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
Advertisements

Darke Reviews | X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

I am a child of the 80’s, which means I was adopted by the 90’s and accepted by the new millennium. This means I had the blessing to enjoy the 1992 X-Men Cartoon. How can you not get hyped from this?

I was working in a comic-shop when Wolverine had the Adamantium ripped from his body. I was reading the Secret Wars, saw the Beyonder, Boom Boom, and Angel becoming Archangel all within my lifetime. While I am not as versed as many geeks on all the in’s and out’s and arcs of all the characters; I know most of them. I have my favourites, such as Kitty Pryde (thank you Pryde of the X-Men), Majik, Nightcrawler, Gambit, etc. Never got on the Wolverine band wagon. I’ve watched every X-Men movie in the theatre since 2000. I know the differences between the theatrical arcs, the comic arcs, and the animated arcs and can judge them safely and fairly independently.

How did we land on this one?

Bryan Singer, who gave us the original two X-Men films and the last one, returns to the directors chair and does his best to give each of the characters time. His choice to give each character development time and try to spend a few precious moments with each of the mains. It’s a trend of his and serves him well through this one, but not perfectly. I partially blame this on the four writers involved, which means this movie does hit the Rule of Three. Each writer has experience in the franchise, from Singer himself, Michael Dougherty (Trick R Treat, X-2), Dan Harris (X-2, Superman Returns), and Simon Kinberg (X-3, Fantastic 4). When I consider this and the sordid and combined history it explains a lot. Plot wise, the movie is a bit of a hot mess. It’s a little over the place, doesn’t have focus, and really should have been two movies to give everyone an appropriate level of development. There *is* development of characters, but mostly focused on the new ones that have to be introduced – of which there are (too?) many.

It makes sense though as we have had two full movies prior to get to know Magneto, Charles, Beast, and Mystique.  We get the beautifully timed return of cinema favorite Evan Peters turn as Peter Maximoff, aka Quicksilver who had the best and most memorable moment from the last film.  We are introduced now to those who will be expected to carry us forward into the next generation of movies for this franchise. Sophie (Game of Thrones) Turner as Jean Grey, Tye (Scouts Guide to the Apocalypse) Sheridan as Scott “Cyclops” Summers, Kodi (Let Me In) Smit-McPhee as Kurt “Nightcrawler” Wagner, and Alexandra Shipp as Ororo “Storm” Munroe. Each one of these young(er) actors does really good with the time they have on screen to give you the iconic characters we know and love; but at an earlier stage of their lives. I did easily see the people they would become in the people they displayed in this film.

A film like this is only as good as it’s villains and for that we go to Oscar (Poe from Force Awakens) Isaac as En Sabah Nur, best known to readers as Apocalypse. He does better than he has any right to as the legendary character. Though this is one of the points the script and direction fail. The actor delivers, but the other two elements fail him, giving so little to work with and so little ability to really “Act” when not being the exposition fairy. Which leads to another one of the problems as there is next to no development or even real idea of the secondary characters who were so painfully underused I wonder why they bothered to have them other than to say they did. The roles were well cast, but not utilized to full potential.

From a technical perspective, I am going to jump on my editors horse again. Hold. A. Shot. Learn it. You don’t need to cut every 12.5 seconds to keep it engaging. You don’t need to have sudden painful shifts to other locations for yet another introduction. You don’t need to have second unit returning to a single location shot, with actors clearly looking posed, that it takes you from the movie. There are a few beats like that in the film, they may be funny, they may just be confusing, but they change the tone and undermine rather than underscore the emotion of a beat you are trying to establish otherwise. Beyond the editing and camera work, the Make Up was top notch. He was *not* Ivan Ooze. 10 points to be struck from the Publicist House for using an unfinished effects shot in a PR piece making an otherwise blue character look silly. The CG was CG, but this had to be larger than life and most of what could have been practical is not feasible to even consider trying to be practical. It does suffer from pacing issues, and I have a sense studio interference played a hand in some scenes being added or kept.

 

TL:DR?

