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.

 

 

Darke Reviews | Aquaman (2018)

In what seems to be one of the strangest holiday seasons yet, there is yet another early access showing; this time in conjunction with Amazon Prime membership. So far in what is one of the most packed Decembers I can recall where we have Bumblebee, Mortal Engines, Aquaman, Spider-Man, and Mary Poppins all coming within two weeks of each other; all of them have had early showings except Poppins. I think this is combination confidence and ego on the party of Disney knowing the name alone will carry a lot of weight. Steven Spielberg of all people went “I’m out” and moved Alita: Battle Angel to an uncontested Valentines day slot. The others all are all competing for early release positive buzz and need it desperately in the cases of Aquaman, Bumblebee, and Spider-Man as the brand they are representing (DCEU, Transformers, and Spider-Man) don’t have the best track records in the cinema. Spider-Man proved not only to be worthy, but the best animated movie of the year and possibly one of the best Spider-Man movies ever put to screen.

Is Aquaman worthy?

The movie violates my Three Writer Rule out of the gate, with Will Beall (Gangster Squad, Training Day TV series), director James Wan (the Saw, Conjuring, and Insidious series) , and Geoff John’s (DC’s version of Kevin Fiege ie the head of the “movie studio”) having story credit; then Beall and David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick (Red Riding Hood, Wrath of the Titans) on screenplay. By their powers combined they have created a hot mess. To be fair to them, the work of Snyder before and the Justice League movie didn’t give them as much room as a team coming in fresh and thats where some of the narrative choices come from and were not handled deftly. From a purely cinematic universe standpoint the average movie goer won’t know half of whats going on or missing so I can’t and won’t call them to task. Comparing to the comic is like comparing to a book. Changes need to be made, so be it. What I can call them to task for is trying to do too much and not doing all of it well as a result; with plot threads left dangling, characters who feel like they were supposed to be more important and vanish; and most critically a lack of consequence along the way that really shouldn’t be ignored as the meta narrative of the movie put such an intense focus on rules and ancient laws.

The story itself, isn’t so much an issue. Arthur Curry’s, aka Aquaman, mother was the Queen of Atlantis, made a child with a Lighthouse keeper. Then had to return home or they die. She has a son with the King. This son, Orm, later in life wants to wage war on the surface for indistinct reasons and conspires to do so. Meanwhile Mera, someone loyal to the Queen seeks out Arthur in an attempt to have him usurp the throne and prevent all out war between the surface and Atlantis. A McGuffin must be found to give Arthur legitimacy as he is a half breed and the clock is ticking as Orm advances his plan to become the Ocean Master.

The plot itself isn’t the issue. It really isn’t. It’s the beats and how they were architected, its those hanging moments and characters that vanish and other points that just take away from the whole. Logical fallacies within the world that continually don’t add up. I am not talking the suspension of disbelief that you have to take a heaping dose of for the movie to work, I am talking violating that suspension. The movie does it time and time again; and I am not sure why. Wan is a competent director and writer and has shown to be better than this. I wonder if this is a curse of bigger budget with talented directors ruins them somewhat. There are some truly inspired shots and action sequences in this movie. I’ve been beating up on it thus far and it’s not all bad. There are some really good moments, but not enough of them. There’s some great camera work, but not enough of it.

From an acting perspective, sorry folks, I know Momoa is pretty to look at. He is eye candy for those who enjoy that aesthetic and I appreciate that is the reason many people will go see it. I know he wants to maintain and showcase the ties to the Maori and he does so through the movie more than once; and the Haka at the premier was beautiful. He doesn’t have the charisma to pull this off, or someone told him not to use it. He *should* work as Aquaman, but doesn’t. He comes across as a “Biker Bro” who has powers. He would have been a great Lobo with this performance, but I don’t buy him ever becoming the King of the Sea with it. Amber Heard (Drive Angry, The Danish Girl)  is far more compelling as Mera and is the Mera I know from the material I’ve come across who doesn’t take anything from anyone. Between the two of them there was absolutely no chemistry and I can’t be certain if it was her recent life events in dealing with toxic masculinity and abuse or just it not being there at all. Willem Dafoe phones it in, but its still better than most of the cast. Patrick Wilson (Insidious, Watchmen) is engaging as King Orm and tries, with the script doing him no favours.  Nicole Kidman was allowed to be bad ass as Queen Atlanna, but also seemed vaguely exasperated or confused that she was there.  Also what a waste of a Julie Andrews voice. Black Manta was treated well overall and handled about as well as one can expect.

