Two hours of sleek Afro-futurism? Count me in. Also this seems to triggering all the usual moans about omissions and inclusions….
Heh, that Japanese poster on the left made me chuckle when I first saw it so I thought I’d share. So, we finally push confidently off into blockbuster season yet again dear friends, although this arguably has already left the starting blocks with the latest instalment of Fast And The Furious franchise whose continual success remains a total mystery to the Menagerie*. The original Guardians is among my favourites of the magnificent Marvel movie multiverse, for a number of clear and concise reasons. Firstly I loved the freedom they had with the oddball characters who weren’t enmeshed in nervous studio executive intellectual property / branding cages, I was beguiled by the scintillating Jack Kirbyseque cosmic backdrops and Gunn’s impish sense of humour, and I just loved the fresh approach to the MCU which was becoming encumbered by the intrinsic weight of cross referencing demands and the emergence of new superhero clichés – origin story chains and reboots, final act villain plots that involved orbital beam doomsday weapon countdowns, mainstream, unchallenging three act tedium, tired and template CGI chicanery. Among this environment Guardians emerged as a lovely, freshly minted bubble-gum sensation of unadulterated blockbuster exuberance which didn’t treat the audience like imbecilic, dollar spawning gnats. Accordingly when Gunn and the same team were announced for the inevitable sequel I was on board for another adventure throughout the further intergalactic reaches of Stan Lee’s starflung cerebellum.
Whilst I left the first movie with a beaming, rictus stamp of appreciation on my face the second time around elicited more of an agreeable grin, as although some of the vitality of meeting these characters for the first time has waned this is still another agreeable, colourful romp which plays to Marvels usual formula – we’ll come back to that. The gang of rogues are in the midst of a mission, headed by interstellar kidnapping victim Starlord (Chris Pratt), disgruntled green-hued assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), socially boisterous tattoo ogre Drax The Destroyer (Dave Bautista), sarcastic vermin ordinance specialist Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and infant elemental spirit Groot (Vin Diesel) whom after sacrificing himself in the last picture now has reached the inquisitive fledgling phase of his bizarre photosynthesis lifecycle. As the film opens in a tour de force credits sequence the mercenaries best an inter-dimensional threat at the behest of an arrogant gold hued species known as the Sovereign. After their business relationship sours a frantic escape leads Starlord into the path of a powerful entity known as Ego (Kurt Russell), both sporting a remarkable genetic alignment which makes you wonder if the CGI boffins didn’t conduct some secret pixel presdigination. The encounter of his father – no, this is not a spoiler its in the trailer and occurs in roughly the first 15 minutes of the film – leads him on a revelatory path to unearth his true patronage and destiny. We’ll leave it there for now, also returning to the fray are Michael Rooker as Starlords former slave-master Yondu and Karen Gillan as the vengeance fuelled Nebula, while new characters emerge in the form of a surprising appearance from Sly as some high ranking Ravager which I was not expecting, and Andorian antenna alike empath Mantis (Pom Klementieff) whom with Drax’s assistance provides much of the films instinctive wit.
What is firmly back on the agenda is the prismatic panorama of a vast multiverse teeming with a vast array of exotic flora and fauna, I think this is the first 3D projection I’ve seen this year and it was easy to get lost in the celestial visual landscape of distant exploding supernova and associated astrological flotsam and jetsam. The fun quotient is high with a cluster of dizzying set-pieces falling on just the right side of spatial comprehension, with the banter and gags landing with a carpet bombed 60% or so accuracy. There’s maybe a few to many plots nuzzling for attention alongside Starlord’s investigation into his celestial history. This is always the screenwriters bane when it comes to team movies, the hunger to give all four of the other Guardians some sort of character activity and growth, especially since unlike most other franchise threads all the main denizens here are fun and amusing to hang-out with. Groot, like the first film probably wins in these terms with the cuteness quotient turned to 11, but the producers have fully committed to an ensemble piece, perhaps at the expense of giving us much in the way of the wider Marvel cosmology of characters and artefacts.
