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X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
Sacrifices thematic depth and complex characters for superficial thrills and repetitive plots
The word "apocalypse" brings to mind an end-of-the world event of biblical proportions. X- MEN APOCALYPSE brings to mind some Japanese anime and a yearning for the better X- men movies of the past. The third in this "new trilogy" that began with X-MEN FIRST CLASS, the franchise reached its high point in the epic X-MEN DAYS OF FUTURE PAST but now tips back down to a rather typical tale of good vs evil intertwined with the usual hero's journey. Thankfully the masterful execution of dialogue and acting chops saves this film from sinking into mediocrity.
There are lot of plot threads to follow. Fortunately or unfortunately it does not require much inferring or complex thinking to follow the story. It is very simple and it is in its simplicity that it loses out on the richness of character than past xmen movies had. Our characters are all reduced to two dimensional archetypes each with familiar story arcs. So familiar in fact that the whole movie is a pastiche of plot points taken from past xmen movies. Eric is the grief stricken blood knight who goes evil with vengeance when tragedy strikes, again. Scott jean and Kurt are the inexperienced loners who have to work together to overcome their challenges, a little like pyro, Bobby drake (ice man) and kitty pryde (shadow cat) in X-men 2. Mystique replaces wolverine as the badass wanderer who is thrown into a leadership position to guide our young loners. Xavier is once again captured and the X-men's home base is compromised, again like X-MEN 2. Powerful mutant with delusions of godhood and a gang of loyal followers is Apocalypse this time replacing magneto's role in the first 3 xmen movies. Call it homage or call it cliché, I feel that this story manages to toe the line between familiar and fresh. The familiar elements gives us a sense of the revolving nature of conflict, that history repeats despite the best intentions. The fresh elements of course add new facets to a film which could have otherwise been a complete bore, thanks to the slow burn nature of the plot which mostly sees both good guys and bad guys gathering their key players for the final showdown. Those who can appreciate a slow build up would love this while those who need their immediate action fix would be left disappointed.
Divisive might be the best word to describe this movie. When the action does come, it is a special effects spectacle of mutant powers on display where everyone.......pretty much stands around shooting things at each other. Oh look, the villain is getting the upper hand! Let's shoot more! Where physical stunts and fights come, they are a thrill to behold except the dated wire work which feels artificial. Interspersed between these divisive battles are particular scenes of movie magic. Quicksilver (last see in DAYS OF FUTURE PAST) returns and we get to see the full extent of his powers once again only on a larger scale. And at least this time he has a purpose in the story other than being a just a miraculous attempt. But as mentioned earlier his motivations are touched on but not explored. His character is simplified into yet another archetype.
Beneath the visual spectacle, the movie under utilises its cast of characters. Ty Sheridan's Scott Summers could have been great as the new audience surrogate, going from meek bullied loser to taking his first steps as confident leader of the X-Men. Instead he is also shoved into the background after his introduction. Kodi-smith mcfee's more feline looking Nightcrawler is also another intriguing character sidelined. Instead we get more Charles Xavier and more Eric playing out their character drama like star crossed lovers. Don't get me wrong, they are fantastic actors, especially Michael Fassbender completely nailing the tragedy of Eric's character arc. But their story came to a decent close in the last movie and this one just feels like more of the same.
Apocalypse himself is a villain that is as equally divisive as the movie itself. On one hand, it seemed that the creators were going for the "all powerful but frail" type of villain ala emperor Palpatine of Star Wars. The snake-like menace that Oscar Isaac exudes through his sinister delivery is betrayed by a design that borders on corny. Oversized platform boots, plastic looking Armour and an ill defined set of powers all downplay the threatening presence of the villain. His motivations could have been much deeper. A commentary on modern commercialism replacing the religions of old perhaps as the new "cult following"? Or a criticism of humanity's arrogance and self glorifying nature? Maybe even a critique on how common folk are quick to idolise mortal "false gods" of the influential and powerful? No, no and no. None of that thematic depth here. Apocalypse is merely your Saturday morning cartoon variety villain who wants to destroy the world to rebuild in his image.
It is not a bad movie per se. Visually stunning, an easy-to-follow plot and well cast characters set to a script filled with witty dialogue that does not overdo the comedy. The acting is professional and the music by John Ottman is a grand thematic continuation of But for a grand finale it pales in comparison to films like X-MEN 2 by glossing over its deeper themes of social commentary especially, in the treatment of mutants as an allegory to prejudice against social minorities. It lacks the urgency, high stakes tension and emotional depth of DAYS OF FUTURE PAST and the chemistry among the cast is no where near XMEN FIRST CLASS. I would place it as a middling entry into the X-men franchise that succeeds in opening the doors to a whole new generation of X-men movies.
contorted into child friendly comedy and shrunk down to superficial super heroics with no sense of peril or tension.
