Darke Reviews | Spider-man: Far from Home (2019)

I really can’t write this review without some Endgame spoilers as everything is driven by the events of that movie. Granted the trailers alone give it away so I am not too worried, but be warned. This movie marks the official end of Marvel Phase 3, not Endgame. What does that even mean? Well Marvel has been approaching their own movies in phases, with Phase 1 culminating in avengers, Phase 2 oddly ended with Ant-Man rather than Ultron, which I suppose makes this being the end of 3 not the strangest thing. This is not so much a denouement to Phase 3 as it is an epilogue that bookends the series and answers a question everyone was sort of asking after Endgame; what next? What is the actual impact of The Snap and its return is? What does losing Iron Man and the Avengers look like? What does the impact on every day people look like after a galactic threat? A  good bookend would answer those questions.

Is Spider-Man Far from Home or the mark?

So the story does answer some of those questions really well and others not so much.  The opening is more or less an exposition dump from the school vlog/news given to us by Betty Brant; which explains to the audience “Previously on Spider-Man”. Is it a bit convenient that *all* of Peter’s closest friends, frenemies, and Aunt May were affected? Yes. Let me ask you another one though in response. Is it also very comic bookish? Also yes. The point of a good Spider-man story is not so much the epic show downs, but instead the relationships he has and strains with those around him as he tries to lead a double life. Made worse by being a minor instead of an adult as he technically has even less autonomy and the excuses are well…bad every time he needs to vanish. Far from Home has all of this in spades, perhaps too much though. The movie also relies on an inordinate amount of awkwardness and embarrassment type humor to drive the story. I absolutely detest that. Many will find it acceptable and part and parcel with a teenager based movie. As someone who was bullied through school I never find it humorous and just instead feel it uncomfortable and hard to watch again and again. Even a third act close for much of the movies humor around this topic just reinforces it.

I suppose with the writers from American Dad, Drawn Together, and Crank Yankers being given more reign this time than they were with Homecoming it makes sense. This isn’t to say the screenplay by Erik Sommers and Chris McKenna is a bad one. It’s actually a very solid story beyond those beats. Peter desperately trying to have a normal life is even for a summer and trying to find his place in the world after the death of his surrogate father Tony Stark. While the line from the trailer is important “he’s been to space” is used as a joke to move Peter forward, consider the pressure of that. Everything he has seen and done in such a short time and then to lose his touchstone and guidance immediately upon his own return from death. Can he find a brief, but fleeting sense of normalcy in all of this even with perhaps finding a bit of romance with MJ amidst the field trip to Europe.

The direction of Jon Watts is consistent with Homecoming and he understands how to hold on the more emotional moments of the film and let some of the conversations happen “naturally”. You always have a good sense of the geometry of the fight sequences which are both visually interesting and engaging. Granted Holland is still just knocking it out of the park with the complexity of Peter as a character, but unlike the scene from the trailer ,which has been cut from the movie, we don’t get the humor of Spider-Man himself. I could have used some of that instead of the other stuff mentioned before. The movie though didn’t really have a good place for it either, so while I miss it I can’t see a place to have put it in when fighting Elemental creatures. Zendaya is captivating as this universes MJ and brings more complexity and nuance to the character than we’ve ever seen before and the movie benefits from it.  The one worth talking about beyond our two is Jake Gyllenhaal as Quentin Beck/Mysterio. He nails it. This is a perfect way to do a classic character with a schtick that should only work in comics and animation and make him live. They even made it so that his smoke filled helmet works. He’s a clever character and done well.

TL;DR?

Far From Home isn’t far from the mark. It is a solid two hour romp that is a really good Spider-Man story. It’s a smaller one after a glut of world wide and galactic threats. It focuses on the characters and their interactions and Peter himself, having accepted he must be Spider-Man but not fully understanding what that means yet. The movie has some really solid emotional beats and follows the rise and fall really well and gives us a conclusion to both Spider-Man Far From Home and Phase 3 that we can live with.

Should you see it?

This might be one of the last good high budget movies of the summer. It’s worthy of the 4th of July slot and overall is a really solid movie that doesn’t verge into great for me, but is very good overall.

Would you see it again?

Odds are pretty good that I will. I have Dark Princesses and Dark Court members who want to see it and I am ok with it.

Buying it?

Absolutely.

Is this Marvel or Sony?

This is very much a Sony movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Any good easter eggs?

Well the trailer introduces the concept of the multi-verse and an in movie explanation with that aligns with comic canon that this is Earth 616; which is the main comics line. There’s a handful of others that are more and less subtle that made me smile.

Parting thoughts?

I could have done without the excessive humor around embarrassment and uncomfortableness. The romantic beats work, but more than that, this is a Spider-Man movie. This reminds me of the comics I read as a little girl and I am pleased with the final result.