The production design. This is as about a mixed bag as the rest of the movie is. Bill Brzeski had the unenviable task of creating Atlantis and the other kingdoms of the seven seas. Overall it was beautiful, but at times it was muddled by the motion and camera choices. More wide shots were needed, like the scene in the trailer with the flare and the boat. More awe was needed to show the power, expanse, and majesty of Atlantis – and sadly it wasn’t all there. Costuming, a category I don’t often bring up, fell to Kym Barrett, who was nominated for over a dozen awards for her work on Cloud Atlas. She also worked on the Matrix and Speed Racer. She did create original designs or was able to successfully translate comic designs to film in almost every case. Mera’s costume during one scene was literally the most inspired I’ve seen for an aquatic movie. Mera’s costume the rest of the movie left me confused. The clothing was theoretically designed to be form fitting, but quite regularly there were gaps between clothing and skin that were really glaring to me; almost as glaring as the High Heels.

The woman who lives underwater is wearing high heels.

Just let that sink in for a moment.

Don’t even get me started on the red wig they had her in. In a rare moment, let me say Justice League treated her better than the movie she was the main player in. Don’t believe me? Look. Also please note the superior costume for Justice League – which takes place before this movie.

Justice League Promo

Justice League

Aquaman. Look at that Natural Red

I want to  rant about the music being odd and switching between the current trend of 80’s Synthwave, standard scoring, and weird Pop songs in the movie I haven’t seen outside of a YA movie or Evanescence in Daredevil back in the day; but this review is already getting too long.

TL;DR

Surprisingly, despite its laundry list of flaws the movie still manages to be somewhat entertaining. It isn’t as patently offensive as Man of Steel has become to me, or BVS, its production values exceed that of Justice League; even if the story beats and acting are rougher. It isn’t as good as Suicide Squad (to me) and definitely not in the league with Wonder Woman. There is a movie here begging to be made to be made well, another pass on the script, another wave of clean edits, a second look at the costuming and music all could have elevated this uncontested into the #2 slot of the DCEU.

Instead we get something just above mediocre through raw effort on everyone’s part that is not more than the sum of its parts, but isn’t falling apart either. A series of baffling decisions both in and out of narrative leave me wondering about the motivations of the characters and why I should care at all. Just a few lines of dialogue here or there really could have solved more than a few of this movies problems so it’s other issues wouldn’t have been as glaring.

Should I see it?

I can tell you no. Most people are going to ignore me and go “But Momoa is pretty.” So I won’t even bother. When this comes out next week it will be competing with a Mary Poppins sequel and Transformers movie, both of which will be reviewed when I see them before this ones release.

Currently the verdict is:  If you were going to see it regardless of this review I hope you enjoy it. I truly truly do. There’s more than a few moments to enjoy and I did have a good time, but I might have had that same good time watching it home later.

So not seeing it again then?

No. I’ll be seeing Spider-Man and Anna and the Apocalypse at a minimum before seeing this again.

Buying it?

*deep sigh* Maybe. Probably. Again its deeply flawed, I have trouble giving it a firm recommendation, but it’s not dumpster fire. Wow….my bar for the DCEU is low.

Anything else to add?

It’s a solid filmmaking effort, and I can see that effort was put in. They tried. Tried and failed on a lot of points, but they tried and I have to give them credit for that. No one in the crew phoned it in and the director did all he could saddled with five prior films of baggage that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. The mistakes in the film shine like spotlights to me but may not to most audiences so there’s that in the movies favour.

Aquaman was the most joked about member of the Justice League for decades. His movie could have been far worse so I will take it for what it is.

 

 

 

Darke Reviews | Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Greetings True Believers. So a theatre chain did a screening of the new animated Spider-Man movie tonight, needless to say I had my butt in a seat for it. While the trailer left me wondering a bit on the animation style as it wasn’t anything I had quite seen before I knew this movie would be important as it was the first time we got to see Miles Morales on screen. Now those who are not familiar with comics, and truth be told I’ve been out of them for awhile, may not know that in 2011 a new Spider was introduced; and this one happened to be a young Afro-Latino boy.   Needless to say in an age where in post after post I have to say #RepresentationMatters this movie is important. Until this year we have not yet had a person of colour lead a major comic book movie in this Renaissance of the comic movie. Yes, Black Panther was this year – how wild is that? Now obviously we can all name T’challa, Falcon, and even Nick Fury as black Heroes on screen. Now name the number of Latinx ones you’ve seen on screen.

Miles Morales is important.

This movie is important.

But is it good?

Let me cut to the chase and avoid the TL;DR cut – Yes. Yes it is.

First, let’s talk writing, this was written by Phil Lord of the Lego Movie fame (and kicked off of Solo: a Star Wars story fame) with his writing partner Christopher Miller as a producer. The story is an origin story, but damn if it isn’t solid. Not only do we get the origin for Miles to become Spider-Man, they introduce five other Spider’s from alternate universes. So the movie is able to juggle a total of six Spider’s and still keep Miles as our central character, with character conflict, growth, and identity being underlying themes through the movie and it works. Miles remains center stage, but you still get enough time with the other major characters through the story to get it. The movie also retains a beautiful sense of humor through out and is as far from Grimdark and Depressing as you can get.

