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;
You know what, I’m sick of Bundersnatch. I realise this isn’t the most original opinion in the known multiverse, but it seems like you can’t pass a idling bus, buzzing TV screen or yawning theatre marquee without seeing his shark poised smile bearing down on you, in a spectacular tsunami of over-exposure and saturation. Nothing against the guy personally you understand, he’s done some fine work, and I suppose he was an ideal choice for the sorcerer supreme given his slightly off-kilter screen presence and popular fan-base. This trailer looks like it might have made some karmic amends for those dodgy looking set leaks from a few weeks back;
Are we approaching Marvel fatigue yet? Judging by the spectacular social media opinions spewing forth from this weeks secret screenings of Civil War I suspect not, and despite that ropey accent from an allegedly top chameleon thespian this had some interesting CGI money shots, and no-one told me that Tilda Swinton inhabiting the mentor role? Me and my friends have some long running gags concerning this particular character so it is indescribably amusing to see him actually helming a major production, so I’ll be there in all its reality warping glory come November…..
I’m not normally one for reprinting all the numerous trailer for the same blockbuster, but given the gasp inducing appearance at the end of this I think I’ll make an exception;
Yeah, sure, this is all quite exciting and everything, but it still looks like a high-quality TV series if you ask me…..
It’s barely February and already the Marvel juggernaut continues unabated with its latest big-screen addition to the spandex roll-call, except this time we have a R rated twist to the sequential panel storytelling that is quite a foul-mouthed fulmination true believers. For the most part the character of Deadpool was an unknown to me, he arrived guns ablazing on the scene after I stopped reading comics on a regular basis, and from a distance the inclusion of a wise-cracking assassin was hardly breaking the traditional post Dark Knight Returns grim and violent 1990’s graphic novel mould. In that sense I have no baggage, no ‘it’s not like the comics’ nerd-rage tedium to taint the opinion of what I found to be a largely amusing and entertaining romp, a mischievous melee which manages to annihilate that acidic aroma of Reynolds relationship to the terrible Green Lantern picture from a few years back. If I’m honest those initial trailers for the film left me rolling my eyes in faux exasperation, but I needed an alternative to the grievous subject matter of the other two movies we have circling in the airspace, and some of the conclusions oozing out of various social media faucets seemed to suggest this could be an entertaining aside. The Marvel marketers have also pulled an amusing coo by programming this against Valentine day’s weekend as Deadpool, as its titular character voiceover asserts is in many ways a love story. Well, when I say love story, I mean love story that follows a rather non-traditional pathway of boys meets girl, girl meets boy, boy contracts terminal cancer and submits himself to a horrific secret medical procedure which leaves him a wretched and ragged shadow of himself whom is immune to pain and regenerates shattered tissue as he mercilessly hunts and exterminates down the members of the shadowy syndicate whom have subjected him to this horrific fate.
If that sentence was a little breathless and overwrought then you’ll forgive me for aping the film itself in such a meta-textual way, as it opens in a balletic mid-combat title sequence where the traditional credits have been supplanted by descriptions of the roles from Deadpool’s perspective, hence ‘Produced by a couple of Douche Bags’, ‘Starring A British Villain’ and ‘Also Starring A Dumb Sidekick’ set the framework for the general direction of travel. We are thrust into the midst of the second act transition to the climax, where after a quick action beat chaser our wise-cracking guide Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) provides through flashback his origin story, sliced by frequent asides to camera, whip crack montages and frequent shattering of the fourth wall, all fostering a general disregard for genre credentials in a boisterous charge that sustains momentum throughout the movie. As an ex-mercenary type Wade is the aforementioned guy who robs from the bad guys in order to maintain his own degenerate lifestyle, a path that changes when he meets Vanessa (Morena Baccarin, best known for Homeland and that terrible V reboot from a few years back) at the seedy bar that his friend Weasel (T.J. Miller) runs with a hirsute, criminal efficiency. True love and frequent fucking blooms until the cancer raises its ugly head, leading Wade into the arms of a shadowy cabal. These swine subject him to a torturous experiment that disfigures his body but leaves him with accelerated healing powers, setting him on a righteous path of vengeance, punctuated by bone shattering violence, wank gags and frequent Marvel legendarium in-jokes – and a couple of third tier X-Men appearances…..