Darke Reviews | Men in Black: International (2019)

I really had no interest in the Men in Black films after the second one, so I missed the third one (apparently a good thing?) and I even missed the animated series (yes it’s a thing). Will Smith lost his charm with me a very long time ago and so did the franchise. I was very dubious when I heard there was a new Men in Black movie coming out, but then I heard the cast; Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson. I have a serious girl crush on Thompson and Hemsworth isn’t exactly what one calls something bad to add to a movie. Seven years since the last film put a nail in the series coffin and twenty two years since the original. The trailers showed some promise and gave us a heroine to get behind, so I went and watched it with the two members of my Dark Court.

Should we be neuralized to forget?

There are two writing credits on the movie, which is not across my writer threshold making it a good thing. Art Marcum and Matt Holloway who have screenplay credits on Iron Man, Punisher War Zone, and Transformers the Last Knight. Talk about hit or miss? It does, however, inform some of what I saw in the movie. A script that doesn’t do anything particularly original and follows the Men in Black formula pretty well. There are some clear bits of dialogue that represent expected plot points that got dropped as the production went on. The story is what was promised on the trailer, girl finds the MiB, gets recruited, gets sent to London office. Threat to the planet ensues.  They look good a long the way.

So not original? No. Formulaic? Yes. Is that a bad thing? No. Not always. I hear in critics circles and some regular movie goers saying “its sooo formulaic” as if its a bad thing. Every movie is a formula. Some are more recognizable than others. They get reused for a reason – they work. When you go to a bar do you complain that your drink is formulaic? You just paid the same amount you did for a movie ticket. All it means is that the pattern and structure follow something you’ve seen before, but with the content being adjusted for this particular narrative. The adjustments work here and I really didn’t have any major complaints. I don’t have much in the way of major praises either. It simply works at the baseline and in some cases, like this one, that really is not the worst thing in the world.

A good director helps though and fortunately F. Gary Gray is a good director. I like his work on Set It Off, The Italian Job, and the Negotiator. I hear that Straight Outta Compton was good. The framing of shots is good. The direction and required mystery components are handled well. He had two of the most charismatic modern actors in Thompson and Hemsworth. He used his Emma Thompson and Liam Neeson well, something frequently not done.  Side characters like Kumail Nanjiani (Stuber) and Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible) work well and suit the narrative and even add to it, which makes a pleasant change from previous films.

If anything the biggest weakness on the movie is an over-reliance on CG. More than a few of the shots and creatures would have looked even more amazing in the practical with make up, puppets, and the like. That said, the vast majority of the CG creatures and world looked good. The studios involved clearly spent their money well here and created that same lived in world of MiB with always some little thing in the background, which is a very Mos Eisley Cantina trick and I appreciate it. While some looked good, there’s two or three effects that just look exceptional and are definitely worth seeing.

TL;DR

I love that the writers and director went with the female lead on this one and that she is confident and capable. Not to say that she doesn’t make mistakes, but the humor in this movie is elevated even over the first one. All the jokes land and really for once don’t depend upon the embarrassment of someone to be funny. I *hate* that kind of humor and the movie didn’t have it. Thompson is a more than capable lead character and the charisma between her and her co-star in Thor is more than enough to light up any screen.

The movie much to my surprise works. It isn’t great, it doesn’t redefine the genre, but if you want to start off a new franchise you could do a lot worse than this. Point in fact this is one of the first times in a long time I actively want a reboot of the franchise with these two characters at the helm. Not only are the actors magnificently charming, I *like* both the characters for what they bring to the table. Men in Black International surprised me a bit. I knew I enjoyed it and was able to unwind watching it, but as I write I am finding how much I enjoyed it.

Granted, maybe its just me comparing it to last weeks movie? Either way…

Should I see it?

Yeah if you were dubious I think you will be ok. Like I’ve said, it doesn’t tread any new ground plot wise, is pretty basic but makes that work in its favor. Matinee minimum, super sound systems optional.

Would you see it again?

The Dark Court and I agree – probably not in theatres. Not a bad thing, just it doesn’t require that screen to enjoy

So you’re buying it then?

Honestly, yeah. I liked it.

Anything else to add?

This movie didn’t help with my crush. It might have made it worse? 

In all seriousness, the humor in the movie works and doesn’t do it at the expense of anyone, beyond some decent physical comedy from Hemsworth. I would recommend he talk to Brendan Frasier before he plays that card too much.

Ok so Next week?

Toy Story 4 – Probably not. I never fell in love with that franchise. I honestly didn’t particularly like the first one, don’t even remember the second, and didn’t watch the third.

Childs Play – I am curious. Pretty likely. No members of the Dark Court with me though. Maybe a Dark Princess will brave it?

Anna – maybe, for some mindless action fare? Still undecided there.

