Darke Reviews | Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

There are now officially seventeen movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They come in varying quality, public, and critical opinions. I have seen all of them at this point, including Doctor Strange when it came to Netflix. My issues with the movie stand. As it pertains to the rest of the series, I do find my opinions differ than many, many others, as I rather like Iron Man 2 and loathe Iron Man 3. I think the rationale for Doctor Strange as mentioned before is B.S. and even after watching it I found it even more so. I think Thor is solid, but slow, but solid and shows that Marvel was still finding its footing on the MCU. Thor 2 is completely and totally forgettable.

So where does Thor: Ragnarok rate?

It was quickly noted how much they (Marvel) was going for a Guardians of the Galaxy feel on this one. My criticisms of Thor being slow and Dark World being bleak AND slow were common; which lead to a complete and total 180 on film styles. I am going to refer to this going forward on all reviews as the Suicide Squad Effect (SSE). Why? Due to the initial grey and bleak promo for Suicide Squad, DC went back and re edited the movie, re-shot, and recoloured it to make it more vibrant and “fun”. It became even brighter and more colourful with each trailer that came with. With the unprecedented success of Guardians of the Galaxy and it’s style it was clear that Marvel decided to go in this new direction full bore with the third and ostensibly final in that particular franchise. This goes as far as bringing in director Taika Waititi best known for Flight of the Conchors and the new cult classic What We Do in the Shadows (he also plays Viago in that) – which I somehow haven’t done an official review of?

Going to a full on comedy director like this isn’t unheard of for Marvel but the brand of humor is an interesting choice, more on that in a minute since what he has to work with is based on script. A script by Christopher Yost and Craig Kyle, who have mostly done writing for Marvel cartoons and comics; though Yost was also behind last years bomb Max Steel. They both get points for creating X-23 though, but much of this work for non written media production is around cartoons, especially for younger children. Eric Pearson is our third writer, that’s right rule of 3 invocation has begun, who has only written some of the Marvel one shots, such as The Consultant, and Agent Carter. He was also an executive Story Editor on the Agent Carter series. What I take from this is that Disney and Marvel were running a gamble that newer writers with less experience on blockbuster movies might be a good idea. People who have written for their target demographic will be able to help sell a Thor movie, which has proven a challenge historically.

I’d like to say it worked.

It didn’t for me. There was just too much…of everything; yet at the same time some plot holes you could fly a Death Star through. The movie jumps across too many locations and shots so quickly very little of it has time to sink in and let it resonate. Some obvious green screen effects which differ from trailer shots don’t help. An early sequence extends what was previously a post credit stinger and just goes too long and has far too much near slapstick comedy to work for me. I am not saying the movie can’t be funny. I am saying you need to balance your moments and the movie doesn’t do that. The script doesn’t allow for it and Waititi’s direction during those moments save some of it, but make others worse. If you underplay your epic moments they cease being epic. Sure you can satirize them, but is that wise to use the humor as punctuation marks through the movie called Ragnarok? A movie where Thor loses his hammer? Is Prisoner? Is facing the Goddess of Death?

This isn’t to say it’s all humor all the time, but it never allows for any emotional resonance to take place that isn’t around the humor. There are some epic moments which are still well and truly epic, but surrounding clunky dialogue and odd beats can cheapen them. There are, again, some really great shots and moments but most of them are cheapened by a weird or off putting joke or bit of dialogue.

The acting though saves it. Chris Hemsworth has good comedic timing and does his best to let the more intense moments last a bit longer or be a bit bigger than the camera and script allow. He’s showing a Thor who actually has been through all the other movies and learned a thing or two which is nice. Tom Hiddleston is as always amazing, then there’s his performance as Loki. He…doesn’t work as well as he could. He works, but this isn’t the Loki we got to know through the other movies and I am not sure why. Hiddleston is as good as he can possibly can be with the shackles, but there’s only so much the man can do. Jeff Goldblum played Jeff Goldblum as you would expect and was fine. Idris Elba was fine as Heimdall. There are some amusing hidden cameo’s which are fine. Karl Urban is like the others and does what he can and is fine. Most of the actors are just fine.

I haven’t mentioned Cate Blanchett? No. I Haven’t because she is more than fine. She comes out in full force and not even this script can stop her. Her take on Hela (not Hel to be clear) is amazing and menacing. She does carry some weight even if the fight scenes with her don’t. She is bloody awesome, but you know what’s odd – there’s someone I like more, but only a little more. Tessa Thomspon (Westworld, Creed) is Valkyrie and we are here for it. She is an absolute scene stealer at all times. All times. She’s bad ass from her entry to the credits rolling and looks good while doing it. Her dialogue is only slightly less cringey than others but again she makes it work like Blanchett does. All points to the women in this movie.

You probably want to know about the action and fight scenes? Yes. They are good. They are shot pretty good too with a mix of wides and mids to let you see what the action even looks like. It really works for the movie. The Hulk vs Thor scene is worth it. The fight on the Rainbow bridge is excellent (see above for Valkyrie entrance on this). The action is really solid in the movie when it happens; but at 2 hours and 10 minutes the movie runs a bit longer than it needs to. There are other technicals I could harp on but they mostly go back to script, editing, and what can only be some significant material on the cutting room floor.

TL:DR?

Everyone and their mother will be talking about how fun Thor is. How awesome it is. How it is one of the better MCU movies.

I think it’s OK. I found myself annoyed at the overt comedy, distracting beats, and odd pacing. It is certainly not the worst of the MCU by a long shot. I know comedy and I don’t typically get along well so your mileage may vary on this one. The action is solid. The acting is the best it can be from the actors with the script they have. The effects are pretty solid as well as is the camera work. The movie just suffers on a genetic level with it’s tone because it leans too far to the comedy to carry any weight to the moments that should.