At 11 movies into its interconnected series of comic book live action movies, marvel studios has cemented its fool proof formula since AVENGERS: lots of laughs, simplistic stories, superficial thrills, and more laughs. The deeper themes of earlier marvel movies be damned. Comedy sells and they have cranked that up for ANT MAN. Number 11 in the marvel comics series of movie adaptations. From the massive scope of countrywide destruction in AGE OF ULTRON, marvel tones it down and goes small. Way small. Small in scope, tone, depth and small in the way of fresh ideas.
Incorporating the most groan inducing aspects of the marvel formula, ant man is essentially the shrinking blue collar Iron Man. We have seen this story countless times. The comedic lovable loser down on his luck, trying his darnedest to be a good man and Father to his kid, he gets a godsend opportunity to turn his life around and sticks it to some big shot corporate dude. Meet Scott Lang, ex-master thief looking to turn away from a life of crime. His caricature of a friend tempts him for one more burglary to rob an inventor but Scott ends up discovering a secret invention: an incredible suit belonging to bitter inventor Hank Pym that is able to shrink its user to the size of an Ant. Where Scott sees a horrible mistake, The elderly Hank sees opportunity to outsmart a former protégé Darren cross who had ousted Pym from his own company and created the weaponised "yellow jacket" mech suit incorporating pym's shrinking tech. Now Scott lang is given his second chance to be a hero. He breaks out of captivity using his shrinking suit, teams with hank and his Daughter Hope to master its capabilities, and attempts to take down the power hungry Cross who is close to perfecting the yellow jacket weapon.
Remember what I said about small stakes and scope? Ant Man is not about some international incident or some earth shattering invasion. It is a personal and very focused story and that's fine actually. But what causes a terrible dissonance is the way the humour is handled. True to such movies, we have characters in constant life or death situations but they seem to be treating their plight like a playground outing or a pillow fight. Jokes, snarky banter and badly timed comedy abounds without any sense of peril or desperation making it difficult to take the plot seriously.
Or perhaps one isn't supposed to take it seriously? After all, the plot in itself is a mash up of Honey I Shrunk the Kids with some Adam Sandler style comedy. I mean there is this one part where Scott enlarges a pre-shrunken tank and escapes from his pursuers. A tank! But even looking at it from an action comedy perspective still presents some problems. It's not Witty enough to pass as a comedy, Nor thrilling enough as an action movie.
To his credit, director Peyton Reed does some amazing work with the shrinking scenes and the fight scenes involving our pint sized protagonist are definitely a work of special effects genius. Paul Rudd successfully captures the plight of poor Scott lang with a very earnest performance, though at times overdoing the jokes a bit. The score by Christophe Beck is also of particular note, eschewing the increasingly clichéd action Beats of past marvel scores for something closer to a 1960s spy thriller.
In the greater scheme of things, ANT MAN presents many intriguing concepts,l. Big ideas that were hampered by small minded execution and equally small minded reliance on cheap comedy belittling what could have been intelligent storytelling with cliché at ter cliché. A sprightly little movie that would be right at home as a family comedy if you took out the shrinking.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Finally. Marvel movies grow up and tackle mature themes.
Following a series of battles and a fatal error in a Mission that saw much collateral damage, the world finally calls for regulation on the superhero team known as the Avengers. Facing an uncertain future, the avengers are split on ideological grounds with captain America aka Steve rogers opposing regulation and iron man aka Tony stark supporting it. What begins as arguments soon morphs into rivalry, then escalates into conflict and ultimately battles. Into this conflict comes The Black Panther, a superhero from Africa who is after Captain America's Friend the Winter Soldier for involvement in an assassination attempt. As opposing sides deal with this new development, a young man gifted with the powers of a spider is recruited into the fight.
What comes across as amazing is the directors' way for tying all these plot threads together. You have the black panther situation, the growing differences between Tony and Steve, the overarching political debate on accountability, then you have Spiderman being reintroduced into the marvel cinematic universe. With all these characters and subplots, the film never lets us forget this this is primarily a Captain America movie. Steve Rogers is the main focus with Tony Stark as his foil. With a little thinking by the audience to connect the dots, the plot threads fall into place nicely and the stories fit along parallel themes. Our tale is fast paced, going from tense conversation to awesome action and back again.
The tone is, finally, more serious and more grounded, a much welcome departure from the increasingly comedic tones of most marvel movies. There is a true sense that the stakes are high, and the potential for loss is great. The Russo brothers crafted a serious political thriller in CAPTAIN America WINTER SOLDIER, and now they up that ante in writing, characters and action. Though some of the fights have that "sped-up-in-post-production" look, it is grittier, more brutal and less "dance-like" than most of other marvel movies. The final battle between Tony and Steve stands out as the best marvel movie fight ever not only because of the perfectly shot scenes but in the emotional aspect as well. Conflicts are framed in a "no nonsense" approach, rather than the cartoon-like quip filled play battles of before. Not that there aren't quips but these are from characters defined as such in their original comics, namely Tom Holland's Spiderman.