After the soaring first act I think it is fair to say that the plot weaves and wanes a little, adopting an autopilot trajectory as the team is split across two planets for hereditary excavations and an encounter with the bounty hunting Reavers. These threads and a few mysteries are solved are intertwined for a largely satisfying and visually dexterous finale, even if they do resort to the clichéd bomb countdown pulse-quickener against a foe who might just a little too abstract and elusive for visual representation – hopefully you’ll understand what I’m driving it when you see the film. The soundtrack choice, so important for the charm of the original really didn’t work for me this time around but that’s a subjective criticism depending on your musical taste, I think it will need a diagnostic overhaul for Episode III which Gunn has already confirmed his hyphenate writer-director return. Naturally there’s a smattering of references and cameos – the first big-screen appearance of a voyeuristic specialist of the multiverse had me chuckling in fanboy delight – but virtually zero reference to the overall Infinity Stone strand which seems like an oversight. Still, that didn’t prevent the executives from cramming a half dozen credit stings which is getting slightly ridiculous now. Overall this is a fine continuation of the MCU which keeps matters on an even keel rather than blasting into new territory, an instalment which nearly equals but never eclipses the exhilaration of the first adventure, another pleasing elixir of prismatic CGI chimera, schmaltzy comradeship, risqué in-universe banter and dexterous action sequences from the Marvel laboratory where the formula boffins continue to insist that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it;
* Not really, I know exactly what the success of that franchise is – big, ridiculous yet memorable action set piece engineering, four-quadrant attuned, multi-racial casting, and a pummelling global marketing campaign which emphasizes the action over the verbal….
Hmm, having watched, and thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Strange over the weekend I think I’ll give this a chance, even though I don’t particularly care for the Thor movies;
More trailers as the film reviews continue to mount, I saw Logan today as a timekiller before a full day of further BFI activities – this is getting ridiculous and I really need to clear this backlog next week. Anyway, I surprisingly enjoyed the original so more of the same seems filthy fun;
There is clearly something in the water as the full trailers for this years nervous franchise holders are dropping thick and fast, and this looks several parsecs more entertaining that Alien 8. Still, not sure they had to crowbar in that fairly major spoiler;
I dunno, I’m sure the fanboys are going crazy but I think any residual affection I had toward the ole web-slinger has faded. It doesn’t help when they’re churning out throughly flat trailers either;
We can all do with a laugh, and this looks like it will deliver;
Any fears I had of breaching superhero saturation point have been keenly banished to the astral plane by Dr. Strange, Marvel’s latest instalment in its pervasive and swiftly expanding cinematic universe. On paper, or rather parchment, four Marvel movies in one year strikes one as overkill, in yet another season marred by reboots, remakes and resurrections, pushing any potential originality or inspiration out to the margins of the art house or independent film arenas. I didn’t have any specific investment in this particular project, I quite like the character from my comic book collecting youth but he was never exactly a favourite, and the trailer while intriguing made me react with mostly a ‘hmm, I think I’ll check that out’ rather than any sense of enhanced enthusiasm. The rather obvious casting of Benedict Cumberbatch also made me raise a quizzical eyebrow, I’ve never quite understood the devotion he inspires, while he’s been very good in some things he’s been throughly predictable in others, although, to be fair I’ve not seen some of his highly regarded work such as Sherlock which I’m told is solid OCD orientated entertainment. Furthermore I re-watched Civil War a fortnight ago and some of the action set-pieces aside I was mostly bored, caring very little for the characters or their throughly tedious struggles, so it seemed that the sheen of the Marvel franchise was beginning to lose its lustre. Nevertheless like a good soldier I ambled over to the multiplex this weekend, buoyed by strong word-of-mouth and an eerily appropriate bout of fog shrouded weather which has blanketed London all day. I now consider my chakra’s re-energised and my transcendental ascension complete, as this is one of the years best blockbusters, another bolt of bedevilment in the heart of Warner Brothers faltering film failures.