Should you see it?

Matinee. I mean I know a lot will pay full price, but I wouldn’t. I am not sure if 3-D will help on the visuals. I know that D-Box was kinda interesting for it.

Are you going to see it agai – wait D Box?

First – no. Not likely. Second – most theatres are going through and adding reclining seats to their houses in light of how well that is taking off and to compete with chains that have seating like that plus alcohol and such. They also have a “4 D” experience as well with chairs that recline and such, but also move and jostle and vibrate with the action. You saw this in limited scope in shows like T-2 3D at Universal Studios 20 years ago, it’s advanced enough to get into main chains and try out. It’s been interesting so far, but between this and Geostorm I don’t have a lot to judge on. If you do get motion sick – no.

Ok cool – will you buy it?

Probably if I am being honest. I think the movie is Ok. It was fun mostly. Valkyrie and Hela make it work. Some of the third act effects and fights are really nice.

You know we have to ask – whats the MCU order right now?

This comes with a caveat – Dr. Strange is at the bottom due to justifiable (in my opinion) boycott and is based solely on what I think of them as movies. Still not 100% on the middle of the list, but I am pretty sure on my top 5. The list has changed with time since some of the reviews have come out and I had time to think on them as well. I was once far kinder to movies than I am today. I am not sure if the movies are worse or I’ve come to expect more. Maybe both? Probably just me though.

A lot of the reviews linked. I would rewrite now, but they are what they are.

  1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  2. Marvel’s The Avengers
  3. Captain America: The First Avenger
  4. Iron Man
  5. Spider-Man: Homecoming
  6. Iron Man 2
  7. Captain America: Civil War
  8. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  9. Guardians of the Galaxy
  10. Thor: Ragnarok
  11. Thor
  12. The Incredible Hulk
  13. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  14. Ant-Man
  15. Thor: The Dark World
  16. Iron Man 3
  17. Doctor Strange

Darke Reviews | Kingsman : The Golden Circle (2017)

I have not seen the movie. I no longer plan to see the movie.

Everyone close to me knows I avoid all other reviews, review sites, production blogs, insider blogs, etc. prior to a movies release. I base everything on my reviews from the trailer to screen only. I do not want to taint my review by production nightmares or amazing productions and horrible final products. I base them on what you promise me via trailer and what I receive when I put down my $11. So when the person closest to me in the world goes: “Hey this article ( https://www.themarysue.com/taron-egerton-kingsman2-scene/ )  has spoilers. I won’t be seeing this or any Matthew Vaughn movies”, an hour or two before I go see the movie; it causes me to take note.

So I read the article. I am both happy and sad I did. I can tell from other reviews I have watched between now and this writing that the overall product is a solid Ok to Good, but at least three have brought up a scene in question without getting into the details found in the article from TheMarySue. I was deeply conflicted for a bit.

The scene/issue: In attempt to plant a bug to track someone Eggsy has to seduce a woman and insert the object into her via her vagina. The shot is done as a point of view following his hand.  The actor who played Eggsy was actually uncomfortable performing the scene (and did not in the end).

Can I tolerate overt, unnecessary sexism in a film that uses it as a punchline for all of 30 seconds?

I mean I have watched plenty of things that are gratuitously sexist. Piranha 3D and 3DD come to mind right out of the gate. I have watched my share of movies with consenting (and even not consenting) adults having sex in them or women in lingerie having sex (Atomic Blonde , The Hunger ). So why does this bother me more than those?

If you are still with me reading this, lets start with Piranha. The sexism there probably kept more than a few women out of the theatres, including me. I have watched them since and realized that while yes it is still sexist that sexism is also the joke and the victim of the joke as well. It is so ridiculously over the top and consistent about it. It is just on the right side of lampoon. There are more than a few people who will enjoy the overt perversion of the film, but they are as much part of the joke as well. The title of the second one even plays into that, even as it earned derision from many. In the case of the Piranha movies they go in with the knowledge, intent, and desire to be comedy horror and the overt sexism is a literal constant part of both narratives. That constant is what makes it different.

Alright so what about films like Atomic Blonde and The Hunger. *sigh* Admittedly this one is a touch harder with these two mentions. Let’s address the Hunger. As a lesbian vampire film you can tell it was filmed by a guy. That said the act itself is treated well, and the seduction and succumbing to it is a functional and necessary part of the narrative with the associated consequences as part of it. Atomic Blonde is slightly different in that regard, but only slightly. It treats the bisexuality of the characters and the act slightly better; while still generally being filmed for the male gaze. Both sequences have a high degree of intimacy and passion that ultimately serve the characters and narrative rather than detract from it. They are naturalistic within the story and it would change the film and characters in a significant way if they were absent.

So why is this different? Because it is unnecessary. Like the Princess Tilde scene from Kingsman – what did it actually serve? Did you *need* to see the scene? Would it have worked had Eggsy closed the door with her smiling on the bed and Merlin looking over and going “Oh my”? Yeah. It would. The problem here with a POV shot of the hand sliding down her stomach and into her panties and then her? It adds to a pattern.

Vaughn is outright juvenile and sexist. He is a shock jock (DJ) like old Howard Stern. He does it because he can and wants to be bold and edgy. He’s a 15 year old with $90 million dollar budgets. Let me clarify.