Easily the freshest aspect of the movie, Tom Holland embodies the youthful wall crawler that comic fans love. His introduction foregoes the usual overly long origin tale and gets him right into the action. Everything is perfect, the way he moves, the way he talks, his emotional journey through the movie that runs parallel to that of the Robert Downey jr's Tony stark and Chris Evan's Steve Rogers. Everyone brings their best to the roles both new and familiar, with the two veterans conveying the emotional anguish and turmoil of two brothers-in-arms forced to opposing sides.
This movie's emotional weight relies heavily on continuity and would be more effective if one had been following these characters from their first movies, through avengers and marvel phase two, right up till now. Without the 8 or so preceding movies, it is difficult to get a grasp on Captain America's or Iron Man's differing ideologies and unresolved interpersonal tension. Their motivations seem propelled by stubbornness and ego which would seem shallow without their relational context as provided by past movies.
Thankfully the magnificent chemistry between this cast who have co-starred together for so long, shines. Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr. And the rest all truly become their characters, drawing the audience into this fantasy world where secret Organisations, spies, superheroes and people with powers co-exist. There are some ill timed comedy, especially those that come in the middle of intense scenes. It kills the drama and the serious mood. Thankfully, these are few and lesser in number than previous marvel movies.
The big downside, especially as a fan of the comics, is how different this is from the original civil war miniseries. The original was a tragic tale of good intentions carried out in bad ways, it deconstructed super hero feuds, touched on politics, delved into the philosophical question of freedom or security; themes that resonate with the world deeply entrenched in the war on terror. The movie version downplays a lot of that. Message to marvel: if you are going to use a title, at least respect the source material. This does have a few fleeting similarities but all in all feel like a completely different story which had no business using the name of an existing one. The political themes, touching on the accountability of those in power, are present but never at the forefront. By the movie's end, it does not even feature within the climatic showdown. What could have been a physical and metafictional "fight" between two friends representing opposing sociopolitical ideologies suddenly descends into a weak excuse for revenge.
As a whole this is a tremendous improvement in every aspect over previous marvel team up movie AVENGERS AGE OF ULTRON. Comic book movies will be hard pressed to match up to this standard set by CAPTAIN America CIVIL WAR. Yes there is ill placed humour, yes they kill a certain amount of the drama with cheap comedy and yes the relatively generic musical score by Henry Jackman seems wasted on such an epic. But the few flaws aside, this is finally the kind of movie that marvel should be making. One that takes its superheroes more seriously, tones down the jokes, and delves into deeper themes both social and political. More focus could have been given to those themes, but this is a very pleasing start to what I hope is the maturing of the marvel cinematic universe.
Complex, grand and ultimately satisfying follow up to MAN OF STEEL
A title is a powerful thing. In a few words, it shapes audiences expectations for a movie, tells them the subject of said movie and attempts to entice viewership. BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (BVS) is a mouthful of a title that at once teases a titanic showdown between two comic book icons and hints at the formation of the world famous Justice League superhero team. No doubt many are going to cry foul when they find out that BVS is not referring to an actual physical bout as it the conflict and contrast of the two titular characters' background, world views, motivations and beliefs. It is a movie that is more likely to make you think rather than cheer, more likely to make you question reality rather than be drawn into a fantasy.
We start with many subplots. So many subplots that the initial hour of the movie feels bloated. What seems like a meandering mess slowly comes together like branches in a pie chart. As the pieces fit and perceived chaos comes into order, viewers sharp enough would have noticed the foreshadowing of plot elements to come. Though it manages to hold our intrigue without splitting at the seams, this jigsaw style, non linear plot development may not appeal to everyone, especially those who are more used to traditional chronological arrangement of plot beats or the modern "right into the action" blockbusters.
What comes next is.......actually less epic than I thought it would be. It is less the super powered death match of the century but a more intimate examination of ideologies and philosophies surrounding the superhero mythos and how those philosophies relate and intertwine in a very real and familiar world. The fallible and corruptible nature of man, the benevolent god debate, the burden of responsibility, doing the "right" thing in a world where right and wrong is subjective, BVS explores all these. The prize bout of batman beating superman draws parallels to real life hate crimes against minorities or migrants with superman as the ultimate migrant.
Juxtaposed against the differing ideologies embodied by the conflicting trinity of Batman, Lex Luthor and Superman is the theme of how ones past shapes the present. We have three surprisingly well developed characters dealing with past trauma in wholly different ways in accordance with their personalities. The main attraction here is Ben Affleck's Batman. He oozes a restrained intensity with a volcano of emotions boiling beneath the surface, hidden behind a stoic mask. The world weary Wayne has channeled his loss into an unrelenting force against crime but unknowingly projects his past failures onto his current ones.
Similarly for Lex Luthor, he is the opposite reflection of Bruce Wayne. This young, sports shoe and t-shirt wearing eccentric tech mogul is full of energy in contrast to Wayne's older, mellowed portrayal. A phrase he quotes during a speech about having all the knowledge without the power, and the frustrated way he spits it out in contempt underpins his motivations perfectly. He is hilarious without losing his menace, a smidgen of humour in the otherwise serious film.
