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Justice League (2017)
What should have been like an epic season finale ends up as a mid season filler
It is no simple task for a movie to introduce 3 new characters, present a narrative of these characters coming together, build camaraderie, flesh out the stakes, the threat, follow up on existing plot threads from past movies and give closure to the development arc of Superman all within a mere 2 hours (including opening and end credits). JUSTICE LEAGUE is brief to the point of absurdity and most of its problems result from the post production process of editing and incorporating reshoots all in a bid to cater to the lowest common denominator.
Following the death of Superman, criminals have become emboldened, plunging the world into a state of terror. In London, Wonder Woman stops an extremist bomb Attack while back on Gotham City, Batman is investigating the appearance of flying alien creatures that seem attracted to intense feelings of fear. A close encounter with one of the creatures convinces Batman that the alien invasion he so feared was imminent and he proceeds to recruit the super powered individuals whom he discovered in the previous movie BATMAN V SUPERMAN. Meanwhile, the alien warlord known as Steppenwolf makes planetfall intent on stealing 3 ancient artifacts known as the Motherboxes in order to unite them and summon forth a power that will destroy the earth.
The first act is a hasty haphazardly edited sequence jumping around the world and from character to character. There is hardly a sense of chronology or flow to the scenes! Perhaps if the movie was edited to focus on one character at a time culminating in the arrival of Steppenwolf at Paradise Island it would have flowed better. Instead it feels like scenes just end prematurely to cut to a wholly unrelated scene only to cut back minutes later. Arguably the flow improves once the team gets together for their first mission to investigate mysterious abductions in Gotham.
Problems of its truncated narrative aside, JUSTICE LEAGUE does a good job of establishing its characters and building the camaraderie. The chemistry between teammates is impeccable. Their unique personalities play off each other beautifully and there are tender emotional moments interspersed throughout the script. My only beef with the script is all the random moments of humour. It just does not mix well. This is an end of the world scenario and you have awkward slapstick, flat jokes and even traditionally serious characters like Batman trying to be funny. With its laughable dialogue peppering even serious battle scenes, the stakes are trivialised and it becomes difficult to take their story seriously.
The hodgepodge Of 2 very differing styles courtesy 2 very different directors is evident from the get go with character even changing appearances between scenes clearly giving away evidence the insertion of reshoots. Even the overall look of the move was given an overhaul. Gone is the evocative colour filters of past movies replaced with a garish palette. Also in removing the filters, the CGI elements stand out more due to the lighting mismatch with the non-CGI elements.
This is a huge pity as much of the action depends on visual effects. Even the villain Steppenwolf is a full CGI character. Thankfully he is a compelling threat. His limited screen time gives him an air of mystery like one of those traditional slasher movie villains and his twisted personality really comes through. The action is also masterfully shot for the most part utilising dynamic camera angles and slow motion to give the perfect resemblance to comic book panels brought to life. Only the final battle comes across as disappointing and generic (and very obviously a reshoot).
It pains me to have to counter every positive with a negative but there is something I have always enjoyed and it is when movies go beyond being mere stimulators of adrenaline and endorphins, and instead address and explore deeper themes in the narrative. Movies that get you thinking. Justice League was none of this and it is sad because there was a lot of potential to explore. We are hinted at the more metaphorical aspect of a movie as a tale of reviving hope in the most hopeless of situations. We are hinted at moral conflicts and the ethics of Batman's sudden proposal to revive Superman with an alien device. We are hinted at a much deeper narrative surrounding the individuals and their emotional baggage. Hinted hinted hinted but never explored or even addressed outright. Themes that were explored in past movies, the deconstruction/reconstruction of a savior archetype, the impact of super powered beings on international politics, the world's reaction to such beings, and much more all abandoned.
The result is a truncated summary of an epic that could have been. Sacrificing thematic depth for levity robs the movie of any uniqueness it may have had in this day and age saturated with superficial superhero shows. It's inconsistency is it's greatest weak spot and seems to indicate that the studio had little interest in telling a compelling tale. The amazing action, the bombastic battles which showcase the extent of each characters' skills, and the near perfect portrayal of each character show that this movie was meant merely as a primer: a means to instill an audience with a greater interest in its characters so as to get them on board for the many inevitable spinoffs. It may make you see superheroes as cool again in a most perfunctory way, but little else beyond that.