I don’t think it was unreasonable to assume that this could have been some obnoxious frat-boy of a movie judging by some of that trailer content, and with Van Wilder Party Liaison himself in the driving seat I believe my caution to be justified. They obviously caught me on a good day as I cackled like a tickled wraith throughout Deadpool, I relished the squelching violence and let the flow of risqué quips and convention buggering bulldozer demolish my snooty objections, while the light scattering of in-jokes wasn’t as possibly onerous as a sandpaper dildo, just to steal another line from our potty-mouthed protagonist. With a Shane Black inspired machine run ratio the various eviscerating beats land with a 70% to 80% accuracy, and even that perennial failure of the Marvel brand, a toothless charisma void of a main villain, didn’t particularly wound the film by evidently being grown in some Jason Statham clone tank. Crucially the action is well choreographed and reasonably inventive, and the appearance of comic book characters like Colossus power drives enough weight to lift the attention from Reynold’s hyperactive histrionics. Where it might be most subversive is with its structure, not to get to boring or academic but running the origin movie requirements movie in voiceover attuned flashback from the second to third act transition worked quite well, and broke up the linear original story template in a fresher, more engaging fashion than this particular strain of films usually attempt.
It took a few hours for the penny to drop that the appearance of the two lower tier X-Men and associated in-jokes results from the rights to the main characters being bound to another studio – this a Fox production, not Disney who no doubt would have recoiled at such a disgusting expression of corporate ambition. This brings to light the total lack of explanation of Deadpool’s connection to Xavier’s school for gifted pupils and the entirely new (to me) character called Negasonic Teenage Warhead, a sobriquet that I thought was another deeply buried in-joke, but no, she’s just another z-tier character whom they thought would be funny to render on-screen. But I digress, just as our narrator does in the picture before catering off on some new wet sliced woes. For all the films proud rule breaking it still struggles in giving the character of Vanessa any effective agency, so it was a shame to see her slip away from the narrative until the final, inevitable damsel in distress clustered climax. Closing a film on some furious set-piece structured showdown isn’t exactly original but these are minor quibbles, as overall I loved that Deadpool is that rare beast which really seems to throw caution to the wind and confidently express ‘fuck it, let’s go’, so for me its closest ally in attitude and tone must be something like Dredd or even Team America:World Police. Not that I was particularly seeking any clues but I didn’t even notice the hand of any specific director, auteurist led aficionado that I am, so the news that this was some talented Second Unit / SFX guy who has been given the step up wasn’t surprising, as visually it still cleaves to that gleaming Marvel identikit aura, that bright and clearly defined digital ambulation. It’s some of the specific turns that still leave me chuckling – the ‘mask’ reveal, the corpse semaphore – two incidents that individually have within them more wit and genuine subterfuge than the entire run-time of Kick-Ass or the genuinely disgusting Kingsman movie whom both pretend to wallow in the same subversive space – god, I fucking hated that movie.
Still here? Well I think we’ve finished and there isn’t much else to say? Well, if you insist I suppose we could take a cursory look at the state of the industry with yet another big scoring superhero picture, based on a pre-existing media entity. By my reckoning 90% of this Superbowl montage is reboots and remakes, and I assumed that that odd Turkish Airlines corporate interjection was a fucking skit until with growing horror I realised it was genuine, as was the shameless pilfering of the iconic Fight Club visual – you can justify replicating comic panel compositions all you like Snyder, but that is just….well, my initial reaction is disgust. In a recent S&S article the landscapes of reboots, reimagining and sequels was explored, with the usual and expected positions floated – Hollywood and the industry worldwide has been in the business of xeroxing success since the two-reelers were a blazing technological breakthrough, thus there is nothing new here. What was more interesting was the slow change in the gender and racial composition of the protagonists (Hunger Games, The Force Awakens) that seems to be slowly changing, and the four quadrant chasing that Deadpool may already have eviscerated, that an incredibly successful film has to be family friendly to be successful, at the expense of the wider richness and diversity of the subject matter mustered by the industry. Naturally the initial reaction has been to green light R rated fare now the almighty dollar has mitigated the fiscal risk, and that didn’t take long now did it? For me this not in the top tier but certainly in your B grade superhero fare, not as originally satisfying as Guardians, or parts of The Avengers or The Winter Soldier, but I’m glad they are carving out space for R rated material which might just save a increasingly yawn inducing genre. In the spirit of Mr. Pool I’d like to provide a hesitant link to this skit and warn that it is extremely NSFW and likely to offend due to its dark subversive wit, a piece from Comedy Bang Bang precursor Comedy Death Ray which might be the kind of sketch our hero would enjoy as he embarks on his claret soaked carnage. What will be dredged up next? Well true believer I’m waiting for that impossible sounding Turk Luis Guzmán starring spin-off, but who knows, anything is possible, as the obliterating onslaught of omertà obligated objectives obviates all objections – erm, excelsior?