Superman on the other hand.......is less of a character and more of a concept. He acts best as the subject that fuels the debate, if he acts at all. For starters, there is little contrast in Henry Cavill's portrayal of the superman/Clark Kent dichotomy. One is just Superman with a costume, the other is superman in civvies and glasses. Exact same tone of voice, exact same facial expressions that only alternate between morose and angry. Wooden performance aside, BVS elaborates, addresses and brings to closure many of the themes first brought up in its predecessor MAN OF STEEL.
Perhaps the experience would be a complete one when this is viewed in tandem with the former? Surprisingly, the movie does not go full on dark and gritty like MAN OF STEEL did. As mentioned, Jesse Eisenberg's Luthor is like a devious bugs bunny full of dark ironic humour (Granny's Peach Tea). Laurence Fishburne as Perry White never fails to bring a chuckle. And the witty banter and strong chemistry between Affleck's Wayne and Gal Gadot's mysterious Diana Prince is absolutely charming.
Even the colour palette seems more vivid with clear distinct shades, most evident in the black and grey of batman's costume, quite unlike the washed out muted tones in MAN OF STEEL. Zack Snyder alternates between slow motion scenes of a surreal, almost otherworldly, feel, and the hyperkinetic shaky cam going full on "Michael Bay" for the action. His collaborator Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL returns for the music providing a heavy grandiose score full of percussion and choir chanting as if the movie were an operatic epic.
Like its titular heroes, BATMAN V SUPERMAN has divided people in opinion. It tries to do a lot and in doing so may be a challenge for simpler minded audiences to comprehend and follow. This is a complex movie delving into complex themes but maybe people have grown accustomed to something friendlier.
Filled with subtle but powerful emotional moments, equally powerful fight scenes, and strong underlying themes and real life allegory, BVS is loud, grand and an easily misunderstood creature. It is different from the more light hearted superhero movies of recent years and in that respect it will get shoehorned into the expectations of what a superhero movie should be rather than be appreciated for what it is and what it could be.
All this on account of a misleading title.
A true trailblazer and trend-setter for comic book movies
DEADPOOL. He finally gets his movie. After a laughable appearance in the groan inducing X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE, Ryan Reynolds is back bringing Wade Wilson, The Merc With a Mouth, The Regenerating Degenerate (and a whole paragraph of other monikers), to the big screen with what is possibly the most faithful portrayal of a comic book character to date in live action.
I watch this and I am convinced that Ryan Reynolds has never existed. He has always been Wade Wilson deep down inside and this movie is Deadpool showing up his true self. He is perfect. Exactly like the more comedic Deadpool of recent years but with enough of the bad ass 1990s Deadpool so as not to come across like any other lovable loser. Read the comic, watch the movie, play the game, whatever, it will be the exact same character you know and love.
DEADPOOL kicks off with One of the most uniquely imaginative, Tongue-in-cheek opening sequences to over grace the silver screen. (Keep Wikipedia and a counter handy for all the pop culture references). The movie defies genre, it defies convention, it throws us right into the thick of the action. Unlike many comic book character origin stories, we do not get bogged down by a lengthy first act setting up the eventual "birth" of the superhero, where the titular character is only seen in his civilian self without powers or the iconic costumes. For the obligatory tragic backstory, we get flash backs interspersed with the ongoing altercations. Just as the flashback looks like it will start to drag, we are snapped right back into the whizzing bullets, blood and twin blade action.
The overall plot is a little bit derivative but in this day and age with eons of creative history behind movie making, what else isn't? It is the execution, the energy instilled by director Tim Miller, and the well timed, well written, clever humour soaked into the script by Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick of ZOMBIELAND fame. We aren't talking the cartoony quips or snide banter of Disney's Marvel movies. This is smart, actually humorous, befitting of the film and filled to popping point with pop culture references if all sorts. Yet DEADPOOL is not some laugh-a-minute comedy. Ryan Reynolds completely sells even the more sombre scenes with such earnestly. For the first time I actually feel bad for poor ol' Wade and all the crap he had to go through before he became Deadpool. Reynolds sells the heartbreak and the torment in a perfectly nuanced performance. But more importantly, he sells the utter glee and satisfaction of sweet violent vengeance.
The film earns its M18 rating with nudity, swearing and bloody violence though i still consider those tastefully restrained for an adult oriented film of such rating. We never get excessive, thus allowing the writing and direction to shine without being marred by the spectacle or eye candy. The music by Junkie XL accompanies The Eye candy and, honestly, is nothing spectacular; your standard electronic action samplings. But the soundtrack, consisting of classic songs, is amazing. The songs chosen and the scenes they are paired with either fit perfectly within the context of those scenes or create this comedic dissonance that enhances the mood.