The Tilde scene was on it’s own? It caused a minor murmur. Some folks didn’t like it, but that was it. Didn’t really hit the radar in reviews or news. Now add this scene with Poppy Delevinge’s character Clara. Most reviews I am coming across are bringing it up with a “why was this needed?” – more on that in a sec. Two isn’t a pattern yet. There’s more. Let’s look at Hit Girl in Kick Ass. I like the movie, love the character, but he has her drop the “C” word just to shock people. Then there’s the teen sex scene, true the actors were 20 and 23 at the time but they were playing high school kids. I am not against teens having sex, not even remotely, I am wondering why it needed to be filmed? There’s the treatment of Roxy in the first film – you know the one who actually became a Kingsman? True the narrative is about Eggsy and Harry, but you lessen the one of two named significant female besides his mother; who is not treated particularly well either, by leaving her off screen for much of the action?

My final point on the why was this needed for the Clara scene? If a script writer gives this scene to you as a director and producer you have the absolute right to change the scene and change how its filmed. You can keep it from being exploitative if you feel you need to include it. This fails here as Vaughn is writer, director, and producer. He wrote the McGuffin for the intent to write this scene and shock. He picked how it would be filmed. It literally only exists in this format to allow him to film it as such. The McGuffin could have worked any number of ways that didn’t require *this*. Yet here we are.

Where does that leave us?

I cannot in good conscience see this movie. I cannot in good conscience recommend it.

If this scene as described doesn’t bother you and you can enjoy the rest of the movie without this being a detractor – props to you. I am not going to judge people who don’t have an issue with it. I hope those that see this truly enjoy it and this doesn’t take away from it.

It would for me enough to taint the rest of the experience. Enough to taint how I think of his other movies, which I enjoy as well.

I’ve drawn a line in the sand for white washing and I have to here for this absolutely unnecessary sexist filming.

Is there anything else you are drawing a line in the sand for in the near future?

Trigger warning for pedophilia on this topic so I am using my spoiler roll over text to discuss. If you wish to see just highlight from here:

Yes. Jeepers Creepers 3. When the first two came out the internet wasn’t nearly as powerful as it is now. Information about people and their misdeeds not nearly as prevalent. I had no idea the director Victor Salva was a convicted pedophile. Not only committing the crime but filming it as well. I cannot support his works now that I know. Do I still enjoy JC/JC2? Yes – for what they are. You can enjoy something still after you find problematic issues with those who made it. It does not mean, however, you have to continue supporting them once you know.

This includes Polanski. I had no idea of his background at first. I know the victim wants the story to die so she can keep moving on. This is does not equate to absolution. Do I like the Ninth Gate? Sure. Can I continue to support him? No. Which means not adding some of his older works to my collection such as the Fearless Vampire Killers to avoid giving him any form of residuals. 

As a reviewer, topics like these do cause conflict. I have an objective role to perform in the watching of film and media and writing about it. I also have my subjective beliefs and values. I have to be true to myself and not support things I find problematic.

I hope you all understand and can join me for the next review.

Darke Reviews | Atomic Blonde (2017)

I have been eager for this movie since the trailer first premiered a few months back. It looked like it had energy, charm, and was a riff on a female John Wick. How could it go wrong? The music was amazing and the plot was veiled in the trailer; which told us only as much as we needed to know. Then the video came out showing Ms Theron doing her combat training and so much of her own stunts (well as much as the insurance company allows); and sure it’s a promo video designed to spark interest but there is a lot in camera showing the work. Imperator Furiosa is no stranger to action, with one of her earliest roles being in the often forgotten Aeon Flux. She’s played hero, she’s played the lover, she’s played the monster, she’s played the beauty to the beast but –

Can she also play the Spy?

Based on the Oni Press graphic Novel series “The Coldest City” (writers Antony Johnston, Sam Hart), it was adapted for the screen by Kurt Johnstad. It seems Johnstad has a knack for adaptation as he had previously worked on 300 and 300: Rise of An Empire; as well as 2012’s Act of Valor. I am not familiar with the original property yet, but the movie intrigues me enough to pick it up. It’s a beautiful end of the cold war spy thriller with all the twists and turns you want. I said when I did my review for The Man from U.N.C.L.E that perhaps it is time to lay the spy thriller to rest, that it is dead in film.

I’m with Spock on this one

I do like spy movies, always have and always will. We have been Bourned to death and I stand by Bond and Mission Impossible working because they are larger than life. What I didn’t know at the time is you can go small with someone who is just a bit larger than life and it can work. If you let them be human, but still something to aspire to (or desire) beyond the norm it can work and the movie does that. I know! I was as surprised as anyone how quickly I found myself getting wrapped into the story.

Part of that has to go to director David Leitch. Not familiar with his work? I referenced John Wick earlier. Turns out there is good reason as he was an uncredited director on it, that I called out in the review. He has 82 stunt, stunt coordinator, or action coordinator credits to his name. I said it with John Wick and I will say it again – these guys make *good* directors. Give them a solid script to work from, good talent who isn’t afraid of action or getting themselves dirty in the process and you have a film. In this case a good one. Between the director and camera work by Jonathan Cela (John Wick) they framed almost every shot perfectly. There’s some really great camera movement I haven’t seen outside of Asian films such as The Raid, The Raid 2, or the Protector which really added to the visceral nature of the action sequences and kept so much in camera that you feel a lot of the hits. Quick cuts are eschewed for a steady rolling camera motion that follows the action and actors as it needs with great sweeps and pans as it moves.