It’s good! I enjoyed it. Much like I said about Civil War being an antithesis to Batman v Superman, this has many of the same characteristics. It has some flaws, but the whole piece when put together created an enjoyable mess. There were familiar characters with new faces, comfortable characters with old faces; and that is what makes this movie work. The characters we know and love were put on screen again. Not just on screen, but *right*. These very clearly were our modern mythology given flesh. We have our iconic legends with 5o+ years displayed as they should be , but in a way we haven’t really seen.

The action is solid. The acting is solid. It’s just a good, fun, popcorn movie. The movie earns it’s PG-13 rating though. There’s more violence here than I have seen in *any* X-film in the past sixteen years. This isn’t a bad thing, it reminds me of my 80’s movies a bit.

Do you Recommend it?

Yes. It’s good. You won’t get what you did out of Civil War here, but you shouldn’t expect to.

Will you buy it when it comes out on Blu Ray?

Absolutely.

Should I stay to the end of the credits?

Only if you know your characters, otherwise meh.

 

Darke Reviews | Deadpool (2016)

Deadpool: The Apology. No..no. Not quite right. Deadpool: Forgive us for Wolverine Origins, mmm closer. Captain Deadpool, the amazing man in a red suit. Too long. I guess we stick with Deadpool. Oh hey readers, it’s me again and I am bringing you the review many of you geeks have been waiting for. Zoolander 2. Kidding. I would need to be on every narcotic known to man, possibly dead, and definitely kidnapped while wrapped in barbed wire to see that. No, this is the review for Deadpool. The first R Rated film from the superhero comic verse based on a major character/comic line.

First thing before I talk about it. This is not a movie for kids. Do not take the kids.

Do not take the kids.

Ok…

So should you go see it without the kids?

Ryan Reynolds himself has a production credit on this. That means he ponied up investment money to get it made. It was made because fans demanded it, literally. What could go wrong with a fan based product? That’s a laundry list for another time. This time though we have Tim Miller at the helm in his directorial debut. He’s a new guy true, but he has worked in the industry in the visual effects departments on such work as Hellgate: London (beautiful trailers), Mass Effect 2 (*happy sigh*), and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.  These are good things as they show an eye for motion and framing, with a good cast a director like this can go well. A script helps as well and for that we have Paul Wernick (Zombieland), and Rhett Reese (also Zombieland). These two clearly must be fans of the comic or have been forced to read it until their minds border on Lovecraftian gibbering. They really seemed to capture the essence of Deadpool. This is more than the slapstick dialogue and 4th wall breaking, but knowing how to write scenes in which this is appropriate and other scenes that still fit with the character to give you a break from the rollercoaster.

So we have a new director, writers with one hilarious hit, but what about actors? Ryan Reynolds was genetically engineered to play Deadpool. Period. This can broach no argument in any conversation ever. Just as Patrick Stewart was Charles Xavier a full decade before X-Men was thought about seriously as a movie, Reynolds is the Merc with the Mouth. There are people who know this to be true and people who are wrong. Nothing is amiss in his performance, including mocking himself as the actor. A good hero(?) needs a good villain. The movie went to Transporter Refueled’s Ed Skrein and….he is ok. You will forget him or any of his lines a few minutes after the movie.  Brianna Hildebrand, T.J. Miller, and Gina Carano all do well and actually were kinda fun in their varied performances. Of course we must talk about Morena Baccarin and how much chemistry I feel she had with Reynolds. There’s something about this woman and men named Reynolds…clearly. Seriously though she does well enough and plays perfectly to the role and the film leading to a few memorable scenes.

From a tech perspective, the makeup is good. The fights are over the top, a little hard to see a times, but generally worth it. Colossus is actually one of the best iterations of him to date visually. Some may complain about the CG on him, but he’s a 9 foot tall walking mountain of organic steel – they haven’t done a make up job yet that can make that work. Just about everything else in the production is rather solid, you can tell they had a bit of a budget but spent it wisely.

TL;DR?

It’s Deadpool, I am only confirming that you should see it (without the kids). There’s enough foul language, sexual innuendo, blood, and nakedness in the film to make an 80’s movie question itself. Actually, that is a pretty good summation. This is an 80’s movie done with the budget and production values of 2016.

Did I enjoy it? I laughed from the opening credits until the credits rolled.

Will I see it again? Yes. Sunday as a matter of fact. It’s Gal-entines day.