A bit of the backstory has been changed from the comics, as are the villains Ajax (but his name is Francis) and Angel Dust. Here they are devoid of their outlandish costumes and garbed in your Bryan Singer-esque black civilian outfits. On the flip side, we are introduced to two X-Men supporting characters: idealistic metal skinned muscleman Colossus (the big dumb giant) and brooding time bomb (literally) Negasonic Teenage Warhead. Somehow the good guys retain some outlandish comic book traits. Colossus is no longer the chrome clad pretty boy in X-MEN DAYS OF FUTURE PAST but a hulking lunk-head who is a dead ringer for his comic book counterpart. Negasonic is altered somewhat from the comics but she now sports a more traditional black and yellow suit like the classic Xmen uniforms. Was this contrast between colourful good guys and drab baddies an intentional jibe at the black leather look of Bryan Singer's X-men movies?
Every once in a while, a magnificent piece of work comes along to sweep you off your feet into an imaginative mind boggling masterpiece of modern cinema. Throughout DEADPOOL, one can feel the absolute passion that the cast and crew brought to the project. The story is a tragic romance worthy of Romeo and Juliet: washed out soldier finds the love of his life and prepares to settle down. He finds out he has cancer and leaves hoping to spare his loved one the pain of seeing him waste away. It is also a science horror flick worthy of David Cronenberg as that man gets betrayed to an unscrupulous scientist who conducts torturous experiments on him. It is a revenge thriller on par with a Tarantino movie in Wade Wilson's vendetta, tracking down his old tormentors in hopes of finding a cure for his affliction. Lastly, it can be considered the wittiest, most clever, most violent R-Rated action comedy film of the decade.
Best SciFi Movie of 2015
The saga that enthralled two generations is back to captivate the imagination of a third. A new Star Wars trilogy begins with the much discussed STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS. Since the classic trilogy, Star Wars has become synonymous with relatable characters in an old fashioned good vs evil story all set to mind blowing special effects, convention defying designs, and a rousing fanfare that kicks off each story set in that galaxy far far away.
Under the masterful hand of director JJ Abrams and writer Lawrence Kasdan , THE FORCE AWAKENS pays tribute to the original classic trilogy, recreating iconic scenes, memorable lines and bringing back as many of the classic actors to reprise their roles. Some may say that it is a whole sale copy of A New Hope but there are enough differences and twists to keep things fresh. It is new enough for first time viewers yet Familiar enough without feeling like it is pandering to the existing fanbase. The balance struck is extraordinary!
Actors new and old give a stellar performance. Veterans like Harrison Ford slip right back into their classic roles, completely becoming those same characters the old fans knew and loved. The new ones aren't too shabby either with John Boyega as Finn, Daisy Ridley as Rey and Oscar Issac as Poe Dameron turning in magnificently nuanced performances. These, coupled with strong writing and snappy scripting, brings back the naturalistic dialogue of A NEW HOPE, giving us characters that are easy to relate to and well fleshed out. Humour is used sparingly but effectively such that the level of tension and danger is maintained, unlike certain comic book movies where we get a laugh every 5 minutes (I'm looking at you marvel) even though the world is going to end.
JJ Abrams was born to direct science fiction. Having honed his craft in two STAR TREK movies, His Free flowing filming style and Long tracking shots make every spaceship scene an exciting roller coaster ride. The audiences weave in and out of battle as gracefully as the starfighters that are blasting away at each other, they run alongside Rey and Finn as enemy TIE fighters fire on them, they are right there in the thick of the lightsaber duels. All this without resorting to the scourge of shaky-cam that so many directors tend to fall back on to "enhance" action. Action is large and sweeping in scale with more personal character moments filmed intimately. A balance.
For every good balance dictates that there should be a bad. For every hero, a villain. The new villain of Kylo Ren is easily the weakest in the history of black clad STAR WARS antagonists, lacking the menacing presence of Darth Vader, the regal air of Count Dooku, or even manipulative cunning of Palpatine. Kylo is just one angsty angry boy who throws at least two hissy fit tantrums throughout the movie. Maybe it is my age but I find it hard to relate to him as either a tragic antagonist or the next Big bad villain. Adam Diver does his best in the role of Kylo, but he is written Less like a villain and more like an furious fanboy worshiping a famous Long dead individual.
Some may not appreciate the seemingly "safe" route that the movie takes when it clings to the story beats and mirrors the narrative of the original trilogy. Perhaps they wanted to play it safe after the questionable critical reception of the prequels. After all, familiarity sells and so does nostalgia. The marketing team definitely did their research. I for one did not appreciate a return to the simplistic "hero's journey" where good is good and evil is evil. I missed the more complex themes of the prequels and the real world analogies within the narrative of the clone wars and the rise of the empire. But again, this could just be the producers playing it safe.