Here we have an origin story which can get a little stale after their numerous iterations, but when they are handled so proficiently you really can’t complain, the conceit, fall from grace and subsequent renewal the benchmark of hero films that align with the Hollywood three act structure, flayed with a mind bending para-reality twist. Like the first Iron Man picture we are introduced to an arrogant and brilliantly skilled protagonist, the brilliant neurosurgeon Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch), Strange and Stark two peas in the franchise product pod. He’s a man who has everything, the Manhattan penthouse suite, the seven-figure sports car, the sartorial closet that would make Saville Row swoon, and a burgeoning romance with his surgical colleague Christine (Rachel McAdams). All this crashes to the ground after his hands are decimated in a violent car crash, forcing Strange to frantically seek solutions beyond western medicine in order to resurrect his crushed career. When he hears whispers of another crippled soul who managed to overcome his ailments his journey leads him to Kathmandu, in search of the fabled Kamar-Taj, where a mystical seer known as the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton, baldly brilliant), her major-domo Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and their coven of mystical warriors protect the earth from para-dimensional threats through their mastery of sorcerous powers. A pre-credit prologue hints at a sinister plot which is engineered by Kaecilius (an adequate Mads Mikkelsen) who has rejected the teachings of the Ancient One in favour of a hidden and immensely powerful force, seeking immortality and a new epoch of order and bliss if only those pesky ideals of free-will and harmony are sacrificed at the altar of a near omnipotent and infinite entity. If that all sounds a little too spiritual then no fear, this is an action orientated blockbuster through and through, as for a coven of transcendental monks they sure enjoy knocking seven shades of cyttorak out of each other to solve their problems and maintain the secret and shielded equilibrium.
So, first things first. Visually, the film is staggering, perhaps too much to take in even on the biggest screen possible, with almost every pixel fluctuating and morphing in the films most extravagant set-piece scenes. In that sense I’d say 3D is a must if you are comfortable with the format, genuinely adding a depth and dimensional delirium, and on that front alone I am seriously contemplating a second big-screen viewing. Yes, a lot of sneering nerds have dismissed the film as Matrix-lite or little more than an Inception clone from just a brief glimpse of the trailer which are both obvious visual references, but Dr. Strange takes those perception perverting designs to omni-dimensional plateaus, warping and weirding reality in a throughly bewitching way – it feels fresh and genuinely exhilarating in the blockbuster format which hasn’t been so confidently conceived for quite some time. Strange’s initial introduction to the para-realities beyond mortal comprehension is a transcendental tour-de-force, and these sequences are the films strengths which manage to camouflage some of the more traditional plot definitions and designs, which faithfully follow in the the usual superhero footsteps of the hubristic fall and rise. True, there might be a bit of overkill as the sheer onslaught of visual information is a little difficult to process sometimes, such is the density of the pixellated pandemonium, but that’s why the lord invented Blu-ray’s and 4K playback systems didn’t s/he? As someone who has never felt kinship with the cult of Cumberbatch he nailed this performance, being an arrogant, insular egomaniac thrown on a journey of self discovery, with a genuine arc which was satisfied by the films clever climax. It’s here that Dr. Strange cleverly and confidentially cleaves closely to the properties sequential storytelling origins, utilising intellect and guile rather than strength and combat in order to overcome para-dimensionally oppressive foes. As pointed out by wiser souls than I it’s also amusing to see a major Hollywood blockbuster pilfered by not one, not two but no less than four British thespians, as Bundersnatch, Swinton, Eijofor and Benedict Wong all acquaint themselves admirably, the latter as an initially humorless warrior monk arrayed with the forces of good.