Will I buy it? Without a doubt!

Thank you Ryan Reynolds. Thank you Hollywood for taking this chance. My audience applauded when the credits rolled. That doesn’t happen that often. Just…don’t try to do it too often ok?

Go see Deadpool if you were interested folks. It’s worth it.

Darke Reviews – Fantastic Four (2015)

In the interest of full disclosure, I have been dreading this movie since the first trailer landed. All I could think of was how much it reminded me of the final beats of Mass Effect 3 (which we all know is epic). That the casting looked horrific for some of the critical roles. I am not talking the fact that Sue & Johnny are part of a mixed race family either. That is 100% irrelevant if the casting is good. Remember the Daredevil movie? I know some of you just winced and went for the nearest blunt object to bash your heads in; however Michael Clarke Duncan was a perfect Kingpin. I am talking about the fact that they barely looked old enough to shave. Ok, your argument is the studios change characteristics of thematic characters all the time. Wolverine isn’t a short, squat, lumberjack. Rogue wasn’t a southern belle. Storm wasn’t someone who can actually act. These kind of changes happen all the time and if done well; such as Wolverine, Beast, and Quicksilver can be an improvement and enhance the film.

So did they enhance the film or was it as bad I thought it would be? Spoiler free as always!!

Let us pause and examine the writers before all else. We hit the three writer rule, excluding ‘characters created by’ credit to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Screenplay credits go to Simon Kinberg, Jeremy Slater, and Josh Trank (also the director). I will talk about Trank in a minute. I do not know, nor want to know, who did what at which part of the development process. Slater has one credit prior to this, the much maligned and forgotten Lazarus Effect from earlier this year. I cannot speak to it’s quality not having seen it. Kingberg. I must ask myself why people give him work. He is so hit and miss, but mostly miss that I can see where so much of this train wreck came from. xXx: State of the Union, X-Men 3, Jumper, all are his. Yet he also has a hand on Sherlock Holmes and Mr. & Mrs Smith and several episodes of the fan favorite series Star Wars Rebels. Maybe the lesson here is that he needs to stick to TV?

Trank. Tank. Yep, bout right. Josh Trank has but one film credit prior, the quite spectacular Chronicle. This is what gave Fox the idea he would be good to direct this. I mean it was about a bunch of teen “heroes” with powers, so thats good enough right? Fox really needs to stop thinking. It rarely ends well for anyone involved when it comes to fandoms. What at first feels like a man with vision and clear ideas on how to do something new has turned into a nightmare with a 9 figure budget proportion; an estimated $120,000,000. With his hand on the script as well, Fox having their hand in the pot as producers, and Kinbergs previous work so much becomes clear to me; yet I am left with a profound sense of despondency.

The story begins with young supergenius Reed Richards and his friend Ben Grimm determined to make a device that allows teleportation. Enter Dr. Franklin Storm and his adopted daughter Sue who find interest in Richards work and bring him to the Baxter building to further his research and take it to the next level. Of course this cannot be done alone and others must be enlisted to finish the project; including Ben and Johnny. When the incredibly young scientists use their teleportation device they end up in another dimension when something goes wrong….

This is more or less where anything resembling a plot ends. After that the movie meanders aimlessly for the remaining hour without once giving me an “Oh yeah that was awesome” moment. How does a comic book movie do that? Rather how does it fail to do that?

First it takes actors who are actually rather good and sucks all the charm and charisma out of them nearly as bad as M. Night Shyamalan can. Miles Teller, best known for Whiplash, the Divergent series, and Footloose, has a natural charisma to him that you like him even when he is a jerk. He is the *only* one who shows any sign of his potential here. He has the chops to try to pull off Reed but is failed by the script and director so horribly I forgot he was actually supposed to be Mr. Fantastic and he just comes across as a moping science dude. Kate Mara (Shooter, House of Cards), another actress who can do most anything. She is far more believable as a scientist than Alba was, yet once again her own gifts are drowned out by a humorless script that gives her absolutely nothing to work with. I can count on one hand the number of smiles I saw from her in the film. Rising star Michael B Jordan (Chronicle, Creed, The Wire) is another person who should have done well. I mean Johnny Storm isn’t that hard to play, without even comparing him to Chris Evans performance, he just comes across petulant and dull. How do you make the Human Torch dull? He turns into living fire! How can you make that boring? Even Jamie Bell (Snowpiercer, TURN, Adventures of Tin Tin) just is so bland that he could become forgettable without the FX work that makes him The Thing.