Shin Gojira (2016)
Giant Monster and Biting Political Satire
Japan is back in the game with their very own new Godzilla movie SHIN GOJIRA. Where Hollywood revived Godzilla as a tribute to his more heroic role in the late-showa era "versus" movies and the Heisei era, Toho Japan has gone back to the roots of the 1954 original Gojira and crafted a modern thriller about the horrors of mankind's misdeeds, the inaction of a government embroiled in bureaucracy and the impotence of a military in the face of this fiercer, meaner, force of nature Godzilla. .
SHIN GODZILLA is likely the first Godzilla movie to focus squarely on the political scene within the government when a giant monster attacks. Past movies have always involved Scientists, soldiers, or civilians focusing on the chaos on the ground. This movies looks into the chaos at the top as we follow young civil servant Yaguchi, deputy chief cabinet secretary (the first in a long list of designations to come).
A regular day in the government is interrupted by the collapse of the Tokyo bay aqua line tunnel and mysterious attacks off the coast of Japan. While the aged officials hold fruitless meeting after meeting in an obvious parody of real life bureaucratic process, Yaguchi theorists that the disasters are caused by a living creature.
No sooner is his theory shot down than an enormous tail rises out of the water. As the government scrambles but always falling a step behind the escalating disaster, Yaguchi forms a task force of unorthodox civilian experts to figure out how to stop this creature.
As the government's tried and tested efforts become increasingly futile, USA sends a special envoy Kayako Ann Patterson with the promise of military aid and insider knowledge to this mysterious creature dubbed "Godzilla".
The creature is growing, mutating, and taking on increasingly dangerous characteristics. Yaguchi's team is forced to think outside the box for a new way to halt its rampage before the UN deploys nuclear weapons on Japanese soil.
Contrary to the trailers, this is not the dark depressing disaster movie that was promised. Instead we are treated to one of the smartest and most biting social and political satires in modern cinema. Right in the crosshairs is the inefficient bureaucratic processes of the government and their obsession with trivial minutia which results in a complete mishandling of the crisis posed by the constantly evolving Godzilla.
The satire comes in the fact that the film does not overly dramatize anything; what you see is as close to reality as one can get in an old fashion parliamentary government like Japan's. Each ministry out for itself, passing the buck wherever possible, defending only their own interests. Standard procedures take precedence over unconventional methods.
Scenes of the prime minister making an announcement of Godzilla not being able to come ashore, intercut with the revelation that not only has the creature made landfall but has started trashing the town, hearkened back to the perceived mishandling of past real life disasters in Japan.
Yet the message underlying this movie is not a strict criticism of the government but an affirming call to action aimed at a new generation of leaders to unite a nation. Where the traditional methods fail, innovation and initiative will be the true weapons of the future. Yaguchi and his team represent this perfectly; outcasts from their respective fields because of their unconventional ideas.
Their tenacity in the face of hopeless defeat soon inspires fellow citizens from all walks of life, engineers, mechanics, construction workers and other blue collar roles typically overlooked by a status obsessed people, to come together and stand against a God incarnate.
The titular monster is unlike any incarnation ever seen. It's keloid looking skin, seemingly torn in places, gives the impression of pure suffering. Yet his inhuman all staring eyes betray a being devoid of soul. It is as it was back in 1954; a soulless unstoppable force birthed from mankind's sins. The military is powerless, though not for a lack of trying.
Where previous Godzilla movies have shown the military in a less than flattering light (cowardly, incompetent, or unable to hit such a massive creature), SHIN GODZILLA shows a military force truly giving their all, only hampered by slow indecision from the top.
The special effects used to bring this colossus to life is arguably good. No where near Hollywood blockbusters but amazing once you consider the comparatively tiny budget Toho had to work with. The naturalistic direction an camera-work courtesy of Evangelion creator Hideki Anno and his crew give the movie an almost "documentary" type feel.
It is devoid of filters, using very natural looking lighting wherever possible, which enhances the realism of the events taking place. Though the cuts can be a bit distracting at times, alternating between rapid fire jump cuts to scenes that look as if Anno left his camera running and forgot about it. Equally distracting is some of CGI compositing on Godzilla and some of his movements which end up more jerky than a puppet's. These are just minor faults though and only an issue to the more OCD of viewers.