 

 

 

Darke Reviews | Dark Phoenix (2019)

Interesting that the title isn’t X-Men Dark Phoenix, it’s just Dark Phoenix. X-Men First Class (2011), X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), and X-Men Apocalypse(2016) and now Dark Phoenix in 2018. Whoops, thats right this was originally to have a release date on November 2, 2018, then pushed to Valentines day, now pushed to June. Pushing release dates is costly to the studio, mostly in PR and awareness of your audience as they remember the original and then…forget. We saw this with Alita, and people going “Didn’t this come out already?”.  Reshoots are even more costly to the studio, costing millions if not tens of million dollars. You have to bring actors back from whatever they are doing now, rebuild sets, hire crew, and also challenge some poor Visual Effects house with last minute work that they will be underpaid for. I suppose there’s only one question –

Is The Dark Phoenix worth the cost?

Sit down with me for a moment. I want you to remember the original “X” franchise of films. Now try to remember X-Men The Last Stand in 2006. This movie was the original franchise run and attempt to do the Dark Phoenix Saga. It is almost universally panned, sank the franchise so badly nothing was made for 5 years and it was a Retcon/Reboot,  and made people doubt the vitality of the comic book movie. Two years later Iron Man came out and we tried, actively, to forget how bad it was. We did for a time and life was better, even if the new franchise referenced it in both Wolverine, Logan, and Days of Future Past we were able to get by. I ask you to remember this with me because I need to tell you something important. I need you to answer something for me after I tell you.

The studio hired the same man who wrote X-Men the Last Stand as the writer and director for this movie. He has the sole credit on the movie for written by. He is also the one with screenplay credit on Fan4stic in 2015. I need to know what blackmail material that Simon Kinberg has on 20th century Fox. What could possibly posses a studio to give this man the job? He *is* a producer this is true, but why and how could he get funding after any picture he has had direct involvement in has not been commercially well received. Why would they think that giving him the same project he botched so thoroughly thirteen years ago would be a wise idea? Granted, here I feel like quoting Jurassic Park The Lost World.

Um no, not the same mistakes. You’re making all new ones.

Kinberg did not make many of the mistakes made in The Last Stand. He did in fact make plenty of new ones. He thought that close up shots of our Queen of the North and her amazing cheekbones breathing heavily, with a cracking fire effect in her skin makes for drama. They use that shot at least six times. X-Men First Class worked because of dialogue and chemistry between characters. Days of Future Past worked because of dialogue and the debates between Xavier and Magneto and Mystique. Apocalypse…didn’t work for many because it lacked those things. This one has precisely two scenes where there is that emotionally charged and heavy debate of morality and ethics and what is right or wrong.  They both exist in Act I. Shortly after I stopped caring.

I can look past the fact that for a movie set in 1992 Charles should be 54 and Magneto likely pushing 60 and they didn’t even bother with any form of aging make up. The earlier movies gave an excuse for Mystique not them.  But fine, we can say all Mutants age gracefully. I can almost, almost get past how awful Jennifer Lawrence’s make up is as Mystique. I get it she didn’t want to do the movies anymore and didn’t want to have to do full body make up again. We can put her in completely unflattering (and I don’t mean non sexy, I mean just not good looking on camera) outfits, the worst wig I have seen in awhile, and change the make up entirely. Nah, I can’t get past that. It’s lazy.

 

X-Men First Class – 1962 (Filmed 2011)

X-Men Days of Future Past- 1973 (Filmed 2014)

X-Men Apocalypse – 1983 (Filmed 2016)

 

 

Dark Phoenix – 1992 (Filmed 2018)

Look I get it she’s a shapeshifter, but how does it look worse and worse as the movies go?

This movie had a $200 million budget. $40 million more than First Class, roughly the same as Days of Future Past, and $22 million more than Apocalypse – which looked…bad. There are so many shots in this movie that just look …bad. Mystique is just the tip of the iceberg and when you have a budget like this I would expect some form of climactic ending that is satisfying. This had nothing of the sort. I get you had to reshoot the ending because it was too close to Captain Marvel (which you would have beaten by several months on the original release), but this ending had no weight to it. Faceless people dying facelessly. Yay? Sure there are some cool moments in the finale, but they are moments. They have no emotional weight to them as there is no emotional build up to them or breath to take after its done.

That is the ultimate problem with the movie. There is absolutely no emotional arc worth a damn. Kinberg says he loves the material, but he’s butchered it not once but twice now. From an opening sequence that looks to pay homage to the altar of Michael Bay and his jingoist tendencies to absolutely zero denouement. The story is so emotionally flat that the only thing you care about is getting to the next beat before you fall asleep from not caring.

I could try to talk about how McAvoy, Fassbender, Hoult try to turn it around, but they cannot overcome the inertia of this. I could talk about how Turner powers through and brings emotional weight to the arc and salvages it, but that would be a lie. Despite Jean Grey’s power, Turner is not more powerful than Kinbergs overwhelming mediocrity. Jessica Chastain must have lost a bet or thought she was signing on to play an even older Jean but instead they made her platinum blonde and emotionally drained. She is wasted. Alexandra Shipp had reason to be angry a few weeks ago as while Storm LOOKS cool (she really does) there’s maybe fifteen actual lines of dialogue for her. We get nothing even close to good Quicksilver scenes which elevated both prior movies.