I cannot recall a single emotion on this film regarding our heroes. Not one. No joy, no excitement, not even anger or sadness. Not a single emotion was felt towards them, and nary a smile was to be seen on my face. What little good will the actors were able to bring with the performances they tried to give us was destroyed by Tim Blake Nelson’s Dr. Allen. Rarely in my life have I wanted to watch someone truly suffer; which I suppose means the actor did ok, but he was just so damn annoying and stereotypical that I hated him for those facets alone. You may note at this point I have not mentioned Victor vonDoom, played by Toby Kebbell (Wrath of the Titans, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Sorcerers Apprentice). All I will say on the topic is he is actually, and somehow impossibly, worse than Julian McMahon in the original two films with the same role. It is godawful. He is godawful. I do not wish to see his career end as I am certain the bad story, bad script, bad directing, bad production design hurt anything he could possibly do.

The *only* thing that works. The effects for The Human Torch and The Thing. Thats it. Every other effect is bland, forgettable, and ultimately as dull and lifeless as the rest of the film. Some effects were clearly inspired by superior material from other sources such as Mass Effect and Halo. Thats right folks, video games look better than this did. From a color perspective, and sit down for this, Man of Steel and the recent Batman movies seem bright and cheerful by comparison. The movie is dark, dingy, and at times even dirty. It probably is what makes The Thing look good since the lines can be hidden, but the reality is the movie looks so bleak and dirty that Gotham city is considering suing for identity theft.

TL;DR?

Jess, where is the hate? Where’s the Die Hard levels of vitriol we were hoping for?

I am sorry. I cannot hate this movie more than it hates itself. I would love nothing more than to tell you this is a pile of fetid refuse hiding in the remains of six week old chinese food, left in the bog of eternal stench, after being coated in the bile of a rabid howler monkey that smothered it in rotting durian fruit. I would love to tell you that I hate this more than I do World War Z.  I would love to tell you that the raw putrescence of the film is so gag inducing that those who suffer from Bulimia will be able to watch this to trigger their condition. But I can’t.

This movie hates itself more. It hates science. It hates the characters. It hates the actors. It hates color. It hates laughter. It hates happiness. It hates chemistry (literal and figurative). It hates the military. It hates the government. It hates the source material.

Most of all it hates the audience.

I watched this so you don’t have to. Save your money. Do not let them think we should go ahead and make the sequel.

Please for the love of all you hold holy, unless you are being dragged to this do not see it. If you must, be drunk. Be stoned. Be in some kind of altered state. You might find enjoyment somewhere in this soulless mass of self loathing celluloid; at the very least you won’t care.

I know I didn’t at the end.

Darke Reviews | Ant-Man (2015)

Are you excited for Marvel Phase 3? Captain America: Civil War, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Thor Ragnarok, Black Panther, Doctor Strange? Oh yeah and Ant-man is the kick off for this one. Haven’t heard of him? That’s fair. I am only barely familiar with the character before this, and specifically the Hank Pym version not the Scott Lang. So along with no spoilers, you will get no comparison to the comic character, story arc, etc as I have no basis. Ok, I am aware of one thing – a very controversial topic involving Pym that the movie wisely saw fit to act if it never happened and within it’s verse…maybe it didn’t.

(Editors Note: I received information that Ant-Man is actually the close to Phase 2.)

So how is the movie?

Let me start with the acting first and foremost. I, who has never seen, nor ever expected to see a Paul Rudd movie was incredibly dubious about the comic actor taking on the role of a Marvel hero. Granted I had the same reservations about Chris Pratt last year in Guardians of the Galaxy. He didn’t do bad. He was likeable, he was mostly an everyman, but at the same time I didn’t care about him. I think he was too much an everyman, so much so that he is forgettable. If you take Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Thor, or even Bruce Banner, you will remember their personalities and just something more about them. Scott Lang, I can’t tell you much about him or his personality. I don’t know that I can blame Rudd there, but he doesn’t force more to the table through his own devices that maybe someone else could have.