I would be remiss to not speak the praises of Charlize Theron as our lead Lorraine Broughton. She nails the spy, the action heroine, the intelligent heroine, the femme-fatale, and vulnerable all at once and sometimes within the same scene. The camera treats her well and as a protagonist not a piece of meat to be ogled. While the scene with Sofia Boutella hinted at in the trailers does obviously get a longer cut; it is not gratuitous and not shot entirely for the pleasure of the male gaze. Not entirely – I will give credit there is a lot of framing on their faces during it which many other sequences of its ilk fail to do. In short though Theron nails it. Sofia Boutella, who sadly was in The Mummy, and not so sadly was in The Kingsman really does well and I want to see more of her acting as this film should do well and land her more roles. Kingsman showed she had physicality, Mummy tried to show menace, and this showed more acting than we got in either. James McAvoy (X-Men Days of Future Past, Victor Frankenstein) gives us his usual manic but not performance teetering on the edge of some kind of psychosis; and I love him for it since it flips on and off like a lightswitch. There are other solid performances from known actors, but what is beautifully pleasing is how much of the cast is made up of stuntmen – which allows the action to be seamless as you move from a full face shot to action to drama back to action without having to hide the person playing the part. This is yet another benefit of the movie and the director.

I talked technicality a bit with the camera work and it is solid. There’s a fight sequence I would put on the same list as Daredevil (Hallway fight) and They Live. Yeah it’s that kind of fight. Is it up there with those? Maybe maybe not, but it is in good company at least. The most striking thing, beyond the punches, in the movie is the music. Tyler Bates score is vaguely reminiscent of Marilyn Manson’s work on the first Resident Evil movie without the eerie tones. Which upon further research after writing that sentence makes sense since there is a song on the soundtrack by them both. Heavy doses of old school synthwave and pop absolutely riddled his score and work entirely within the framing and context of the narrative; which then leads us to the soundtrack. Bowie’s Cat People, Nena’s 99 Luft Balooons (in german), Siousixe and the Banshees, The Clash , Blue Monday. It’s perfect and floats in and out of both being diagetic and non diagetic sound. Part of the movie and part of the storytelling component. If this had come out much later after Baby Driver, I would say someone was being influenced by Edgar Wright’s styles and this is a good thing. The music simply adds to the energy with one odd musical queue at around the half way mark that had me smiling as the German discotheque pop faded into some familiar piano keys.

TL;DR?

I am still on an adrenaline high from how happy this movie made me. The movie itself has beautiful pumps and doses of adrenaline, but the overall effect of story, camera, 80’s nostalgic music appropriate for the story, acting, and action just combined into an exceedingly good film. If it has any real failings there are some scene cuts and edits that cause some pacing issues here and there but otherwise the camera work is stellar with a Director and DP who know what they are doing.

Theron is perfect and honestly I can best compare her to the original John McClane in how she progresses physically through the movie. It lands equally in the territory with treatment Die Hard gave it’s protagonist and it serves to benefit the movie. Granted she is still the highly trained spy vs the beat cop, but the physicality of it all sells.

Should you see it?

Yes. We’ve had few months since John Wick 2. Now it’s time for the ladies to take a turn and with Proud Mary on the way (I am excited for that too) it’s good to see us women get our shot at high octane, well shot, well done action.

Ok you like it, but will you watch it again?

Full price. No question.

Are you going to bu..?

Yes. I am going to buy it. Probably the soundtrack too.

Wow, you haven’t been this hyped in awhile.

I know right? I just really do love this movie. It gave me a lot I didn’t know I wanted or needed and handed it to me with a bow.

So do you think next week’s movie will be the same?

I am not as attached to the Dark Tower as some, but it looks solid. I am hoping for the best. Meanwhile this lived up to and exceeded my expectations.

Warning: After the Dark Tower, I may be on Hiatus. There is absolutely nothing else coming out for the month of August I have any desire to see.

Darke Reviews | Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

The number one question I was asked about this movie today: “What’s it about?”

My best answer: “Two soldiers in space fighting against some big evil that threatens to destroy everything. It’s by Luc Besson, the guy who did Leon the Professional, Lucy, and The Fifth Element based on a french comic from the 60s”. I like Besson’s work. I really do. He has a list of films and inspirational works that change how other works are done or are otherwise remade. From La Femme Nikita, the films mentioned above, The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, and writing projects such as The Transporters, District B13, and Lockout. A lot of his films take place in his home country (duh) so the idea of him adapting a French comic for the big screen – especially one that clearly inspired as much of modern sci fi as Flash Gordon and John Carter did makes sense.

So the real question is did it work?

We’ve talked a lot about the Writer and director – Luc Besson. Credit where its due must go to Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières the original writers of the comic back in 1967. It seems that from a story and plot element that Besson took inspiration from the material but is trying to tell an original story within it. If you look at covers of the comics ( which I have not read) you can tell how much the source material inspired his own work with one cover literally showing a scene from the 5th Element with people on the edge of a building, a floating taxi and a floating semi with very specific and familiar designs. Hell, Jean-Claude Mézières was brought in while he worked on the 5th Element who asked him why he was making that and not Valerian. He has easily lifted some of the dialogue and personalities, based on some research into the history of the comic and one of its animated adaptations from 2007 (it aired in France). So why…don’t I care?

Yep. There’s the first hint how this will go.

It is absolutely evident this should have been a passion project for Besson, capitalizing on the advances in technology thanks to James Cameron to make the aliens come to life in ways we hadn’t seen; but even with that in mind the movie is hollow. I think going totally original was a mistake. There are no clear or present stakes that mean anything, the character of Valerian (yes its his name) are not serviced by the script and is generally unlikable. I figured out early on what was going on, as Besson couldn’t do subtle if a Agatha Christie wrote for him. There is no subtext with him, only text and a strong sense of visual style. There is no ticking clock, no sense of tension; just a moment to moment – event to event beat through the film that has our characters going after each other and the McGuffin with no stakes at play that you can take seriously. Death doesn’t hold any weight with others who die because you don’t know them or only know them in so little passing that it renders it emotionless.