It’s rare I get to talk about three directors for one movie, but here we go with Rodney Rothman (a Lord & Miller partner and writer on their projects), and two artists. The first is Bob Perischetti, who worked on Mulan, Tarzan, Shrek 2, and Monsters vs Aliens; as well as the acclaimed The Little Prince.  Peter Ramsey is an artist turned director, who worked as a storyboard and illustrator for Bram Stokers Dracula, Tank Girl, and was the director on the painfully underrated Rise of the Guardians.  These men know how to get great voice acting that has the subtle intonations that elevate the performance and also bring a strong visual style to the art team who had their work cut out for them combining cell shaded animation, traditional four colour dot art, CG characters, traditionally animated characters, and more into a single picture.

This movie is absolutely gorgeous. Colour theorists will have a field day with this one and they should with every colour being intentional and also amazingly vibrant. Even in the “dark” scenes in the movie, the contrast of colours against the true blacks just pop off the screen to the point I almost wondered how this would look with 3-D glasses. There is such amazing kineticism to the film as well where your eyes are always watching something and when the fights, chases, and other major beats happen there is a fluidity of motion you just cannot do in live action film making and the movie takes full advantage of it. It is raw, it is dynamic, and the camera always follows the action and keeps pulling you into those action beats so well. The animation also knows when to be still as well. The right moments are held like freeze frames with only minimal motion, but maximum emotion. Even the character designs, while so bloody disparate work when they really shouldn’t.

Credit must be given to Shameik Moore (Dope, The Get Down) is our Miles Morales, and for a 23 year old knocks it out of the park playing a very young teenager. Because of the complexity of the voice acting Moore brings we have a truly three dimensional portrayal of this character with a fantastic message for our viewers. Jake Johnson (the computer geek guy from Jurassic World) is our Peter Parker and while I wasn’t sure on him at the opening he also brought layers to what otherwise would have been a lesser character. The same can be said for Hailee Steinfield (Ender’s Game, True Grit, and the upcoming Bumblebee) as Spider-Woman/Gwen or Ghost Spider. This movie did her right too and I can think of hundreds and thousands of girls who will see a female hero who isn’t treated sexually in any way shape or form and is absolutely someone who kicks butt, has her own arc, and just is well done. Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta, This is Us) and Mahershala Ali (Luke Cage, Moonlight) have some emotional burden to carry too and do it admirably.

Even the music in this movie just rocks from beginning to end and …and ..

TL;DR

This movie I could go on and on about. I can tell you the hype for it is real. The positive reviews may not go far enough. I saw yesterday that this movie was nominated for a Golden Globe for best animated feature and I have no argument that it should win. You haven’t seen a movie animated like this before, and maybe won’t again, but it’s original. It’s vibrant. The characters are good. The story is good. The movie works on every possible level and holds it’s own against some of the best Marvel and Disney have put out.

Not only is it good, but it also reminds us how much Representation DOES Matter and gives us the heroes we really do need right now, and a message we need as well.

So I am taking it I should…

Yes. Yes you should. In theatres. IMAX if you can for the full immersion of colour.

Would you see it aga….

Yes. Next?

Buying it?

This movie is why 4K TV’s exist.

Ok Vampire lady calm down aren’t you a bit too hyped?

Maybe. My best friend and I were talking about this movie the entire ride home and just how GOOD it is. Like capital “G”. It has a positive message for the kiddos, tons of nostalgia for those old enough, is beautiful, and honestly pure. I almost feel bad for Peter Jackson next week when this comes out as Mortal Engines is going to get destroyed by this.

I really do like this movie and I hope you see it and like it too.

 

Darke Reviews | Ant-Man and The Wasp

I was not a fan of the first Ant-Man film when it came out almost 3 years ago to the day. Largely this comes from the epic battle between comedy and my sensibilities. Many co-workers and friends still ply me with things they think I believe will be funny. Few succeed. It’s a tragic tale of woe, but yet some do succeed. There’s a narrow margin where it can just work. Not everything will be The Cornetto Trilogy, early Mel Brooks, or Twilight. Sorry. I have just been informed Twilight was not intentionally funny. Also cheap shot its an easy target I plan to look at later critically. In the meanwhile we’re here for the update on what I thought about Ant-Man and Wasp.

Does it work better than Ant-Man did?

Well… short answer is yes. I know I am not waiting for the TL;DR, but I’ve been breaking the habit on that where appropriate. As my partner tonight noted during our credits conversation she saw me laughing quite a bit. She was very correct in her perception. I did laugh quite a bit and while all the jokes didn’t land perfectly, enough of them did. More than a few went too long, but they more often than not did work and I was really able to enjoy the film. After the too much comedy of Ragnarok, the sociopolitical weight of Black Panther, and whatever Avengers left me feeling (it wasn’t much but even I admit it was a dark film) – this is cotton candy a summers fair. It’s light. It’s fluffy. It’s sweet. It reminds you of simpler times.