Michael Douglas masterminds the plot as Dr. Hank Pym. Douglas does what he can here and the movie is absolutely better for him, though I would have paid extra for an interaction with him and Redford in some sort of flashback, just on principle. Evangeline Lilly (Lost, The Hobbit), plays Hope van Dyne and is a bright light in the film. She was hungry to do more with the movie and her role and brings it all to the table, even though a horrific haircut that was needed for her character. She plays with all the complexity of her character and lets the right emotions through in a way that most of the others don’t quite achieve. I knew she could act, but this just solidifies it. Corey Stoll (The Strain, House of Cards) plays Darren Cross, yet another scientific genius in the ‘verse. Slight tangent: with all of these geniuses how the heck is the world in the shape it is? Stoll, I know has some chops from his role in the Strain, so I have to wonder what the director was thinking. He reads every single scene as if he is in a late 90s early 2000’s Hero movie. I can’t help but try to compare him to Jeff Bridges Obadiah Stane. Stane, even at his most ridiculous held weight on screen. This is almost comical. So since I know the man can act, I must blame the script or director. The rest of the cast is largely just ok or making me wish they weren’t there. I love Michael Pena to death but he was channeling his early John Leguizamo for this one and it wasn’t good. Since again I know the actor has capabilities beyond what I saw, I must blame the script or director.

Let’s talk story for a moment, as there are two writing credits here. This means two people worked out the overall beats and structure for the movie together. Those two people are Joe Cornish and Edgar  Wright. Cornish, delivered fantastically on previous works, such as Adventures of Tin Tin and Attack the Block. He was also in Hot Fuzz, a creation of Edgar Wright. Wrights legacy, barring anything in the future, will be  his Cornetto Trilogy – Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End. Sadly he will also be remembered for the flop Scott Pilgrim vs. the World – which I personally enjoyed far more than I should. In an 11th hour decision Wright left this project. Yes, this one. He was also slated to direct. Marvel was not pleased with some aspect of his script and gave it to someone else to work on and do touch ups to. The returning product was something that had him so dissatisfied he left Ant-Man behind.

That’s where screenplay credits come in. Cornish and Wright both are obligated to get theirs, but the additional credits go to Paul Rudd himself, and Adam McKay. McKay’s writing history includes Saturday Night Live, Anchorman, Step Brothers, and The Other Guys. These are all movies I will never see and a show I haven’t watched since the 80’s.  This does not give me confidence. Now, as I have seen and enjoyed the Cornetto’s and laughed at them far harder than is reasonable, I think I have a good grasp on his humor and sense of dialogue. So that means the fact that nearly every single joke in this movie falls flat is not on Wright, but McKay. Seriously, there were only a few times I felt the barest urge to laugh vs. throat punching someone. That urge showed up more.

Part of that blame also goes to the incoming director Peyton Reed. Reed previously directed Yes Man, The Break-Up, and Bring it On. Clearly he is right to carry on the vision of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Kevin Fiege and the other heads at Marvel seem to think so, so maybe they see something I don’t. I know I didn’t see anything stellar in this movie from a directorial standpoint. The movie was so emotionally flat I was thinking *it* had used a Pym Particle and was too small for me to see the part where I was supposed to care.

Ok…not entirely fair. I cared about the animals. Seriously, they made me care about the ants. Part of what made the movie work was the visual effects. They were actually really well done and while the CG work and overall look was near unavoidable they did a solid enough job that I didn’t care. In that vein, they are successful, they made me forget or not care that the entirety of what was seeing was computer generated. A few of the fights were just messy blurs but overall the work was really well done. This is one of the few movies to benefit from 3D.

TL:DR?

I think the movie is better than Iron Man 3, for what faint praise that is. It was a bit more enjoyable than Thor 2, which upon reading my review I may have been too kind to. It is a highly flawed film that has moments of entertainment in it that kept me from actually hating it. Rudd, who I was dismissive of above, is good as the hero. Some of the more annoying beats from the trailer are missing from the film and we are all better for it.