Perhaps the only thing it does lack is the element of human drama. It is unafraid to show the horrible consequences of a monster's rampage through a macro view of a country's key decision makers but in doing so it does not leave opportunity to get the audience invested in any particular character.
More than just a monster movie, SHIN GODZILLA is a smart political thriller that satirizes an inflexible system. Those expecting a brainless action blockbuster will no doubt be disappointed. But as long as one is willing to turn in the brain and appreciate this movie for the deeper more complex themes it tries to tackle, you will find a refreshingly novel giant monster movie which the industry definitely needs.
Wonder Woman (2017)
Continuing DCEU's more serious and philosophical examination of superheroes
The origin story of the quintessential female superhero is finally realised on the big screen. Only the fourth entry into the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), WONDER WOMAN is an feature length flashback detailing the events behind the mysterious photo from the First World War that was shown in 2016's BATMAN V SUPERMAN.
Before she became a hero, Diana of the Amazons had only known a paradise of sisters forged in the ideals of cooperation and a Mission to defend the world against Ares, the last of the old Greek gods. Her perfect world is shattered when war comes to Paradise Island in the form of the American spy Steve Trevor and a ship full of German enemy pursuers. Diana in her innocent idealism believes Ares to be responsible for the war and leaves the island with Trevor in the hope that killing Ares will spare innocent lives from the horrors of war.
Giving life to the character of Diana is actress Gal Gadot. Gal is a dead ringer for the iconic superhero, looking exactly like she stepped out of the comic books. The earnestness she brings to the role perfectly conveys Diana's innocence and idealistic outlook. Much time is spent focused on the characters such that even side characters receive decent characterisation and development.
Diana shares a magnificent chemistry with co-star Chris Pine playing the world weary captain Steve Trevor. Their romantic sub plot can be compared to classic romances like Casablanca, masterfully and tastefully realised on screen. But the more intriguing aspect is when the movie goes into their minds, showing their contrasting perspectives on life.
Diana approaches her Mission like a child approaching a fairy tale story. Clear black and white morality, destroy the bad guy and the world is saved. That simple. Unfortunately, it is not that simple and her entire story is one of growing up and seeing the truth about humanity's ugly nature. On the flip side, Trevor straddles the line of cynicism; he knows full well the worst that humanity is capable of yet cannot bring himself to break Diana's innocent worldview.
What begins as a relatively run of the mill superhero origin story morphs into a surprisingly deep narrative that seeks to shatter viewer expectations. True to the DCEU, WONDER WOMAN, like its predecessors, explores some heady themes against the backdrop of war. Key of which is weighing Diana's idealism against worldly cynicism and outright nihilism.
The movie explores those perspectives through its characters, never preaching one over the other and coming to a mature conclusion that ties into an ongoing theme of "hero by choice, not by obligation" that the DCEU movies had been conveying.
The movie never shies away from showing the true horrors of combat, broken families, broken people, a hero helpless against the odds, a truly dark time serving as a stark contrast to the amazon's paradise island. Into this darkness comes Diana herself who is given ample opportunity to flex her powers in a spectacular show of Super heroics. Patty Jenkins approaches the action like a pro, keeping to the more fantastic, speed ramped portrayal of superhero fighting as established by Zack Snyder, while adding her own touches such as the amazons' uniquely cooperative battle tactics (which gets a wonderful payoff later in the movie). Her masterful direction extends to the balanced tone of the movie. Many comic book movies prefer to stuff their narrative with humour, even in the middle of intense battle scenes, such that the movie fails to take itself seriously. WONDER WOMAN does not fall into that trap.
The battles are approached with respectful gravitas, and a genuine sense of peril. Bookending such sequences are character centred scenes in a peaceful setting which help to develop their relationships in a very natural and heartfelt way. There is humour and it is used sparingly, never detracting from the underlying themes or the seriousness of the setting.
This balance gives us a product that can easily appeal to everyone. Diana as a character is one that anyone who had ever been a child can relate to. The epic action, consistently focused on the characters and set to an emotionally rousing score by Rupert Gregson Williams (Legend of Tarzan), will please the typical blockbuster fan.