You know what I am tired of talking about it. Its not worth it.

TL;DR

Magneto’s line from one of the early trailers works for my feelings on the movie “We’ve heard it all before, no one cares.” The actors may have cared, the crew may have cared, but the writer/director and producer did not.  This is the worst kind of laziness with a franchise that had found its legs and put out a better than average success rate. I thought my review might have been kinder than some of the others, but as I often find when I’m on the fence about a mediocre movie the more I write the more irritated I get with it.

Even the Dark Princess and Dark Council member who joined me tonight was bored with it. Admittedly she had not watched an X film since X-2, but she couldn’t fathom why she should care about Jean Grey. The movie gave no one a reason to care, the franchise gave no one a reason to care. 20 minutes of screen time in Apocalypse is not enough.

So should I see it?

No. No one should. If they didn’t put an emotional investment in it, the movie is not worth your monetary investment.

Would you see it again?

No.

Ok what about completing your collection when it comes out in digital or blu-ray?

It’s unlikely. Even though there are moments I like it doesn’t have enough of them.

OK so it’s bad, can we give it the MST3K treatment?

Sadly, still no. It’s high production value bad. Everyone involved CAN act so that isn’t a point to pick on it. Sure they can’t out do the bad directing and script, but that isn’t their fault.

I have nothing on this movie. I was going to say it’s on the tail end of mediocre just dabbling above bad, but no. This is a bad movie.

Better than Last Stand, but only because it is more comprehensible and at least reasonably true to the characters.

 

This was not worth the delays or reshoots. Let’s see what Disney does in five years with it.

Darke Reviews | Avengers: Endgame (2019)

SPOILER FREE AS USUAL

Here it is. Eleven years and twenty-two movies, culminated tonight with myself, two very dear friends on either side of me with two hundred and fifty or so people in our theatre. The house went dark and the trailers rolled giving us nothing unexpected in that vein. Then it went black and you could hear everyone hold their collective breath wondering how it would start. Then it began. Three hours later it ended. My companions (makes me sound like a Time Lord when I say that) and I sat there and we discussed what we experienced. We then ran to the bathroom (ahead of the line *cackles*), then continued to discuss outside for a good half hour pausing only for when people were entering the theatre. Seriously don’t be the guy that doesn’t. We hugged, then headed home; both of them wondering how I would review this movie – and retain my spoiler free style.

Here’s how. TL;DR.

Again I write the most useless review in all of history as literally everyone will go see this that had any intention of it with or without my input. Now, my opinion on Infinity War is often discussed and rather unpopular. I didn’t like it. To me it was meh at best, and often the more I think about it the less I like it.

That is not the case here. This was the emotional roller coaster I was waiting for. As one of my companions said, this was Marvels equivalent of “I told you that story to tell you this one” and nailing it.

I unambiguously love this movie.

To paraphrase another one of my friends, “I have many feelings right now.” This is still the case.

Ok, but does it have flaws?

Of course it does. There’s some technical tracking shots I wasn’t particularly fond of, even if I understand why they went with them. There’s a handful of scenes that went too long or another too short. Yes, there is a scene that runs far too long and is not as funny as anyone involved should have thought it was. They could and should have done better than have that problematic beat. It does have a Return of the King kind of ending but how could it not? This is “END GAME” its the end. There’s a lot to wrap up.

The Russo Brothers said there are shots in the trailer intentionally for the trailer only. How bad was that?

It wasn’t. You’re safe. I do have issues with the concept of deliberately lying to people with a trailer. I question that integrity and would encourage Hollywood to not do that. There’s a lot you can do without lying to your audience and still get butts into seats. That goes especially for a film like this where they probably could have just put the title up and people would have been here to see it. See Batman 1989 for reference please.

So what did they do right – specifically?

Many of the shots, one in particular in Act III are beautiful. The character moments I was missing from Infinity War are here and in spades and it pleases me to no end. This was what I was waiting for and I received it with very little to complain about. Alan Silvestri continues to manipulate with the music, but that is kind of the point. The audience cheered when expected including me and my black little heart. They cried when expected too, also including me. Don’t even think for a moment that’s a spoiler. There’s a metric ton of appropriate emotional beats running through the current of this movie that will get you going.

Will you watch it again?

In theatres? Let’s be fair there was a brief debate about doing it again tonight if the next showing had an open seat.

Biggest Screen. Best Sound system.

Worth it.

So you’re buying it too eh?

Duh.

So you didn’t talk about the directors, writing, or acting?

Noticed that too huh?

Directed by Anthony and Joseph Russo. I’ve said all I need to on them. Maybe another time I will do a deep dive into what I see their cinematic vision as and their directing style.

Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. I’ve covered them too in the last review or another one. It’s hard to talk about things that are unchanging.

Acting? Every last cast member was in it to win it. Whatever it takes wasn’t just a tag line for the trailer, it was how the actors played their parts. I have absolutely no complaints, save the one mentioned in the flaws.