Overall, the movie generates a solid….bleh. I don’t hate it. I don’t really like it, it’s just there. Ultimately I think that’s where it lands. On a solid, emotionless, take it or leave it and I won’t notice. Marvel’s star is dimming for me and things I would have forgiven before are quickly becoming more noticable and less likeable. I think they have forgotten what made the original films as successful as they were with the fans.

  • If you are a completionist – See it matinee and 3D. The 3D does alright by the film. Stay for the end credits – there are two scenes.
  • Anyone else – that’s a negative Ghost Rider, the pattern is full. You can wait til Netflix as this will likely be out before the next movie is.

Sorry folks this was a bit of a downer, and we don’t have too much hope the rest of summer. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation has the best shot so far.

Darke Reviews | Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

So I did the math on the way home. Took the day off and spent the better part of it at the theatre. Granted I slept til 1:30 then headed over, but yeesh. Was it worth it though? Double Feature of Avengers and then Age of Ultron, discounts on food and drink. Conversation with another movie geek on the comics, animated movies, and general geektitude. Yep all of it was worth it. It was weird hearing people in the audience who hadn’t seen Avengers first and odd to note things that raised questions in the first Avengers in light of Winter Soldier. But…did Age of Ultron live up to the hype?

Let’s be honest folks – you are going to see it anyway regardless of this review. This easily falls into the #seeitanyway category. Let me see if I can keep to my usual spoiler free territory.

Written and directed by geek god Joss Whedon, the film picks up an indeterminate amount of time after the events of all the previous films. It starts mid-stride with the Avengers continuing to try to find Loki’s staff in the wake of the events of Avengers. It’s clear they’ve worked together awhile on various missions enough so that they have clear roles and methods in how they work with each others powers, or lack there of. A new threat of their own making rises in the form of Ultron. An AI with a goal and the Avengers must overcome their internal issues and external ones to win the day, will they?

Lets talk the cast a moment. Our favorites return in the roles that we love them for. Chris Evans is once again on point as Captain America, he still has his ghosts, but as Dr. Irskin asked of him – be a good man. RDJ of course returns as Iron Man with no real acknowledgement of the events of Iron Man 3 one way or the other. I think we are better for that. He was made to play Tony Stark, but it is clear that he is both comfortable and tired of the role. Mark Ruffalo is given significantly more time as Bruce Banner and is allowed to show more than he did in the previous film. I still believe he is a secretly genius casting and he does well with what he is given. Chris Hemsworth takes Thor out for his 4th outing and doesn’t do much new or at all I suppose. ScarJo gets her own 4th showing as Black Widow, the assassin and spy, and is actually given more depth this time with the barest glimpse into her background.  Jeremy Renners complaints were clearly heard after the last movie and has a lot more time as Hawkeye with some significant divergence from his comic roots. They don’t hurt, but they are surprising. Samuel L Jackson, Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie, Stellan Skarsgard, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders all become proof positive that the writer and producers heard the complaints about Iron Man 3 and went ‘oh yeah, all of these guys exists and you know should be here…even briefly’. Sadly we get no Paltrow or Portman as Pepper and Jane; which we do hear some snark about in film – it’s nice. Of course we also have the introduction of Aaron Taylor Johnson (Kick Ass, Godzilla) as Pietro Maximoff, who can’t be called Quicksilver due to rights issues, and his twin sister Wanda Maximoff, more commonly known as the Scarlet Witch, played by Elizabeth Olsen (Godzilla, Old Boy). Ultron is gifted with the voice of our favorite man in a fedora from Blacklist, James Spader. I swear this man could read a phone book and make it sound delicious.

Whew….was that too busy?

That there is the movies problem. It’s taken me twenty minutes to think about this and a good twenty minutes talking with my partner in crime this evening. The problem here is the film is too busy. Too big. We aren’t given a chance to breathe, save one scene. The scene we are ostensibly supposed to be able to revel in the quiet, is just too tense to enjoy the moment. It’s off putting rather than relaxing. The tension was ramped up and kept at a certain level that left you bordering on uncomfortable. It all was too much. Too many locations, too many fights, too many cuts. Too busy.