The best part of the movie for me was not the breathtaking special effects or the acting. It was the music by veteran Composer John Williams. From the first notes of that legendary fanfare to the more quieter character centric themes, William's score retains the feel of old school space opera and never caves in to modern movie scoring conventions. He eschews the heavy drums and electronic sounds of recent blockbusters for the traditional brass, strings and woodwinds. The general tone, distinct melodies and some old favourites bring us back to an era where a movie's soundtrack is its own performance that can be enjoyed with or without the movie itself.
With all the homages to the older STAR WARS movies, one can really feel that the creative team were fans themselves. That is not to say that this movie would only appeal to fans. On the contrary, it has something for everyone to love, even relative newcomers to the franchise. This is one movie that would definitely have everyone talking about it after the closing credits; reminiscing, recollecting, speculating, and waiting eagerly for the next instalment in the STAR WARS saga.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
The son of Megatron and Skynet meets Tony Stark and his Amazing Friends
In 2012, there came a day unlike any other day where the worlds greatest heroes were united against a common threat and THE AVENGERS blew away audiences of all ages with the first ever comic book movie crossover. In 2015, there came another day unlike any other day and this time the world is threatened by a Ultron, the cynical critical atypical child of Skynet and Megatron...... No actually he's just a wisecracking artificial intelligence with delusions of godhood and all round evil. Turning on his creators, he threatens all life on earth with his sidekicks "illusion- woman" and "not-the-flash"....I mean, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, and it is up to the Avengers to take him out before he can usher in THE AGE OF ULTRON.
Instead of the robot dominated dystopian future that we saw in the comics, what we do get is more "the next few days of Ultron". No matter, it is an exciting few days with director Joss Whedon balancing the intercharacter dynamics with awesome action pieces from claustrophobic close combat, to a freeway chase, to the much advertised no holds barred beat down between the Hulk and iron man's new "hulk buster" Armour. All this is supplemented with beautiful special effects from Industrial Lights and Magic ILM. Flawless work befitting the movie's massive Budget.
In The villain, Ultron, the Writers have crafted a memorable though under utilised bad guy. Ultron could have been the vehicle to explore deeper themes, themes that were merely hinted at but never fleshed out. Instead, His cynical yet refined snarling courtesy of James Spader reminds me of the those magnificently passionate Super villains that were so common in Saturday morning cartoons of old.
And that is exactly what this is. AGE OF ULTRON can be described as a true live action cartoon. The dialogue is light hearted, the story is straightforward, the tone is fun and the action is immense. And this is not exactly a good thing. Intense scenes are interrupted and spoilt with poorly placed humour and once again the story does not seem to take itself seriously.
Fights are over-choreographed, more like some fancy ballet than an all out battle. The fact that it cuts to graceful slow motion once in a while only emphasises the dance like nature of the fights.
And yet the movie felt like pieces of it were cut out. The narrative does not flow as smoothly as the first with inexplicable scenes like Thor suddenly going off on his hallucination trip. Much of the premise and the characters development up to this point very much depends on the viewer watching prior marvel movies.
It is here that Marvel studio's continuity heavy Creative direction rears its ugly head. To know what is going on in this movie, one would have to watch the previous movies. Captain America the winter soldier, iron man 3, the first avengers movie. But perhaps that's the point? Force people to go buy the Blu rays or the video to rewatch and get up to speed. In the end, the real big winner is distributor Disney. Ka-Ching $$.
I like a good comedy. In in a big action blockbuster, I like to believe that the stakes are real, that the dangers faced by our heroes are real, that they are really fighting for the fate of the world. Instead, we get this cartoony violence, with equally cartoony superficial story, where heroes joke around with quick lighthearted quips in the middle of a fight scene where people could die. This kills tension. And if it weren't for the magnificent effects, action and direction, AGE OF ULTRON would have scored a bit lower.
The Scorch Trials (2015)
I imagine this is what Uwe Boll's Fallout 3 movie would be like
Remember the unique setting of 2014's MAZE RUNNER? There constant sense of tension and mystery? The twists, the turns and the wholly original production design? Nope. In this sequel, we get rid of the maze, we get rid of the originality. What we are left delves into every single post apocalyptic video game cliché ever created, only with teens gifted with unlimited stamina.
Picking up where MAZE RUNNER left off, THE SCORCH TRIALS sees our heroes Thomas, Minho, Theresa, Frypan and Winston seemingly rescued by a group that claims to have their best interests at heart and who oppose WCKD(the evil organisation that trapped the kids in the maze int he first movie). It would have been believable if not for the incredibly evil sounding Irishman leader Mr Janson. Hearing him talk, you know all this "safe haven for the kids" is bull. And yes a short while later we find out that the kids have been actually captured by WCKD again and are about to get their brains drained. Something about some fluid in the brain and some mutation virus caused by solar flares. No answers are given of course and in true teenage fashion, the kids rebel against the controlling adults and venture forth into the burnt out desert wasteland city known as "the scorch".
