the structure is all over the place – but by and large, it’s pretty darned good and entertaining as hell. The performances are strong and there are some killer action sequences, along with a few solid gags. Put it all together and you get one of the better DCEU outings.

Published in Movies

Perhaps no 21st century film franchise has been as utterly uneven as the “X-Men” universe.

The first movie – “X-Men” – came out back in 2000, nearly a decade before the MCU hit the scene with “Iron Man.” By all rights, the X-Men should have been the cinematic blockbuster team well before the Avengers even showed up.

Instead, we’ve watched as the franchise has been yanked all over the map in terms of quality. The heights of the early films were undermined by 2006’s unfortunate “Last Stand” and the nigh-unwatchable 2009 standalone “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” The ship was righted thanks to the timeline-altering reboot that began with “First Class” in 2011, a good Wolverine movie (“The Wolverine”) and a capital-G Great one (“Logan”) and the introduction of Deadpool.

Alas, “Dark Phoenix” doesn’t rise to that level. Or the level below it. Or the level below that one. The truth is that one could argue that this latest installment – the last before the characters pass from 20th Century Fox into the control of the Disney machine – represents the nadir of the franchise.

It’s the second effort by the franchise to tell perhaps the most important arc in the history of the X-Men – and the second failure. This is an iconic storyline, not just for the X-Men, but for all of comicdom. And yet it is peppered with sloppy storytelling, disinterested characterizations and unclear decision-making (both on camera and behind it).

Despite extremely low expectations, “Dark Phoenix” still managed to disappoint me.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 29 May 2019 11:44

Bad (Super)boy – ‘Brightburn’

Sometimes, it takes a while for me to warm up to the idea of a film. I’ll hear about it, maybe see a trailer or two, and then experience a gradual build in interest. Other times, all I need is one sentence.

A sentence like “It’s Superman’s origin story, only if he was evil.”

That’s the single-sentence synopsis of “Brightburn,” a super-horror movie directed by David Yarovesky from a script by brothers Brian and Mark Gunn (their other, more famous brother James – no stranger to superheroes – produced the film). It’s a far darker exploration of the superhero mythos than we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in recent years, a bleaker (and better-executed) take than even Zack Snyder’s generally-reviled take on the DCEU.

By introducing elements such as body horror and moral corruption into the usually-sanitized realm of the superhero, “Brightburn” offers a very different – and often unsettling – look at the spandex-clad world-savers that have dominated the box office over the past decade.

Published in Movies

This is not going to be my typical review.

If you’ve seen “Avengers: Endgame” – and judging by the record-shattering $1.2 billion (that’s billion with a B) opening weekend at the box office, there’s a good chance that you probably have – then you have an idea of my dilemma.

How do you talk about an effort to wrap up nearly two dozen movies’ worth of storytelling without disclosing too much? How do you talk about a movie that is, in essence, three hours of ending? How do you avoid spoilers when discussing a film that is, by its very nature, practically constructed of spoilable revelations?

Very carefully.

Published in Movies
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