Avengers Endgame is the finale of an epic and how to do it right. I enjoyed the hell out of it and I think most people will as well.

Shazam! was great, but until next time True Believers,  Make Mine Marvel!

 

 

Darke Reviews | Hellboy (2019)

I need Ian McShane to narrate my life. Sure people talk about having Morgan Freeman do it or Samuel L Jackson for the complete other take; but for me, it has to be Ian McShane. I never fully appreciated the gift that he was until seeing him in the remake of Death Race (2008). This is a man who is all out of anything to give. This is a man who I am almost certain walks on set, reads his script, and generally goes “screw it” and does what he will and they just film him – and it always turns out awesome. If you’ve seen the John Wick movies you know this to be true as well. I only bring this up now because this movie opens with narration by Mr. McShane and it sets a very firm tone for what the movie will give you.  It wastes very little time establishing any of this and if you don’t like the first minute of film you won’t like the following hundred and nineteen. As a film goer and critic I appreciate it when movies manage my expectations in such a way. Jordan Peele did this with much praise in US and now we have one of my favourite underrated directors doing it here in Hellboy’s 5th movie installment.

But does it work?

As mentioned this is the 5th installment of a Hellboy movie, with the original DelToro in 2004, the animated Sword of Storms in 2006, the animated Blood and Iron in 2007, and The Golden Army in 2008. The last three have the creator of Hellboy as one of the writers and all of them have Ron Perlman in the titular character role, and the other live actors in their respective supporting roles. This marks the first time that Mike Mignola is not involved in the writing (but he does get an Executive Producer credit). To say that the tone of this movie is irreverent would be an understatement of apocalyptic proportions. Andrew Cosby’s (creator of TV series Eureaka and Haunted) script is very much in the vein of of the previous ones, with Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. (Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense) trying to stop a very potent supernatural baddie from ending human life letting the creatures of the night rule once again and for Hellboy himself to face his own dark potential. To be fair, as the Vampire Princess I am kind of rooting for the monsters – it’s a blood thing after all.

The movie does a decent job setting up who Hellboy is and what he believes in pretty quickly with a well done show don’t tell scene. We’re given the crash course rehash of his origin with some very clear comic book characterizations and other characters, like The Lobster, not previously seen in a Hellboy picture being lifted from page to screen. Cosby clearly does love the material and embraced every aspect of the over the top nature of it and brought it to the script; perhaps at the detriment of giving us any compelling characters beyond Hellboy, Broom, and Alice Monaghan. The movie suffers from an eternally brisk pace that doesn’t let you ever linger long enough to care much about anything which can leave you wanting if you don’t feel for the stakes.

That being said I am pleased to see Neil Marshall back in the directors chair again. His filmography is regular watching in my crypt from The Descent, to Dog Soldiers, to Doomsday, and Centurion. This didn’t feel like one of his movies though.  Sure Doomsday mashes up a zombie apocalypse movie, MadMax, and a medieval film all in one, but the overall look, feel, and tone here doesn’t feel like him entirely. It’s shot well and you can fully place everything being done and have a great sense of scale and geography during some of the fights and sweeping shots; which is definitely him, but its the closer moments that are somewhat off.

That might come down to the technicals. Normally Marshall is all but 100% practical in every shot; with few exceptions. He doesn’t shy from the gore when appropriate, nor does this movie; but the visuals they look well bad. When some of the blood effects and creature effects in movies a from over a decade ago look better than one made now, you have a problem. Many of the digital creations are more detractors for the movie than they are supporting, which is sad because there is practical work at play here. My gut tells me, and I bet I could research and prove, that this may have fallen victim to post production touch ups and overwork similar to the 2011 prequel of The Thing. There was intense and amazing practical work done, but someone at the studio came in and had the team redo all of the effects with digital over the practical. It is infamous in how bad it is at times. This looks about the same. Again this is sad because Hellboy looks great, some of the low key practical effects through the movie also look great – but the digital is not good.

People will want to know how is David Harbour (Stranger Things) vs Ron Perlman in the role of Hellboy. He’s good. I am biased, as many will be, that Perlman is better. I think some of it comes down to how well and how often Perlman gets to emote and how clear he sounds doing so. There’s a lack of clarity in the speech and lack of presence in that speech that overall hurt Harbours otherwise ideal casting. He looks good in the part, he emotes when he can, but I think the movie doesn’t really give him the chance to be as iconic as Perlman was.  The next match up of course is Ian McShane vs John Hurt as professor Broom. They aren’t even the same character and thus cannot be compared. I mean it is the same character but the take on it is so radically different you would not know it. McShane does as he does on American Gods, and chews all the scenery and we love him for it, but much like Harbour we aren’t given enough with him to make him more than Ian McShane, which is unfortunate. Daniel Dae Kim (LOST, Hawaii Five-O) is also done a disservice as Major Ben Daimio. He is able to elevate the part just enough to make it work, but only barely. Sasha Lane (Miseducation of Cameron Post) is the only one who manages to make a real impression playing Alice, but only barely.