The actors really do try their best, but cannot overcome the script or their own drawbacks as actors. Dane DeHaan tries, he really does; but his character is just shy of being an insufferably chauvinist and egotistical. Additionally you cannot buy him as a top notch high ranking special operations soldier; even though he is thirty he just doesn’t play it or carry the weight. He moves well and pulls off the action he gets to do, but he never quite sells it and the nature of his character comes across in his young 20’s not 30s. This same flaw affects Cara Delevinge (Suicide Squad’s Enchantress) either, who comes across younger, but more mature. She seems the more seasoned soldier, if less experienced, while he is the hot headed rookie but….isn’t as he out ranks her by quite a bit. It’s rather dissonant and confusing to watch and parse out. She by far is the more likable of the two.

Literally no one else is worth discussing as they have so little screen time or overall impact on the story. Aside from the McGuffin. I want one, it was adorable.

The elephant in the room here is the visuals. Dear powers that be is this movie gorgeous. It’s clear a lot of effort and a significant portion of the $180mm budget went into merging practical and visual effects. It is about the same level as what we got in James Cameron’s Avatar, including I think using the models as a base with minor adjustments to the skins to keep them different. Graphic quality is both as good and bad as the scene needs; with the one exception being the transitions in Rhianna’s highly fetishistic and male gaze rewarding dance sequence. The transformations look amazing. The aliens in this movie do look amazing. There are plenty of designs I haven’t seen before and a lot of craftsman ship in key places.

The editing is rough and I am pretty sure there’s a few scenes on the editing room floor as some jokes feel like there’s a setup missing and most of the emotional beats are missing the reminder before the not so payoff. Additionally since I know there’s a lot of chatter on this topic; yes I can see where Mass Effect influenced this movie but also where it was influenced by the material; but overall the movie gets top marks on visuals and I would bet the 3-D looks amazing.

TL:DR

While the 3-D may look amazing, no one will see it. The movie really isn’t that good. Its light, its fluffy, but it isnt good popcorn as I was bored quite often. It held no surprises and was lifeless which if nothing else disappoints me. I wanted it to be good, but didn’t have the bar raised too high. I think it may do well internationally, but within the U.S. it is going to flop harder than a Magikarp. Ok the opening scenes on Mul were amazingly beautiful, but that doesn’t save the other 2 hours of the movie.

It does succeed at one thematic component – the science fiction. It has technology and idealolgy that we are missing from a lot of sci fi; but some of the negative tropes too so there’s that. It is still good science fiction despite the flaws.

Should you see it?

No…sadly.

Will you see it again? Maybe it needs a second viewing?

Eh…I don’t think so.

Buying it?

Maybe for clips for some future video project that might happen, but out of the bargain bin if I do.

Are you going to see or review Dunkirk?

Probably not. I am not a huge fan of Nolan and find that he has an inflated sense of his own importance that too many people support. He is technically a master of his craft; but if I only wanted technical proficiency from films I would watch Kurosawa or other classics that may be dated by show the artistry of the director. I need both some form of emotional connection and some level of technical accumen for me to have interest in the film. Nolan  succeeds at one so well the other is sacrifced; where the movie I just watched didn’t nail either well beyond visual delight.

So what’s next week then?

Atomic Blonde.

Darke Reviews | Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

So let’s talk about Baby Driver, aka the movie I didn’t write a review for but really deserved one. Wait, wait – I was teasing. Mostly. It does deserve a review, but that’s not why you are here – you want to hear more about Spider-Man. Now as much as I do love the Bat family and Ghost Rider, Spider-Man was actually the first superhero I can remember from my childhood. I did see the 70’s and early 80’s live action shows, of course adored Spider-Man and and his Amazing Friends (1983). Yes, I had a crush on Firestar. There is even a picture of me – that no one will ever see – at the young age of 6 with a 12 inch Spider-Man figure. I did, however, thankfully avoid Spider-Man 3. Suffice to say we have had good incarnations, ostensibly great incarnations, cheesy ones, campy ones, and we shall never speak of the emo dance sequence ones.

So to paraphrase the words of Stan Lee – do you True believers have something to fear or not?

Homecoming was directed by John Watts, probably best known for his short film Clown and later its not as interesting feature length version. With that pedigree I did go in worried a bit, especially since his other credits seem to be for The Onion – which I suppose indicates a good sense of wit. Could he succeed where Sam Raimi burned out and where Mark Webb failed with Amazing Spider-Man 2? I wasn’t sure at first, then I saw how many writers it had. I know my three writer rule is pretty accurate overall, but beyond that it gets more so.

Writing credits for Homecoming, excluding Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Six. Six writers including screenstory and screenplay. Jonathan Goldstein, who gave us such memorable films such as Vacation (2015), Burt Wonderstone, and Horrible Bosses 2. Why would Sony give such a charming resume this movie? True it was also paired with Sweets from Bones, John Francis Daley as a screen story credit with the same writing credits. This does not seem auspicious; nor do their next films M.A.S.K, ROM, and Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light all based on 80’s cartoon properties of varying nostalgic value. Moving on to the actual screenplay we have Erik Sommers and Chris McKenna from (Lego Batman),  John Watts and his collaborator Christopher Ford (also from Clown).