There are some mild transcendental themes running as undercurrents through the film, the script and plot mesh the physical with the spiritual in some scenes both metaphorical and kinetic, a yin and yang which is buried somewhat beneath the binary blitzkrieg of battles and metaphysical melees. Some of the plot sequencing is convenient to say the least, with events erupting in fisticuffs after another bout of plot exposition, and McAdams gets sidelined with a thinly written character whose sole reason seems to be a mere plot device reflection of Strange’s oscillating destiny – it’s not her fault but if she was surgically removed the picture wouldn’t suffer. Directorially you can’t sense any individual agency which is by no means a criticism, these are films by committee with Marvel producer Kevin Feige arguably the sole creative captain behind the MCU, as we all know that attempts to deviate from the carefully calibrated chassis can result in a heavily padded P45 and a return to the unemployment queue. In this issue it’s the cast and the SFX that makes this picture work rather than any central inspiration or particularly withering writing, this could have gone so very, very wrong, but Marvel & Disney have navigated a graceful path between humorous asides, avoiding orientalist offence or tedium entangled origin cliché, conjuring instead a genuine sense of spellbinding visual sorcery which is a worthy addition to their franchise paddock. For me, at least on an initial screening this is up there with the giddy heights of Guardians, some of the sequences in the first Avengers picture and the paranoid purpose of The Winter Soldier, terrifically compelling Hollywood entertainments with just enough fidelity to their Dikto and Lee sequential story telling genesis. So yes true believers, Dr. Strange is another historiography of hilarious Hollywood holography, holistically primed with their prismatic pixel punishing pandemonium – Excelsior indeed;
Hmm, I suppose I should post this, as it does look like a slightly different approach to the usual epoch-shattering super heroic nonsense, and I am intrigued by the vague, grimy, earthy feel of this instalment just as I liked the self contained feel of the last Wolverine one-shot picture. I was never a particular fan of this character but I must admit that this approach seems more interesting, as opposed to the splintering of the characters across various media multiverses. Is it me, or was the Luke Cage series just dreadfully dull? OK, whatever;
Of course, I am still hoping that the Marvel/Disney boffins are working through a ROM: SpaceKnight appearance in the next Guardians picture, ’cause that’s gonna happen….right?
Oh joy and joys and an abundance of wonders, it’s superhero time yet again at the movies. It’s been a long, languid wait of at least a month since the last bout of spandex sparring, and sarcasm aside I was generally looking forward to Civil War, mostly due to the Russo brothers having proved their proficiency in the director’s chair for one of the better movies in the MCU – Winter Soldier. The marketing for the film, the 13th produced in the franchise series since its inception with Iron Man in 2008 has hinged upon the central conflict in the movie, the first of the so-called third phase in Marvel’s multiplex mastery. Are you Team Cap or Team Iron? is evidently one of the great modern mysteries of our time, a pondering which the great philosophical minds have been keenly debating which the furiosity of the Schrödinger’s cat phenomenon, whereas the intellects behind the menagerie couldn’t give a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut, just as long as the mental Marvel mechanics melee was as fun as its fulfilling as some of the highpoints in the franchise. In other words I just wanted to check my brain at the multiplex and enjoy two hours of pixelated mayhem, with all the requisite source material call-backs and ferocious fan service to make me reminiscent of my committed comic reading youth. For the most part Civil War delivered, with a few caveats around the critical invulnerability that these films amass – the movie has taken $200 million on it’s first weekend alone and it hasn’t even opened in Russia, China, India or North America yet……
Although it is allocated under the Captain America banner the first thing to be made clear is that this is an Avengers film, with the omission of Thor and Hulk everyone else is in this, although the focus, admittedly, falls under swellhead’s relationship with his brainwashed friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Shaw). Therein lies a critical problem but your mileage may vary, as after dragging this quasi-romance over three pictures I’m sorry to say I just didn’t care, so when the central story arc isn’t provoking much in the empathy zone the film suffers the equivalent of an ultimate nullifier detonation. Other critics have wept actual tears at the film’s childhood dream fulfilling conquests, I wasn’t remotely that invested but in places Civil War did muster a mental fist-bump. After an tempo setting opening prologue the Avengers team clumsily decimate downtown Lagos when attempting to retrieve a hastily misplaced bio-weapon. Coming under intense global scrutiny the team are visited by the venerable Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) who instructs them to sign-up to a United Nations mandated Memorandum Of Understanding, submitting to the will and directives of the democratic global community. Thus the central fissure in the teams morale is struck, with Captain America fulfilling his namesake by refusing to submit to any moral or legislative authority but his own, warning of being restricted by civilian oversight in quite frankly a ill-judged and philosophical immature ideology. Stark, riven by the consequences of his arms dealing and destructive perversion of his technology hanging from previous films stands in the opposite corner, arguing that they should submit to those pencil necked dildos down at City Hall, fostering strength and defence through a mediated community. Potentially, that’s a nourishing thread to follow in the modern superhero film, here is something to be said about exploring issues of responsibility, of accountability and the consequences of collateral damage like Batman Versus Superman completely failed to do, but likes that film Civil War’s premise gradually fades away as the fisticuffs start frantically flailing, and on that front I’m happy to say the film delivers like an adamantium enhanced gut-punch.