TL;DR

The original Hellboy had a budget of $66 million (just over $91m adjusted) but it shows in the painstaking care of the practical. Lionsgate did this movie no favours in its $50 million budget. The intense practical of the 2004 Hellboy makes it a stand out film, while unfortunately the intense digital elements here cut this one off at the knees. This is a movie that has a very talented director, a capable cast, a script from someone who clearly knows his source material and the result is something of a muddy mess. Hellboy clearly deserved better than it got and unfortunately what looks to be some level of studio hands in the pot allowed a movie filled with sound and fury signifying nothing.

This feels more like something you would have expected from an early 2000’s Miramax movie instead of a late 2010’s Lionsgate one. This isn’t to say it’s awful. Quite contrary to that it actually is kind of fun at times in a throwback kind of way. I have to wonder if knowing their hands were tied the director, cast, and crew just embraced the travesty and rode with it like Slim Pickens. Everyone tries here. Everyone clearly looks like they are having a good time. The music director clearly was enjoying themselves and this certainly doesn’t feel like any other comic book movie you will see this year, largely due to the intense amount of digital and practical blood effects. This movie is an R Rated one and took full advantage of it.

Yes, but should we see it?

Yes, but preferably with alcohol or *lots* of popcorn. It is that sort of beer and pretzels movie that shouldn’t be but is and knows both of those things are true. I did enjoy myself, but I can’t tell you this is a good movie either.

Would you see it again?

Not in theatre, no.

Ok, what about buying it?

Yeah, I have no issue with that. I can order a pizza, open a bottle of bloo, er wine, sit down and just enjoy.

So it’s a …?

This is an entertaining, turn your brain off for two hours, have a drink and enjoy movie. I can’t be certain it was meant to be that way, but the net result is that.

I wouldn’t hold out hope for a sequel, but stranger things have happened. Also I still need Ian McShane to narrate my life.

 

Next week, I may or may not see the Curse of La Llorona – but face it we’re all waiting for End Game.

Darke Reviews | Shazam! (2019)

The exclamation mark is important if you want to get the right title when looking this one up. Now, I am just barely old enough to remember Shazam (1974) and Isis (1975) on reruns as a kid.

Shazam and Isis

 

I of course have some of the 90’s and early 2000’s comics with Billy Batson and the rest of the Marvel family, oh yes. Thats right. I mentioned on a post about the recent Captain Marvel movie that there was some beautiful irony in putting the Shazam! trailer in front of that movie. So a bit of comic history, Captain Marvel was created in 1939 by Fawcett Comics and then was sued by what would eventually become DC comics for copyright infringement on Superman. The case went back and forth for a few years with the two settling out of court in 1953. The character went out of print shortly after due to declining sales. After the silver age of comics DC licensed the characters from Fawcett in 1972, but at this point Marvel had already established Captain Marvel and a trademark on it that forced DC to go with the title of Shazam. The character didn’t unquestionably and fully take his name as Shazam until the 2000’s. So there you go, you now know something you didn’t before.

The real question is should you watch the movie?

Let’s face it DC is hit and miss. Mostly miss in my opinion. Man of Steel doesn’t hold up as it did on my initial review and hundreds of people are happy to tell you why. BvS….let’s not discuss that. Wonder Woman certifiable hit, but a touch weak on the villain front. Suicide Squad, I like. Others don’t. I can see the criticism though. Justice League…mostly a miss, but so much closer than they had been before. Don’t @ me snyder fanboys – his vision wasn’t good. Aquaman, the box office and I disagree on how good this was, so its a solid ok; but still firmly in Snyders shadow. Shazam! is the first movie that is 100% out of it and it shows.

The story was written by Darren Lemke (Shrek Forever After, Goosebumps) and Henry Gayden (Earth to Echo); who basically made their paychecks with kids films. This might have been the stroke of genius missing or maybe just what a movie with a kid as the star needed. The story is good here and undeniably solid. There is some rather good show don’t tell storytelling through out the movie that is a breath of fresh air in the superhero genre; and while there is exposition only at one point does it not work. The meat of the story is around Billy and his search for his family and every line of it works. Every interaction with the foster parents, the other foster kids works. It was beautiful and heartbreaking to watch some of the scenes and really to give us a GOOD Foster situation in film. All too often you hear about “the system” and it’s shown as a meat grinder for kids who work their way out of it, and this movie turns that on its head and I love it for that. Director David F. Sandberg clearly is not the first choice I’d have gone to for a kid based superhero movie after his first two feature films were the 2016 horror film Lights Out and 2017’s Annabelle: Creation; but again this somehow worked. He shot a movie that is both heartfelt, heart breaking, and funny all at the same time and never loses sight that this is a kid who is becoming a hero.