This should have been a train wreck. I am not entirely sure how it isn’t. This is a very solid movie that unlike many other hero movies focuses on the smaller moments for the character. It stops to breathe, stops to have consequence and threat. It tries and succeeds to have heart. They gave us Peter Parker first and foremost. They are letting him learn to be Spider-Man without going into yet another origin story and montaging the learning process. Instead we have the learning process and the origin is given a single throw away line – because we all know it. The writers and directors don’t treat the audience like idiots and focus on what we want to see (mostly). There are a few moments of teenage awkwardness, and Spider-Man in the suburbs that go a little too long or too uncomfortable but that is a matter of taste. I am also giving the movie props for making the kids as wide ranging as they were. I *like* this Flash Thompson – clarification I don’t like the character but I like the interpretation, the character is still a bully who needs to be spaced. If the words great power and great responsibility were used I didn’t hear them which  goes to the movies credit yet again. They gave me a intelligent and compelling villain with understandable and relatable motivations – hell Marvel and DC have yet to do that with their movie properties since Loki. They even address some of the fallout of the Marvel Cinematic universe better than Agents of Shield ever did.  I was surprised by all of this. Yes the awkward moments of being a teen and Spidey drew a little long and not good for *me*; some of the Stark & Happy parts annoy me but it mostly ties back to my growing annoyance with Stark; your mileage may vary though. The rest is damn solid.

That goes for the acting as well. Now for the record Tom Holland was 20 when Civil War came out and is 21 as of a month ago. Tobey Maguire was 25 when Spider-Man came out in 2002 and Andrew Garfield was almost 30 for The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012. So he is *not* a teenager playing a teenager, but he is the closest we have had so far. He does it best of all. That’s right this is the best Peter Parker and Spider-Man we have ever had grace the big screen. He has the heart, the fear, and the charm. He may not be as quipy as some people want but this is effectively Spider-Man Year One. Give it time. Also – he’s a kid. They make a point of it. He still acts like it. It works. Just as much as Michael Keaton absolutely nails it as Adrian Toomes aka The Vulture. The casting went off type for him as well vs the characters comic look and the movie benefits from it.  I will say it again one of the best villains since Loki or Red Skull. The secondary cast sells it as well with of course Jacob Batalon as the best friend Ned being the grounding rod Peter needs and part of the emotional heart of the film.

From a technical standpoint. I have no complaints on the FX. None. Not one. On those lines I love how they really embraced the comic book and showed how strong he can be during a few scenes and gave him some of the classic poses in creative ways. The shots are clean and the colour palette is bright, if not normal – which when compared to the Marvel movies makes it abnormal. Black is black. Red is red. There are good contrasts in colour that make it work tonally. So not only do we get Spider-Man feeling like our friendly neighborhood web slinger, but he looks straight out of a comic page. It does have some Act II and Act III bridge pacing issues and some editing I noticed, but nothing bad. It runs long at just over 2 hours so be aware.

TL;DR

Spider-Man: Homecoming is the Spider-Man movie we have been asking for. This has what was missing from the Garfield ones (even if I did like them they were flawed). It makes up for the Raimi finale. It sets up a sequel in a very good way. It is loaded with easter eggs for fans of Spider-Man and the Marvel Cinematic universe.

Should you see it?

Yes. 3-D might be nice if you go for that. I saw it in 2D and was fine. I do think better sound systems will help, but not much.

Will you see it again?

Maybe. Depends if someone takes me. I won’t complain if they do.

Buying it?

Yes – which is more than I can say for the past few Marvel outings except for Civil War.

Where would you put it in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

Top 5 I think. Just on the edge of it if not. It’s no Winter Soldier, First Avenger, or Iron Man. Civil War and Avengers run neck and neck and I don’t know if this beats either, but it might.

Closing thoughts?

I do not think Spider-Man is a great movie. It is a solid, well above the curve we have grown complacent with and just really good. I do think people should see it and I do think Marvel could stand to look at this and figure out what is working and take a moment to learn from it.

Related: Stay for the final credits it’s beautifully meta. There will be also be lot of Easter Egg videos coming. Here are a few…- roll over to read –

  • Zendaya is our new MJ, perennial love interest of Spidey.
  • The look of “The Shocker” has homages to his actual look. this also shows how to do a multi villain movie right.
  • The principal of Peter’s school is played by Kenneth Choi who was Jim Morita in Captain America First Avenger. He is playing Principal Morita, who appears to be the son or Grandson of the Howling Commando based on a photo on his desk.
  • Not confirmed, but I am pretty sure one of the other school students is, or is related to Silver Sable. They kept showing a girl with Silver White hair and I know there is a Silver Sable, Black Cat and Venom movie in pre-production.
  • The person they are having an arms deal with on the ferry is named Mac Gargan, aka The Scorpion. if you doubt this look at his tattoo in the closing credits prison scene.

Darke Reviews | Wonder Woman (2017)

So here we are, but where have we been to get here. A quick summation of events in the past few years in table form:

Marvel Movies DC Movies

Ok with me so far? Yes, Suicide Squad was absolutely entertaining but it cannot be argued that on critical analysis it is riddled with flaws – mostly in the editing department. Batman v Superman was nothing short of a train wreck, even the longer cut which made some of it more bearable didn’t make it as a final product something anyone should be proud of. That being said, something glorious was indeed found in the carnage of that film. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman/Diana Prince. I said it before and I will say it again – I am a fangirl of hers since she first walked on screen in a Fast and the Furious movie.

So the real question you are here to find out – has DC gotten it right yet?

Three writers, in addition to William Moulton Marston who created Wonder Woman, have credit on the film. Story by Zack Snyder, Jason Fuchs, and Allan Heinberg. Heinberg gets the sole screenplay credit so what we finally got was the last touches he put on and the orders from on high. If we take a moment to look at Fuch’s work, as Snyders work is well known and often lamented, he is responsible for the garbage of a movie that was 2015’s Pan and the 2012 film Ice Age: Contintental Drift. Don’t remember it? You didn’t see it. This leaves us Heinberg, who is  primarily a TV writer with a handful of episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, Party of Five, and the OC.  So based on how I chose to write this you might be thinking “this is going to be horrible.”