That isn’t bad. Movies can be escapism as much as anything else in their art form. Ant-Man and The Wasp threads a difficult needle in storytelling where the movie has weight, but isn’t too heavy for audiences who need a brain break from a world that really could use some balance right now.

This isn’t to say there isn’t good plot here. Oh no. There is. Set two years and change after the events of Civil War (and two years and change after the movie release so there’s that) it picks up with Scott Lang under house arrest for his ‘crimes’ in Germany. He has completely reconnected with his daughter (played adorably by Abby Ryder Fortson) who despite her age really seems to get it with her Dad and loves him unequivocally. He and his ex and her new husband have found their middle ground and feel more like a functional family than anyone else shown in the MCU to date. He’s trying to put what he can of his life back together with his friends who are trying to start up a security system business when he gets a flash of the Quantum Realm; which gives him visions of a long since lost Janet Van Dyne, the original Wasp. This causes Hank and Hope to seek him out to help find their missing family member, while trying to stay a few steps ahead of black marketeers who want Hanks tech, a mysterious new villain appropriately named “Ghost” for her ability to walk through solid objects at will, and the FBI who want to arrest Hank and Hope and will throw Scott in Jail for 20 years if he’s caught outside his house.

Wow. There’s a lot going on in this movie. It works. Despite violating my three writer rule by having five on the written by credit, it doesn’t feel like it was written by that many people. The stories, tone, and everything else carries through the movie nearly seamlessly. Peyton Reed back in the directors chair really does have a grasp now of what to do, how to frame, and how to get the right performances out of his actors. This doesn’t feel like the same director, yet it is. What also works is the aforementioned weight in the movie. Germany (Civil War) had consequences that carry over through the entirety of the movie. Consequences. In a comic book movie. I never thought I’d see it (in a way that logically makes sense) and it works. On top of that the primary villain Ghost (played expertly by Hannah John-Kamen (Ready Player One, Kill Joys) was masterful.  I never thought I would say this but Ant-Man and The Wasp gave us our first female POC villain in a modern comic movie. On top of that, its a GOOD Villain too. I won’t go into details because spoilers, but I really liked her character and its motivations. The movie also provided stakes if our heroes lost. Lots of them and truth be told I wasn’t sure what they were going to do with those stakes until the final credits rolled. That is very rare. Please give me some more

I could talk about the effects, but overall they are superior to the first film and its just a better movie. Also the effects team and director like Tardigrades, which is kinda awesome.  The fight sequences are really good. easy to follow and come in both large and small scales, but work within the movie so well.

I should probably talk about Evangeline Lilly here. She’s awesome. Thank you. She is bad ass. She has her own agency and goals. While the movie doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test, I think it passes the Mako Mori one.

TL:DR

This is a well paced, light, enjoyable superhero film. It has a lot going on so you don’t feel its two hour run time in the least. I had a good time and I think you will too. Also cheating here, but copying from above for more of the TL:DR

As my partner tonight noted during our credits conversation she saw me laughing quite a bit. She was very correct in her perception. I did laugh quite a bit and while all the jokes didn’t land perfectly, enough of them did. More than a few went too long, but they more often than not did work and I was really able to enjoy the film. After the too much comedy of Ragnarok, the sociopolitical weight of Black Panther, and whatever Avengers left me feeling (it wasn’t much but even I admit it was a dark film) – this is cotton candy a summers fair. It’s light. It’s fluffy. It’s sweet. It reminds you of simpler times.

Should I see it?

I think so. If you were remotely interested it is going to be a good time. If you weren’t you won’t miss much, but I gotta tell you the rest of July isn’t looking like a major movie going month for most folks.

Would you see it again?

Yeah. The D-Box seats I bought for my partner and I tonight really did add something, but standard or XD is good for this one.

Going to buy it?

The odds are in its favour.

So what about Avengers Infinity War and this one’s continuity?

They line up without flaw. Thats all I will say.

Alright, so what’s wrong with the rest of July?

I have zero interest in Hotel Transylvannia 3. I refuse to give Adam Sandler money. I don’t care if it has Vampires in it. I have a line I draw.

Skyscraper is still on my maybe pile.

Equalizer 2 I’ll see, but the first had a small audience and I don’t think this one will fare better. I haven’t seen a lot of marketing for it.

At the end of the month we get Mission Impossible: Fallout, which based on conversations I’ve had; I am the only one excited for.

 

Final Note: Special thanks to my movie going partner. It’s nice to chat with someone immediately after the movie.