Things that need explanation are left painfully vague or explained too quick to sink in. There is expectation you have seen everything to this point and if you haven’t you may scratch your head at a few scenes. It’s clear there are significant cuts and edits to the film as well as a few scenes from the trailer are noticeably missing. I think Joss stumbled on this one, it’s not a failure, but it is a clear stumble. He wrote himself into corners he didn’t know how to write himself out of elegantly or cleanly. When he did give himself a needed out, the outs came off awkward. While I am rarely one to encourage films to be split into two, I think there was enough material here that this could have or should have been. It wasn’t in the plan so it couldn’t be and the narrative pays for it. I feel, I believe the studio interfered more this time as well. Joss is far from perfect, but there’s just something wrong about the entire picture on a level I can’t quite put my finger on. It is almost as if they were trying to capture the same lightning in a bottle they had with the first Avengers and didn’t quite stick the landing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve overly expounded on the problems here, but the movie is still solid. You will continue to love and hate the characters as appropriate. The fight sequences are solid in their own right. The movie properly zooms into comic book physics without batting an eye and we are ok with all of this. The movie still has humor in the right places and darkness in the others. The famous Hammer and party sequence are everything I hoped they would be. Spaders voice work and mo cap of Ultron is in a word incredible. The man’s presence can be felt even if he himself is not on screen.

TL;DR

The movie lands solidly in the better than average to as low as the “it’s ok” realm. I might (probably) watch it again to see if my opinions on it shift the needle in either direction. This is still likely to be one of the biggest movies of the year, though Furious Seven has set a benchmark that will make it hard for other films to hit. This one, probably will though – and deserves to. The movie **is** good, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t quite as good as the last Avengers and doesn’t quite have the same magic.

If you were going to see it – see it! You’d ignore the review or not want to read it anyway (despite me being spoiler free when possible)

If you were on the fence – eh…see it Matinee.

If you were curious – I’d ask what rock you’ve been living under and why you haven’t seen the others. You definitely don’t want to start on this however, and you’d likely feel lost as there’s enough history required for this one to not make this a first timers film.

 

Coming Soon

Review season has begun, I get the next week off after that. Mad Max and Pitch Perfect in the same weekend – thankfully not vying for the same audiences. Tomorrowland follows with San Andreas the week after (though that review will be late due to Phoenix Comicon). The rest of summer after that looks to be hit and miss. Here’s hoping folks.

Sunday, you might get a special throwback review…Big Trouble In Little China has a screening at one of my local theatres.

Darke Reviews | Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Oh I had expectations going into this one. I put this pretty much at the bottom of the list of Marvel Cinematic Universe I would enjoy. Why you ask? Well to be honest I have no love for awkward, uncomfortable, or slapstick comedy. I also have no love for some of the songs on Star Lords awesome mix #1 (You can see the Nerdist for the full list www.nerdist.com/2014/07/james-…. Spirit in the Sky and Hooked on a Feeling may be two of my most hated songs ever. Never liked them, never will. No real rational reason, they just don’t appeal to me and tend to get overplayed to my perception. This is what the trailers sold me. This is what I was expecting. I was really really not looking forward to this movie.

Some of my coworkers derided me for going into a movie with expectations such as these. That I should go in with a clear mind and thought on what the movie could potentially be. This is nigh impossible. I have avoided behind the scenes sites as much as possible these days to avoid the spoilers that I can, but trailers have a job to sell a movie. What they show sets expectations. Some movies defy them – Hercules last week. Some movies lie to you with them – such as the remake of Clash of the Titans. Some movies are failed by them – Lord of War. So where did Guardians of the Galaxy fall, with a trailer that in my opinion failed it.

-please note, this review is as always spoiler free, and my opinion on the trailer seems largely unique-

Obviously this one is based on a comic, one of which I have only passing familiarity. That is to say I know it exists. Director James Gunn (Slither, Super) is also one of the ones responsible for the script. Nicole Perlman has no listed writing credits before this, but has an announced Black Widow treatment in the works? Interesting. Writer Director as I’ve said before can be very good or very bad. It is rarely in the middle. Until today. The story here is a mandated origin story. They didn’t get a choice. You need to introduce a three meter walking tree, a talking racoon, a green assassin, and a blue guy with red tattoos; oh and the human male lead. There’s also a plot to introduce, villains, worlds, a galaxy of races. Now – do it in 2 hours. Good luck.