For those who love the deeper more thematically complex cinematic offerings, you will not be disappointed by the themes explored in this move. And as a refreshing surprise, WONDER WOMAN features what I can unabashedly say is the most genuine and well written romance in a comic book movie, ever.
Wonder Woman (2009)
Before Gal Gadot, there was this wonderful little animated movie
Wonder Woman makes her live action solo movie debut in 2017, but that is not her first feature length film. In 2009, the animated Wonder Woman movie was produced by Warner Premiere as part of its then-new direct to video series of movies. Overshadowed by higher profile releases like Batman Gotham Knights (no doubt bolstered by the success of Christopher Nolan's dark knight trilogy), the 2009 Wonder Woman animated movie failed to perform as well in terms of sales. Surprising when you consider that on its own, WONDER WOMAN is a well made, thought provoking, energetic little movie that deserved much more recognition than it got.
Our story opens in ancient times where the amazon women wage a bloody war which ended with he imprisonment of Ares, but at the cost of many lives. As a reward, the Greek gods grant the amazon queen Hippolyta a child fashioned from clay: Diana. The amazons flourish in isolation on paradise island where Diana grows up into a fine young warrior. But a part of her seeks greater adventure outside the boundaries of the island. Her chance comes when pilot Steve Trevor survives a frantic mid air battle and crashes on the island.
As the amazons hold a contest to determine the one most worthy to escort Trevor back to America, Ares escapes with the help of a traitor just as Diana wins the contest. Tasked with tracking down Ares, Trevor opts to help Diana as the enter man's world in search of the missing god of war. But Ares has a far more sinister plan in the work, one that could spell the doom of the world and the extinction of the amazons.
Right from the get go, the first thing that struck me was the dialogue in the movie. Written by comic scribe Gail Simone, the dialogue is witty, clever and mature. Take the visuals out of the equation and it feels like watching a well written live action movie or prime time TV show.
Our characters are brought to life by a perfect cast; Alfred Molina is truly menacing as Ares, Rosario Dawson as the regal queen, and Keri Russell imbuing a nuanced inner strength to Diana.
However the true standout performance is Firefly's Nathan Fillon as daring scoundrel pilot Steve Trevor. Steve is part Han Solo, part Maverick Mitchell from Top Gun and Fillon slips into it perfectly. He completely owns the roll, delivering his dialogue in the most natural way possible, sharing a magnificent chemistry with Russell.
The story is deeper than your average cartoon. Aside from being an origin story for Wonder Woman, showing her growth from reluctant and slightly defiant girl to a champion of the oppressed, the narrative weaves in many underlying themes relevant to our times.
Themes of sexism, gender bias, racial privilege and the differing expectations on man and woman are all interwoven into the narrative and brought to the forefront. It is refreshing to find a movie that is this smart in its handling of such themes; indeed a rarity in American animated works.
Unfortunately, the movie is not without its flaws and WONDER WOMAN's flaws are in the visuals. The animation was done by Moi Animation, a Korean studio who worked on many critically acclaimed works such as Legend of Korra and Young Justice. WONDER WOMAN was their first feature length work, having only done animation in the past for TV shows like TEEN TITANS and BOONDOCKS. The animation is OK. Nothing horrible but nothing as stunning as their later works. The often uninspired way the fight scenes are done does not help matters. Fights either involve one too many cuts or just do not feel as dynamic as other later DC animated movies.
The art work is also up to personal taste. Director Lauren Montgomery brings a look that mixes 90s Disney cartoon aesthetic with the more simplistic designs of the Bruce Timm cartoons, but the mix tends to look a bit lazy at times.
I personally did not like it as all the women looked the same, with big emphasised lips and angular hips, only differentiated by different hair styles. The few attempts at using CGI for vehicles just came off looking cheap and unprofessional.
On the bright side, composer Christopher Drake bring an epic score to the movie, giving otherwise mediocre fight scenes a sense of intensity and danger.