From then on, the movie starts to resemble Dawn of the Dead: Post Apocalypse, or "I am Legend: Teenage Edition". There are zombies in dark tunnels and the kids only have themselves to rely on. Then they run into other humans. Some of them want to sell them, some want to broker a deal, some want their help in fighting back against WCKD. Evil organisation, resistance group, wasteland survivors, zombies, that's it! This is Uwe Boll's Fallout 3. It's like the writer started binge gaming after the success of MAZE RUNNER and just threw in what he liked about the various post apocalyptic games he played.
The characters don't change much other than for Thomas, the designated hero. At least he goes from the confused mess he was in the last movie to the confused leader of a confused group in this movie. The rest are calafare at best, accessories to Thomas' journey. At least they go beyond being mere token minorities for the sake of diversity and actually contribute to the story in a crucial way.
Amidst the clichés, boring characters and overly shaky cinematography, THE SCORCH TRIALS at least manages to hold on to its constant sense of tension in its second and third acts. Foe after foe comes at our young heroes, each one deadlier than the last. You have some magnificent set pieces showing off the post apocalyptic landscape in its full glory and at no time could I tell the practical sets from the CGI. But after a while, you sort of accept that these youngsters have olympic level stamina and can still look pretty escaping through sewers, trudging through ruins and hiding in holes. Kudos to the writer for continuing the "maze like" elements from he first movie, hence justifying the need to leave "Maze Runner" in the title. Sure, they aren't in an actual maze, but getting lost in zombie filled abandoned building, chased through a warren of tunnels and dodging stray lightning bolts in the dark, all call back to the dangers of the maze.
THE SCORCH TRIALS could have had some brains to it. At points I get the feeling the writer was trying to tie it all down as an analogy for growing up. If the Maze in the previous film represented a youngster's school life, with its rules, unique culture, sheltered learning environment, and first exposure to girls, then the Scorch almost seemed to represent that youngster taking his first steps into an adult world. It has some nice analogies to what regular teenagers face nowadays. Conflicting loyalties, conflicting emotions, a fling with drugs or just a tempting fling. Some would give up and yearn to return to the sheltered life in school, some would become corrupted by their newfound freedom; some would sink into the same vices that have plagued the adults and yet a few would rise to the occasion, becoming better people in the process. This analogy of the scorch to the trials of young adulthood could have been played up a little better. And it was a real pity too.
In the end, THE SCORCH TRIALS cannot be forgiven for its reliance on cliché, even if it was in the original book. I cannot say for certain how much it deviated from the source, but I have learned that the book involved psychic powers. So i guess the lack of psychic powers in the movie is quite an improvement. Other than that, it is yet another movie with lost potential and a sequel that is no where as good as its predecessor.
Fantastic Four (2015)
Fantastic Fiasco 'Foxed up'"
Fant4stic four review
Much has been revealed about the fiasco that was FANTASTIC FOUR 2015. I'll leave the details of the isolationist director, close shaves with angry cast members and a studio's overboard executive meddling for your internet search engines. Let's get down to the movie. Caught in-between the deep and gritty of Warner/DC and then kid friendly comedy of Disney/Marvel, FANT4STIC FOUR (as it is stylised in promotional material) is a curious creature which tried to do both and ended up.......not so successful. It tried to go for the "grounded fantasy" of DC, all angsty, deep and tragic, while still wanting to maintain the appeal to youngsters with witty jokes and superficial laughs.
Many have slammed this movie for its lack of action and deviation from the explosive norm that has become superhero films. I feel that audience have just become spoiled by the action heavy formula of modern blockbusters. FANT4STIC FOUR is not a superhero movie in that sense. It would be more in line with the "science gone wrong" genre of movies that were real big in the late 1980s through 90s. A common complain is that it is too dark but dark can be good if directed and written well.
What FF lacks first of all is coherence. The story is a straightforward one: science goes wrong, tragedy strikes, heroes forever changed, then they band together to save the world. Tone wise, The movie's story starts off as a kind of "science fiction Harry Potter". It's the story of boy genius Reed Richards getting accepted into an institute of geniuses. Then once an experimental teleporter is completed, Reed and pals boldly go where no man has gone before on to the planet of CGI wonders. From there the tone whiplashes into a Syfy original with the four friends captured and experimented on. Guilt ridden Reed escapes, and we get another tone shift into a fugitive movie with Reed on the run and his former friends trained by the military to take him down. But wait there's more! A new teleporter is completed which brings back a powerful new foe who wants to destroy the world leading up to a climax right out of Dragonball Evolution. You see where this is heading? It's like four different movies cut and pasted into one.
FANT4STIC FOUR (FF) had intriguing ideas that I could get behind with enough twists from the original comic to make it fresh. None of those ideas get developed at all! Second big mistake. Sue and Reed being intellectual rivals is something new but it just gets turned into......not even a romance or a friendship for that matter. Johnny not being able to live up to his father's expectations. Yes he acts out, yes he finally gets to step out of daddy's shadow by using his new powers to make a difference to American peace keeping efforts......but that is only implied with some dialogue and never brought up again as if Johnny were a token minority character.