The kid in question, Asher Angel (Andi Mack) as Billy Batson. Besides looking too much like Maisie Williams (Arya Stark) twin brother he has to carry the film as much as anyone, which is hard for a 16 year old. He does it though bringing the edge needed for a kid who is running away from everything in search of something he may never find, then is granted all the powers anyone could hope for and having to make some real choices. Angel is able to handle all the nuance needed for his character and Zachary Levi (Chuck, Tangled) as the older version of him captures the rest of it well. Points to the script, the directing, Levi, and Angel here as I really felt that this wasn’t a grown man being childish but a child trying to be a grown man. Jack Dylan Grazer (Eddie Kaspbrak from IT) has a lot of work to do as well as Freddy Freeman, Billy’s foster brother. Thankfully he is just as capable of carrying the torch and bearing the weight as Angel is. The two of them felt right in their roles and Grazer had to work with both Levi and Angel and make it feel that he was talking to the same person and was able to do so. Mark Strong (Kingsman, Sherlock Holmes) was clearly having a good time on set as Dr. Thaddeus Sivana. Here we have a competent villain who is a match for our hero, has motive, and is understandable. Strong was perfect for the role and the enjoyment he clearly had shows through in every frame.  I would be remiss if I didn’t call out the other supporting cast who really helped bring the heart to the movie. Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews as the foster parents were perfect and honestly, I wish those characters were my parents. The other foster children played by Grace Fulton (Mary), Ian Chen (Eugene Choi), Faithe Herman (Darla), and Jovan Armand (Pedro) are also quite perfect though of them young Faithe steals the show every damn time.

The effects on display are also really good guys. Like impressively so, with the flight, the transformations, the fights, all of it looking some of the best I’ve seen in years. Some of that comes down to the editors not hypersaturating the movie. The colour balance here is just perfect and only a touch off photo real with the reds and whites always being slightly brighter. This doesn’t look for feel like any of the DC movies or Marvel movies and I want more of it. I need more of this. Even the score is solid, though not as emphasized as I would like – I felt it and it played me the way it was supposed to.

TL:DR?

Guys. This is good. This is really good. Like after the inspiration that Wonder Woman brings and the epicness of her film, this is easily my second favourite of the DC movies. This had the purity and heart that the original Donner superman captured but with modern film making techniques. If I want a good super hero movie that reminds me what it was like when the heroes cared about saving people and the movie showed it, when someone was just a GOOD person because it was the right thing to do – this movie is going to  be in that rotation. I am hoping and praying to whatever box office gods that listen that this can take and hold the box office for a few weeks and show DC that we want more of this.

Should i see it?

Yes. No question. Yes. On the Big screen.

Would you see it again?

I just might.

Buying it?

Absolutely. I am going to be happy to have this in the collection.

You sure this was a DC movie?

I know right? This was closer to Black Panther than it was a DC movie. Great story telling, compelling characters. While the movie has a few moments that make me personally uncomfortable (Bullies, Family issues) the fact that i made me feel those moments is a tip of the hat in its favor not a strike against. I’m always surprised when I write my reviews. I sometimes expect them to be positive and they turn out fairly negative, or I expect them to be positive but then when I write it and think about it the review is glowing. This is one of the ones I am happy to say is in the glowing category.

 

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Darke Reviews | Captain Marvel (2019)

This, until Frozen 2 was officially announced, was one of my most anticipated movies this year if not the most anticipated movie this year. After my middling review of Avengers: Infinity War, I really have no emotional connection to the upcoming Endgame. It’ll happen. I will see it, but what really got my attention was the final shot from Fury and the stinger that came with it for this movie. Then they tell me it’s Brie Larson who I first saw as Envy Adams in Scott Pilgrim vs the World, and I absolutely loved in Free Fire, and then again in Kong: Skull Island she was able to elevate a sub-par character. I am more pleased. The trailers drop, the smile grows. Larson goes on the offensive to the internet trolls – and how can I not be happy. Then my best friend points out how Marvel is doing the “HER” O thing in the trailer..and its a touch eye rolling since Marvel is second out of the gate on this front and there’s been a lot of talk about it but no action until 11 years into the Marvel universe. They talk, but their actions and other comments seem to say they don’t trust. Now they go for it and the internet trolls go after Marvel and this movie in full force – so bad that several sites turned off reviews from people until after the movie is out.

So is Captain Marvel the hero we needed in the Marvel universe?

Well Yes.

Yes she is. She is long overdue.

Did they do her justice though?

That’s the real question. The first answer to it, is not what I call good. Frequent readers of mine know I have a “Three Writer Rule”; which states that any movie with three or more writers usually has some issues. This one has five story by credits, three of which also get screenplay. Now I could go look up and try to decipher who did what and share that, but I don’t think that is needed. We can generally infer that the story by with Nicole Perlman (Guardians of the Galaxy, Detective Pikachu) and Meg LeFauve (Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur) were the initial story writers, as the other three credits also get screenplay. Those credits going to Geneva Robertson-Dworet (Tomb Raider 2018), and the films directors Anna Boden (Sugar, Mississippi Grind) and her frequent collaborator Ryan Fleck (Sugar, Mississippi Grind). As I piece this together we have a Disney writer, a proven Marvel writer, and an up and coming writer from the writers room. We have two writer/directors who clearly work well together, but haven’t worked on anything this big before – and now this movie makes sense.