You’d be right – except you need to replace going to be with should be. It should have been horrible as Snyder has not shown any capacity for character focus or actually understanding characters at their core and why people like them. Fuch’s work on the disaster Pan showed no real understanding of world building or character either. Yet, somehow these three men did it. They told a, mostly, cohesive story that delivered us the Wonder Woman we deserve and need. I think Heinberg may be part of the reason we get this.

Wisely set during World War One, the great war, the war to end all wars as it was called, we are introduced to Diana princess of Themyscira, daughter of Hippolyta Queen of the Amazons. They live an idyllic life of peace and beauty yet continually prepare for a war that may never come. Until it does with the appearance of Steve Trevor followed closely by a small legion of German soldiers intent on killing the American. The battle is joined and Diana ventures into Mans world to try to fight for those who must be protected with Steve at her side.

The story is relatively simple as they go, with a McGuffin and a lofty goal. What they did unlike so many other superhero movies, including Marvels, is watch their scale. Yes it was World War I, but they made it smaller than it was and kept the stakes (even as high as they were) to something we could understand and relate to. There is another success here, but I think it belongs to Patty Jenkins, the director as much as anyone – more on her in a bit. The movie has its action beats but it for once in the DCEU focuses on the character we want to see. Diana. She’s the focus. Period. They let you get to see her wonder, her frustration, her anger, and the depths to which she can feel. They let her personal interactions with people last more than two seconds. Wonder Woman is a warrior yes, but she is also diplomat, a caretaker, a nurturer, and a sign of hope. They got that. They let her be that.

In Man of Steel, they had to tell us “it’s not an S, it means Hope” and we laugh at them because they had to SAY it and didn’t for one moment show it. Here – they show it. They live it. They do it. It’s never said.

So let’s talk Patty Jenkins. Not only do we have our first big budget sole female lead superhero movie, but it also has a woman director at it’s helm. Jenkins directed the acclaimed 2003 film Monster with Charlize Theron and Christina Ricci, since then she’s mostly done a little TV and passed on Thor 2 as she wanted to tell  different story than Marvel did. I am glad she passed so she could do this. Comparing this to all the other DC films there is real character here. Sure not everyone is fleshed out as much as I want, sure some elements are paint by numbers, and absolutely can we see Snyders influence – but we also see Jenkins. A director who is on the set with her cast and crew physically interacting with them and giving them the guidance she feels with an undaunted passion. There are a number of articles on how important Jenkins time in the directors chair is that are worth reading – here at the Washington Post and here at THR the Hollywood Reporter. Sexism is alive and well in Hollywood, and here we are with the most expensive film shot by a woman.

She also took a page from Richard Donner that Snyder missed the memo on. You can do an origin story and let us get to know the character and like them. Let them *show* us why they are a hero by their choices and actions rather than why they aren’t by the dialogue and moping. Show don’t tell. Let us see the action. Let it be kinetic but let us see it. Let it feel SUPER HEROIC. Let it be magical and impossible – it’s ok. We’re dealing with the Amazons here. Jenkins did all of this.

Of course you need actors.

Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman. Full Stop. This cannot be argued. She’s everything she needed to be and more. Nothing more needs to be said about her – she’s absolutely perfect in the role.

Chris Pine is an excellent Steve Trevor, charming, fearless, but believable as a man dealing with the unbelievable. He doubts as much as he shoulder, but trusts as much as his character and heart are supposed to. Connie Nielsen, who I haven’t seen since 2003’s fantastic film Basic,  is Hippolyta and knocks it out of the park bringing what I expected of such a character to life.  Robin Wright (House of Cards), Danny Huston (American Horror Story), David Thewlis (Harry Potter’s Remus Lupin) , Saïd Taghmaoui (GI Joe Rise of Cobra), Ewen Bremner (Trainspotting), Eugene Brave Rock (The Revenant), and Elena Anaya (Van Helsing) bring good performances to screen in multi national cast that is also worth noting.

Alas, the movie does have flaws. The final act fight is a touch green screen heavy. Some of the other green screening doesn’t work well. I think Hollywood needs to find another way – something between green screen and front projection. The lighting never quite matches – or they need to move their green screen work from inside with the studio lights to outside in the sun – so the lighting actually matches. There are some dialogue choices, some thinness to characters, some of a few different things in the production that may distract someone looking for flaws; but with few exceptions these can be overlooked.

TL;DR

In what is currently my longest review this year (1270 words as of this) I can sum it up simply

Wonder Woman is what we have been waiting for DC to make.

Not just because she is the first big budget female solo superhero film. Nor because she is in a list of less then 10 other films that fall under the solo female lead in a super hero genre. Nor because this is a sign for so many female directors in Hollywood that they can potentially make a tentpole film that is amazing. Not for any of those reasons alone but for all of them. Wonder Woman is just good people. It is a good film we need to support. We need it to be as successful as it deserves to be. It needs us and we needed it.

Should you see it?

Yes. I plan on seeing it at least once more this weekend. I’ll post to my personal facebook page as to when/where if folks want to join me.

Will you buy it?

Absolutely. No doubts.

Are you blinded by fan girl of Gadot or Wonder Woman?

No. Look it has flaws. Plenty of them but it still goes beyond them.

Guys – this is a film to watch. It has action. It has heart. Warner Bros finally did it. Do I think they will learn from it? No, but a girl can dream and no matter what I say as a unpaid but trying to  be professional reviewer there’s something more important at work here.

Representation Matters

This is an actual quote from the woman next to me in the theatre when I asked did you like it?

“I am so emotional right now. You don’t see that. Its just the dudes. Not the girl kicking ass. She was amazing.”