Then we got Ben who could have turned out most refreshing. Unlike his comic counterpart who is was a baseball champion, US marine, pilot and an all round big tough guy, Ben in this movie is a scrawny loser picked on by his siblings, living in a junk yard and with little future to look forward to if not for his friendship with Reed. What an intriguing character arc it would have been for Ben who goes from wimp to rock covered Captain America. He becomes a war hero in the service of his nation all the while despising the inhuman Thing he had become. Do we get to explore that internal dissonance? No. His grudge against Reed for turning him into a monster? Forgotten in 5 minutes. Ben who was shown to never hurt a fly has been made to kill for his country, but no single mental ramification at all. No regret? No crisis of conscience? No character development, pure and simple. The 2005 movie, Heck, even the cartoons managed to give Ben Grimm a more developed character than this movie showing him grappling with the loss of his humanity going from all American hero to ugly Monster with all that entails. Mishandled and miscast, Ben Grimm as the Thing looks great in all his motion capture rock encrusted glory. But every time he speaks and that wimpy TinTin voice comes out, it's almost hilarious.
Boasting a budget of $120 million, one wonders where all that money went. I've already mentioned how good The Thing looks thanks to the motion capture expertise of Weta digital, the guys behind Lord of the Rings. But everything else looked cheap. From the CGI Baxter building to a CGI monkey likely reused from Dawn of the Planet of The Apes to the entire CGI "planet zero" looking like a video game.
Throw all that in with a climax that is all to short and sloppily edited and you have FANT4STIC FOUR. The best example of wasted potential in a superhero movie. It had great ideas, bright new concepts open to exploration and development but alas got caught up in all the behind-the-scenes debacles. The drama during production overshadows the lack thereof within the actual movie. Who knows? To recoup on the loss Fox may release "the making of" feature and makes tons more money capitalising on the controversies involving director Josh Trank.
Less like the Fantastic Four and more like the Cool College Clique
Review fantastic four worlds greatest heroes
In the wake of Fox's 2005 FANTASTIC FOUR movie, marvel commissioned a new fantastic four animated series. This time, marvel rode on the wave of Japanese anime and turned to Moonscoop animation, a French studio famous for such anime styled cartoons like Martin Mystery. They even got voice actors who were best known for dubbing anime to portray the characters here. The result is a decent blend of East and west, traditional 2D art and CGI animation. Decent yes but no where near fantastic.
Visually, FF: WORLDS GREATEST HEROES or FFWGH as I will call it, is a real treat to watch. The vibrant colours have this luminescent glow and The art is pretty to look at once you get past the whole anime styled designs. No it's not all doe eyed little girls and big breasts. This show takes its visual cues from anime aimed at an older audience. Yes there is spikey hair, yes the characters look anorexic and a little on the long side but nothing that sexualises them. The animation itself is smooth for a TV show and with a decent level of art detail: there are action lines, freeze frames and a few cost cutting measures but nothing as obvious as the typical TV anime.
At 26 episodes, each episode features an original story not directly lifted from the comics but containing elements inspired by the comics. They are relatively self contained with only thin threads of continuity like Doctor Doom's recurring presence. Other than that you get guest stars like Guardians of the Galaxy's Ronan the accuser, AntMan, and even the Incredible Hulk (whose brawl with The Thing is always something fans look forward to). With original stories comes the good and the bad: it's original so it allows for some surprises. However it does not achieve the level of storytelling that the comics did instead choosing to go with an overall light hearted juvenile tone. There is no sense of peril no matter how many times the world is at stake. There is no thrill seeing as how formulaic each episode can get. Then There are episodes that left me bored beyond belief and it wasn't for a lack of action.
It was the lack of chemistry. Touted as "marvel's first family", the FF here are more like "marvel's college dorm buddies". You never get that sense of togetherness and most of the time they come across as flat archetypes. While the comics and some of the previous cartoons delved into their inner demons and insecurities, FFWGH barely skim the surface with story after story offering little depth and even less world building. It doesn't help that only half the cast do decent voice acting. TV actress Lara Gilchrist nails the role of Sue Storm and Brian Dobson does an impressive (for a Canadian) tough Brooklyn accent as Ben Grimm but Christopher Jacot as Johnny is a one note loudmouth and Hiro Kanagawa's Reed Richards sounds like he is on the verge of yawning half the time.
As history shows, Fantastic four once again got the short end of the stick. Mainstays like Galactus and Silver surfer were prevented from being used and Marvel promptly dropped the anime styled property to focus on direct to video productions and the more Bruce Timm inspired Wolverine and the X-men. FANTASTIC FOUR: WORLD's GREATEST HEROES is no travesty but neither is it a smash hit. Not bad, just unremarkable. Everything about it pales in comparison to other super hero animation of the era. So If you do come across a copy going for cheap, it wouldn't hurt to give it a spin just don't expect anything....you know....fantastic.