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
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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 | 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

Darke Reviews | Captain America:The Winter Soldier (2014)

Darke Reviews – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I promised Beth and Stef I would start off with the TL;DR on this one.

Holy Amazeballs. Yes. Go See this film. Period. Do not pass go. Do not collect (but maybe spend) $200. Go see Cap. It is one of the best films to date in the Marvel cinematic universe and the best film to date this year. To be absolutely clear it is not a perfect film. There are flaws I will go into below, but it did everything I needed it to. It made me smile, made me sit on the edge of my seat, made me giddy with anticipation of something strange, made me laugh and even made me cry.

Go see it. Full price. No 3D, it isn’t needed by a long shot.

Full review time? I suppose so. Lets see if I can set a speed record on this writing.  These normally take me about 45 minutes to an hour to write because I want to choose everything I say carefully and keep the review SPOILER FREE!

Directed this time by Anthony and Joe Russo. If you’ve never heard of them that’s ok. Their biggest credit is the TV comedy Community. Seriously. These guys were given Captain America. I have absolutely no idea what Kevin Fiege and the other Marvel producers saw in them, but it worked. They got exactly what they needed from their actors and every shot. The down side is that the movie was filled with some magnificently beautiful fight sequences that I would have loved to watch. Really, I am tired of quick cuts and camera motion. What I could see of the fights was pretty amazing and painful. The movie also has some pacing issues which fall on the directors feet, as it runs a long two hours and thirty minutes and at times feels it.

The time of course is needed for the complexity of the plot. Ed Brubaker is credited with the concept and story, that was converted to screen play by Chronicles of Narnia writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.  The three of them created a Bond worthy plot within the confines of the Marvel Cinematic Bible. NOTHING in these films is done without forethought or planning. When I consider that, it tells me that parts of the plot that seemingly came out of left field were planned. It tells me they knew what they were doing and the filler was done exceedingly well. The movie runs long and a few scenes could have been cut I suppose, but I really enjoy that the writers bothered to put quiet moments. Emotional moments for the characters to let their relationships build and let you get to really know who they are in the dark. They intelligently don’t over explain when lesser writers would have spelled some things out. I applaud them for that.

Of course the writing and direction need actors. Thankfully the movie has them and for once they aren’t chewing scenery. Even Redford as Alexander Pierce comes across with a subdued yet powerful presence. Samuel L Jackson stopped being Samuel L Jackson and was Nick Fury. The limelight, however, belongs to Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson and Anthony Mackie. I’ve talked about the need for chemistry in a film before. You know when actors are not a hundred percent comfortable with each other, their roles, or  some element of the film. Here they all make it look effortless. The quiet moments have a serene and subtle quality that they need. The moments of bonding feel natural and not forced. The moments they need to be strong and dominating the screen as larger than life beings come across just as well with these actors. Each one of them has their moment in the sun and they cast a tremendous shadow when they get it.  I was really pleased with the balance of their characters through the movie in a way that surprised me.

I didn’t mention the Winter Soldier. He doesn’t get to do a lot other than kick ass. I am not saying his performance wasn’t good, but it didn’t hold the nuance the others brought.

From a technicals standpoint, the 3D is largely wasted on the fact you can’t appreciate the motion of Falcon flying due to quick cuts and massive camera movements. I swear the cameraman may have been having a grand mal seizure. This is by far the biggest flaw of the film. Everything else is on par with all we’ve been given before. This is something Marvel needs to be careful of  as the effects need to continue to advance with the years or things will look dated. The movie doesn’t suffer from that yet, but it wont be long before it could.

Overall the movie is, as I mentioned before, arguably one of the best Marvel films to date. It is up there with Avengers. It feels like a comic book movie that Captain America SHOULD be in. It feels like they should be doing this and the plots complexity fit perfectly. There’s enough references to the other Avengers in the film to make fans smile and unlike refuse like Iron Man 3 or a flawed Thor Dark World, happens quick enough and in such a way that calling in back up doesn’t feel viable.  So thats another applause there. It was enough to have who they did, doing what they did.

Of course, stay for the post credits scenes. Yes, plural. The first is more powerful, but the second has meaning.

That’s it folks. Speed record set (30 minutes). Go see Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s the Cap movie we needed and deserved.

Darke Reviews | Thor: The Dark World (2013)

 

Ah how I love Hollywood and its need to get even a few more dollars to make the opening weekend look even better. First it was Midnight showings, technically making them released on the official release day. Then the 11PM, 10pm and 9pm showings came; now we have 8pm. Soon a Friday release means noon thursday! Though in all fairness and sarcasm aside it’s nice for an amateur like myself to see a film “early” so I can give my dear readers a review before they take the opportunity themselves. It’s even better when I can see it with friends who do not keep my hours. Let’s get to the review shall we?

Honest Trailers really nailed Thor in their recent video. This movie exists so you know who the Point Break guy will be in Avengers. It had a difficult job ahead of it and quite honestly not the best director to do it. Kenneth Brannagh had to find a way to introduce Thor, Jane Foster, Loki, Odin, The Warriors 3, Sif, the realms of the universe, tie it to the current continuity of the Marvel verse and still not introduce the concept of magic. That’s a tall order for any director. It’s also interesting that both Marvel and DC have explicitly avoided the mystical characters to date in their successful films. Brannagh did alright, not great, but alright with the first film. It created an unexpected bonus where Loki was the most interesting thing about the film, a trend to be repeated apparently. I really think us girls love him because hes adorable and would be a project we can try to fix. That’s a discussion for another time.