The narrative is tensile twisted travelogue, bouncing around the globe like an unruly and boisterous child, skipping from Lagos to Vienna, Berlin to um, Cleveland. The actors are fairly well enshrined in their parts through the franchise, and the schlocky nature of the material doesn’t particularly provoke room for manoeuvre in terms of character development, but everyone commits the necessary gravitas to the material, although quite why they cast Martin Freeman in an identikit counter-terrorism official is beyond me. The film also takes some risks considering the financial fortune at stake, although the main villain is pulled from the rich decades of the multiverse they have modernised him within the contemporary context of the plot, adequately angered by Daniel Brühl whom is quietly becoming one of the finest actors of his generation. Ultimately though these films cruise on the simple, unalloyed nostalgic reflection from characters we embraced in our youth, and the wonder induced witnessing of them finally interacting and knocked each other through urban conurbations and planets in all their pixelated glory, with the sly odd quip and reference speckled across the film like the Superskrull’s alien barnacled cerebellum.
As we’ve come to expect the film ignites an entire new tranche of product stretching well into the next decade, with numerous new characters to explore throughout a variety of media delivery systems. Crucially, and most welcomingly the film realigns the beloved Spidey after his fall from cinematic grace over his last few digitised appearance, with newcomer Tom Holland balancing the perfect blend of wisecracking affability with dazzling arachnoid acrobatics. A fairly significant time is proportion to the enigmatic king of Wakanda, with the prospect of the worlds first African leading man in a major Hollywood blockbuster surrounding by predominantly African cast destined to break boundaries in 2018 – he is pretty darn badass cool in that motorway chase scene. Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man gets all the big laughs, especially during the films airport helmed carnage which is unquestionably the films highpoint, a terrifically orchestrated combat sequence which is among the best blockbuster brain buggering bruising’s of the entire franchise.
So while it yields its fun fanboy moments I can’t guzzle the kool-aid on this one, and I exiting the cinema with a resigned shrug rather than a blazing smile. After that highpoint Civil War dragged on to its fairly lacklustre conclusion, answering a question I never cared to be asked – who’s harder, Captain America or Iron Man? It’s an initially nourishing but thin gruel that the films offers in terms of character affection, interaction, and not even Stark got any of his trademark quips to land with a virbranium quivering bull’s-eye. It seems I’m alone on this one as most other critics have praised these dimensions but I just can’t see it, any my attention and affection started to wane as the film weaved into third hour of its bloated 147 minute run-time. Maybe I’ve been spoiled this weekend by finally biting the bullet on a Netflix account and mainlining all 26 episodes of Daredevil, possibly the greatest achievement of the entire MCU as far as I’m concerned, but that was inevitable as someone who loves gritty urban noir, crime films and is a huge, huge fan of Millers Daredevil which I coincidently retrieved from storage last week. To be fair the Russo brothers are proficiently paving the way to the Infinity War which is where things could get really interesting, and it was refreshing to a superhero film which didn’t climax with some alien extinction threatening monstrosity pulverising a major capital city before the tesseract is combined with the soul gem to plug the intra-dimensional wormhole. Or something. In summary though Civil War is more of a courteous disagreement than epoch shattering genocide which should keep the franchise fiscally frisky throughout this third phase of multiplex mastery, but for my money the Nietzschian novelty of the year is still Deadpool;