We have the story of Vers (Veers), a Kree Warrior with amnesia, engaged in an intergalactic war with a shapeshifting species known as The Skrulls. During a rescue operation Vers and her team are ambushed by the Skrulls and Veers is captured. During a Skrull interrogation flashes of lost memory return to Vers and during her escape she finds herself on Earth. Now she must stop the Skrulls from find a MacGuffin and clues to her own identity.

That’s more or less the premise here and its fairly solid comic book storytelling. The plot is amazingly straight forward and carries itself well. The connective tissue of the movie that carries you from beat to beat is some of the better pieces since Marvel Phase 1 and early Phase 2; where they let the two hour movie slow down enough for you to get a real feel for the characters and their interactions with those around them. The movie even solves amazingly well the Green Lantern Paradox, which is how do we show an Alien world and let people care. They did it. The problem really lies on the surface of the film. They brow beat you with the girl power in too obvious ways that actually do read as pandering. That isn’t to say that the movies through line of this woman who stands up against everything that tries to hold her back isn’t there – because damnit it is and I am here for it. What takes away from it is the inconsistencies and little jabs that don’t work and should have been edited out. What doesn’t work is that there are beats that could have been so much better had they leaned into the trope a bit more and run with it in their own way. Sure its easy for me to write about all the flaws in something that took months of work, but I feel like someone in the producers chair should have caught it.

Granted some of those flaws don’t come from the script, but the directing. I maintain they told Brie Larson to maintain an arms reach perimeter around herself where no one else was allowed within that range and she must *always* stand in a 3/4 pose. For Marvel to make this their big bet for us in the female audience I feel like they didn’t take us seriously on the directors chair. The actors did fine don’t get me wrong, but Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson, Jude Law, and Ben Mendelsohn can act their way through anything and make it better than had any right to be. I am not being entirely fair to the directors here, there are more than a few shots that really are just great and the acting, the blocking, everything is framed just right. The problem is there are also more than a few where a “hero” shot was called for, something from a comic panel and it was missing. Where a few seconds of timing or clarity in the shot could have made it all work.

It doesn’t help the movie that on the technical side most of the fights are a mess and lack real geography. They could have been cleaner, they could have been wider or brighter to showcase someone who is clearly a wonderful talent physically as well as in her acting. The absolute worst crime for this movie is Pinar Toprak’s score. It 100% lets the movie down and makes all the minor flaws I talked about that much more apparent. There is absolutely nothing to it, no theme, no anthem, no leitmotif to let the movie have any real rises and falls. I’d love to send her youtube content creator “Sideways” video on Eric Wolfgang Korngold and leitmotifs because I think it could help. Granted, this may not be her fault, she may have just done a demo score, or temp music, for the movie and a producer hand-waved and said it was good enough without giving it to another. The CG, with few exceptions though is top notch and getting better by the day and was down right engaging.

TL;DR

The movie despite my lambasting critique above is good. It is entertaining. It will absolutely be empowering for girls everywhere. I had a good time with the movie. I am just said I didn’t have a great time. I am sad I didn’t get as invested as I wanted to. Brie Larson did her best and thanks to her we have a *great* female hero on the big screen. The character is great, the actor playing her is amazing. The movie is elevated because of her and the other actors and while it speaks of great things for those performers it doesn’t say much for the rest of the movie; which just falls flat too many times

Captain Marvel is a very solid, entertaining film, one of the better Marvel films in recent years and I am glad I saw it and rightfully deserves all the money it should make. It gives me hope for the MCU going forward.

You were kinda harsh on it – should I watch it then?

I was harsh but thats kind of my job. I have maintain my integrity and call the flaws out that there are and this has many – but aside from the score most of them are minor.

The movie is worth seeing. It’s on the top side of good and again I had a good time.

Would you watch it again?

Yes. I’m going to see it again and maybe do an edit to this if one is warranted, but right now its still on my go see again.

Are you buying it?

Yes. Yes I am. No argument and no doubts.

But?

*sighs* Marvel didn’t give it their all here. The people on the production did, even script and directors. Marvel didn’t. They didn’t bring in the right directors or the right people to polish the screenplay.  They didn’t give us a No Man’s Land scene. They didn’t give us a score that makes us sit up and let us know the hero is about to do something epic.

The movie was good, proper, and entertaining but should have been great and honestly. ….DC did it better.

I hate saying that, but its true.

I really feel that Marvel gave this one lip service in production and tried to sell it in post and in marketing. That isn’t fair to the audience or the people who put in the work.

That isn’t fair to the girls who are (and should) be looking up to this movie and it’s character. They got good, they deserved GREAT.