The sequel picks up where The Avengers left off and while my spoiler free disclaimer remains for Thor 2, the Avengers is beyond the statute of limitations. Loki has been imprisoned back on Asgard. Thor has not returned to Jane since he left her in New Mexico. Jane for reasons we cannot tell fully is not working for, with or even near SHIELD. Thor, The Warriors Three and Sif have been battling across the Nine Realms trying to bring peace and order to them after the Bifrost was destroyed during the events of the first movie. Everyone seems happy to tell Thor he needs to stop pining for Jane and Jane herself is doing a poor job of trying to move on. She still has loyal and snarky wingman and intern Darcy helping to track anomalies with a slightly off kilter (justifiably) Erik Selvig. During an investigation Jane is reunited with Thor and an ancient enemy resurfaces in a ploy to destroy the known Universe. Pushed to his very limits Thor is forced to obtain the aid of the one person he knows he cannot trust, his brother.

There is the high level synopsis spoiler free. Marvel handed the reins (reigns?) of this film to Alan Taylor. Don’t know the name? Neither did I. He is mostly a TV director who did 6 episodes of Game of Thrones and 9 of the Sopranos. How they picked him? I do not know. What I do know is he didn’t do a bad job. The shots were good, the acting was good, the fighting was watchable, all in all good direction on a script that had me scratching my head a few times.

The movie does fall prey to the too many writers problem in which we have 5 different writing credits; not including the comic books three credits. The story is by Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan, The Patriot) and Don Payne (Thor, Fantastic Four 2). Knowing this in retrospect I can see where certain script elements appeared and why other elements were the way they were. The story was then adapted to screenplay by three men. Stephen McFeely (Captain America, Pain & Gain), Christopher Markus (same), and Christopher Yost (a slew of animated Marvel shows). This to me explains why there were scenes where the entire theatre erupted in laughter ( for good reason). sadly it also explains between the five of them why there was a women in fridges moment and a certain air of ..a very unwanted love triangle. I know that the film is supposed to be about Thor, but the Warriors 3 and Sif were his companions more than any other and they are woefully and painfully under utilized here. Granted they get more to do here than in Thor, but its still not good. And Love Triangles! Gah. I was annoyed when I suspected it, then it was confirmed. They aren’t needed, they are rarely liked and even more rarely handled well.

Ok, lets talk the actors. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki steals every bloody scene he is in. No one can keep up with him even if they try. One particular shape-shifting scene brought the house down. He is the absolute best thing about the movie. Hemsworth is delicious to look at and really acts well beyond the looks. There are times I think he was sick when his accent gets so thick and his voice drops an octave or two. It’s clear he gets the arrogance that Thor is to have, but has also learned humility over the years. Portman plays the fish out of water and love interest remarkably well and in a way that isn’t annoying. I was hoping to see more proactiveness from her early on but they deliver well enough at the end.

Anthony Hopkins seems to be showing his age beyond the make up in this turn as Odin. Rene Russo is actually given something to do briefly and gets more than two lines which is nice to see as she’s the bloody Queen of Asgard. I reiterate that Jaimie Alexander isn’t utilized well enough through the film as Sif and some of the times she is I want to hit a writer. Zarchary Levi (Chuck) replaces Josh Dallas (Once Upon a Time) as Fandral seamlessly and he even gets to buckle some swashes. Hogun and Volstag are barely used thus their actors have little screen time or epicness that could have been given. Kat Dennings returns from being a Broke Girl to playing Darcy the snarky. She’s almost overused.

Christopher ( Dr. Who) Eccleston plays the villain Malekith. I will be honest, through the trailers and much of the film I did not recognize him. The make up was superb and the post production work on his voice were really well done. He actually brings a suitable air of menace to the film that we didn’t have in the first much.

The technicals. Le sigh. During one sequence I half expected to hear a young Jake Lloyd go “Yippee” and some bad commentator talk about the Pod Racing. The sound mixing and effects were so completely unoriginal it took me out of what should have been a fun sequence. Visually Asgard looked slightly less CGI than before and overall was rather well done. The effects of the big bad however. Not so much. While they did for the most part have some of the best lighting for it that made it match the atmosphere and environment around it – it just wasn’t working. There were times it reminded me of Blade or Fantastic Four 2. Hmmm…

Also – Puppeh!!!

TL;DR?

Despite some of the harsh comments above, it really is an enjoyable two hours. It’s far from a perfect film and still less flawed than the original. I don’t regret the time or the price unlike another Marvel film this year. I can safely tell everyone go see the film; I doubt you will be as critical as I am. I think this one is a movie people of all ages can enjoy but I do recommend watching Thor and or The Avengers first.

No breakdowns on this one, just see it. Matinee or full price, I think you will get your monies worth.

Stay allllllllllllll the way through the credits. Two scenes in this one.