So while the plot is a bit of a hot mess, I can look past it because they were asked the near impossible in the 21st century. Star Trek, Star Wars, Stargate – all of these have built in fanbases and worlds we know that need little introduction for the average theatre goer. Even the newbie can be brought up to speed quickly with these franchises, this one is a tad more difficult. They do it as well as they possibly can and fairly well. Everyone gets a character moment on both sides of the coin. Just enough for you to get who they are and why they are. What their world view is. Some are treated better than others, and well quite honestly some aren’t treated as good as they should be or could be. I will get into that as I talk about the characters.

Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation, Zero Dark Thirty) plays our noble space pirate. He’s Malcolm Reynolds but doesn’t quite have the easy going charm that Fillion does. This is probably intentional and if so it works, he is also the least interesting character in the movie. He is regularly upstaged by more colourful (literally) costars. The reigning champion of the film is Rocket. Yes. That’s right the Raccoon is the hands down winner of I want to watch him. Bradley Cooper (The Hangover, A-Team) voices the four legged menace to society and proves he has that kind of natural charisma that works if you see him on camera or not. Vin Diesel voices Groot, the aforementioned tree who is always fun to watch when he emotes or gives you an “I am Groot”. Dave Bautista of WWE fame, plays Drax the Destroyer. He doesn’t act a lot, but with the character he has thats a good thing. What he does is kick butt and be large and in charge. He is also one of the more humorous characters and as enjoyable in his dryness as Diesel is in his …quirkiness?

Sadly, Zoe Saldana does nothing particularly new here. Her Gamora is nearly the same character as Columbiana and Aisha (The Losers). Tough, beautiful, action girl. This isn’t horrific by any means. We need more like her. I just wish they had done more to break her from a stereotype. Script problems – not actress here. Additional script problems come in the form of the nemesis Nebula. Karen Gillan (Dr. Who and Occulus) gets our lovely blue alien. The entirety of act 1 – she is menacing and you believe her deadly. Something happens half way through act two where she loses this and seems to be a shadow of her former threat. This is compounded in what should be an epic fight between her and Gamora that just is…weaker than it should be. Script problems I cannot forgive there. Gillan, however, proved we need to see more of her in the cinema in the action, horror, and sci fi genre’s. She pulled off what could have been a difficult role and did it well. The story and script failed her. The director failed her. Lee Pace (Lord of the Rings/Hobbit, Halt and Catch Fire) is just never quite the threat he needs to be. I don’t know who to blame there, but it is. He exists. the threat exists, I just don’t get his menace if it is supposed to exist.

Visually, the movie is beautiful. The darkening of 3D hurts the film as it seems to have a focus on bright vibrant colours. They just get lost in the 3D. Everything else looks very clean and easy to watch. Rocket, Groot, the ships, the space stations, etc look great. Rocket especially. We aren’t quite talking Uncanny Valley here, but it’s superb.

Music. *sigh*. Yep still hate most of it, but it was no where near as prominent as I feared. They even used a song I like with the Runaways “Cherry Bomb”. A few times it works. Other times its backdrop. The Star Lord introduction works well enough to let you know who and what you are dealing with. This one falls to different strokes for different folks. I will never like the soundtrack, but if you do – enjoy! The score left a bit to be desired as it reminded me too much of Avengers.

TL;DR?

Alright here we go. Yep, the trailers failed this one for me.

It’s good. The movie is solid. It feels a bit pacing hurt at times, but its more entertaining than I thought it would be. It made me laugh at times. I enjoyed the action. I enjoyed the finale. The humor wasn’t AS bad as I thought it would be.

That said, there’s some language in this one. If you want to keep your kids from male anatomy or fecal matter (see I keep my reviews clean), then I wouldn’t take them to see it. If it doesn’t matter – then cool. Enjoy.

So there you go. Guardians of the Galaxy is a good, entertaining movie. Not the strongest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but most definitely not the weakest.

Next week may be a double review with TMNT and Into the Storm. TMNT is absolute…the other. Eh see a post tomorrow on that