51% of the planet now has the chance to see themselves on screen – alone – as the hero we need right now. This is important. This movie is important.

Please support it.

Darke Reviews | Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 (2017)

So nearly 3 years later and we have moved from the late summer “Oh I hope it does well but oh well if it doesn’t” dump slot to the first of the May blockbuster releases. Guardians of the Galaxy practically minted money for Disney and Marvel then, surprising everyone from the fans to the critics to the execs. I mean sure the cast and crew may have known what they had, and I know how carefully cultivated the Marvel Cinematic Universe is – but this one felt like a “think we can do it?”, “Have we built up enough good will to try this?” “Well no harm if it doesn’t work, its not on earth right? *insert weak laugh*”

  • Budget: $170 Million
  • US Gross: $333,176,600
  • Non-US Gross: $440,152,029
  • 3rd highest grossing movie in 2014 (beating out The Hobbit, Captain America The Winter Soldier, and Transformers by no less than 70 million dollars)

So it’s safe to say they did well that year. That a sequel order was in the mail on release day. Like suddenly they knew they had something and ran with it before the final numbers even came in for the opening weekend. 3 years and a $200 million dollar budget later we return to the wider galaxy and the adventures of its guardians with their quirky personalities, and early 80’s theme music?

But should they have been ignored like the B sides of a tape?

James Gunn returns with pen in hand for both writer credit and gets the oh so comfy director chair as well. If you had told me the guy who wrote the two Scooby Doo movies and Lollipop Chainsaw (video game) would be directing not just one but two movies in a film series that’s profits exceed the GDP of several countries combined – I would laugh. I mean He wrote Tromeo and Juliet (a classic for Troma lovers) – now he writes the story of a gaggle of guardians gallivanting gregariously about the galaxy. What? I had to try anyway….The story picks up an indeterminate amount of time after the last movie in media res with the heroes defending a McGuffin from a thing. Which leads to another event and then another. Things look up. Things look down. Things go wrong. Things go right. Secrets are revealed!

This is a no spoiler review. I am not giving you more than the trailers do.

What I will say is that the movie shifts tones a few times. There are parts of humor that for me largely fell flat, but the audience around me laughed at most of the jokes. Most. The problem with some of these is that they jump from a scene that is emotionally compromising or otherwise somber to a moment of near slapstick humor. It can eject some movie goers from the moment – especially as not all the jokes work. A majority didn’t work on me, but if you are a frequent reader you know I have a lot of issues with humor and me not getting it. Thankfully humor isn’t everything the movie is based on. It also bothered, unlike so many other films, to stop and let you breathe. Let you have character moments and get a little closer to them so you are feeling with them. Would these moments have worked without the first movie? No. They require you to know the barebones you were given before so when more is revealed about them you form a deeper connection with them.

Tonal quality shifts are not the films only area of flux. Visually the film goes from amazing make up and computer effects to something I would have expected from the late 90’s or early 20’s. There is one part that I swear the movie goes full cartoon and it absolutely ejected me from the film; which was then re entered by the next beats character moment. Granted for some of the effects I feel nothing but pity for the animation studios called upon. Having to create rich visual effects that are believable for this is a daunting task. They largely succeeded.

What didn’t succeed in the flux category beyond some of the visuals, some of the characters, and some of the story beats? The music. Hold on! Hold on! I know I loathed the soundtrack of the last one. Not so here. Volume 2 Awesome Mix is a much better tape, not one I’d listen to regularly, but it doesn’t have songs I despise. In fact Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” is easily in my top 100 songs of all time. No, the accompanying soundtrack is fine and works within the movies diagetic sound as much as it does non-diagetic to the point where you aren’t sure and it doesn’t matter.  The part of the soundtrack that doesn’t work is the score. Its recycled. You will hear the Avengers theme…a few times. It is disappointing when so much care is put into it that they are recycling their musical queues from other films.

If you are curious about what I mean – check this video from the awesome Every Frame a Painting

 

Do I believe most people notice or care? Fair question and I would say no – but that doesn’t earn my forgiveness or the fact it needs to be called out.

At this point I normally talk about the actors, but everyone is absolutely fine. New comer to the series Pom Klementieff (Old Boy, Ingrid Goes West) merges amazingly well with the existing party as Mantis. As I mentioned in my recent Fast and Furious review. I want Kurt Russel in all the things ever. This has only reaffirmed that.

I’ve avoided talking about the action because I found it…wanting. It’s there; just not as visually compelling or character driven as it could be. Marvel – please note – swarms and masses of faceless attackers does not make your combat more interesting or the stakes any higher. It was just very very safe.

TL;DR?

I would hit play on the Volume 2. Despite the flaws I perceived in the movie, of which there were many, I had a good time. It wasn’t great, but it was solid good pop corn fun. It got me emotionally invested in the stories of the characters and that is hard to do. It succeeded on a personal level where some of the production failed on an intellectual level. Audiences will love it and no one left the theatre until the last of the credits rolled. Again its flaws need to be called out in that the action is kinda bland and safe, the story and scenes have some amazingly jarring tonal shifts – but beyond that its absolutely serviceable and watchable.

Should I see it?

I don’t believe you will regret it. It’s a good time to be had by most.

Will you add it to the collection?

Yes.

Ok serviceable and watchable don’t sound like high praise though?

In this day and age it is still praise. It is also not the best Marvel feature but it is far from the worst.

End Credits scenes?

Three of them cut throughout the credits. It’s also worth *watching* the credits as there’s some easter eggs, jokes, and other cute things in them. I rather enjoyed those.

Stan Lee?

Of course with an easter egg of his own.

Anything else?

Brace yourselves. Summer movie season is coming. Next week King Arthur.