At 75 minutes, some would call the movie short, but i call it succinct. A lot happens in that time, going from paradise island, to America, to the depths of the underworld, and then to a climatic showdown in Washington DC. This brisk pace may leave it up to the viewer to connect some of the sub plots but the main story of Diana's more innocent nature contrasting with the ways of the modern world works to develop her character from sheltered princess into a true warrior and hero. This movie in a word is terrific, let down only by its technical shortcomings. If you can forgive that, that you would be in for a truly wonderful experience.
Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)
Easily the most true to the source material among all the movies
The first RESIDENT EVIL movie was a scary fun romp. It's key downside was having nothing to do with the original video games outside of a few characters designs and settings. RESIDENT EVIL APOCALYPSE is the sequel and tries to right the ship by introducing us to some of the characters from the actual video games. Video game characters Jill Valentine, Carlos Olivero and A few others are finally adapted into live action and the results are amazing. The movie finally feels like an actual adaptation, taking the setting of RE2 and 3, as well as many plot points and faithful recreations of key scenes.
The movie starts when the Umbrella corporation opens the underground facility known as the Hive in which the T-Virus outbreak occurs. The virus spreads to nearby Raccoon City (which looks a lot like Toronto Canada) turning the dead into zombies and showing us the chilling societal degeneration into chaos. Amidst this chaos, Umbrella head scientist Doctor Charles Ashford loses his Daughter Angela during a frantic evacuation. As local armed forces attempt to stem the tide of undead, Umbrella corp releases a newly weaponised Alice, having been granted superhuman abilities. In a desperate bid to reunite with his Daughter, dr Ashford manipulates Jill, Carlos and Alice together to rescue his Angela. But a new bioweapon is loose in the city. The hulking, chaingun toting Nemesis.
Alexander Witt in his debut role as director eschews Paul WS Anderson's claustrophobic filming style of the previous movie and instead ops to mimic the "camera" placement of the video games. Gone too are the scares of the first movie replaced by a straight forward action movie plot. The cinematography is crisp and clear, showing the action in full. But that also means it shows some poorly crafted special effects in full.
The infamous cgi Lickers are back, though now half enshrouded in darkness so they do not look as bad as before. On the other end of the spectrum is the Nemesis bioweapon, a hulking behemoth with a mini gun that looks exactly like a big guy in a suit and rubber mask. His platform heels, obviously meant to make the actor look taller, are laughable and makes this lumbering leather bound lunk move stiffly. He looks exactly like he does in the game though, which I guess is another plus, and he is meant to hunt down our main characters. Not that he exudes much air of menace or as if it the audience would care about the main characters.
Protagonist Alice (Milla Jovovich) has developed a hint of personality here which can be summarised as "badass lady". That is it. Still as shallow as a pan with an abrasive snarky attitude, Alice is near invincible with her superhuman agility, strength and cunning, taking the spotlight away from others in what is blatantly becoming Paul Ws Anderson's fan fiction. Which is a pity as Carlos Olivero and Jill Valentine make for much more appealing protagonists. Sienna Guilroy looks exactly like her game counterpart from the outfit to the way she walks and holds a gun. An intriguing backstory is hinted at but never developed on, instead cutting back to Alice since she is the main character.
While I do give points to RESIDENT EVIL APOCALYPSE for being an action packed zombie blockbuster with a plot hearkening back to the shallow 80s macho action movies, its underdeveloped but wholly more appealing side characters and insistence on a bland protagonist does hurt the enjoyment. It is a mash up of my 2 Favourite genre of films and more faithful to the games yet it is plagued by Low Budget special effects and horrible antagonists.
A cartoon right out of the comics
Nostalgia. It is a disease that infects our senses to perceive products through rose coloured glasses just because of some fleeting connection to good memories of our younger days. In reviewing the much loved X-MEN THE ANIMATED SERIES it is only right that nostalgia is removed from the equation and we can review those show as objectively as possible to the standards of that era. The end result is really a mixed bag with its ups and downs when it comes to technical quality, writing, artwork and voice acting. It is not a bad show but not the epitome of perfection that many may choose to believe.
An roaring action packed opening sequence, beautifully detailed art and amazing animation, kicks off each episode to the electronic fanfare of the now iconic X-men theme. As we segue into the episodes proper the drop in quality is very noticeable. There has always been a trade off between the level of art detail and the smoothness of the animation motions. Here, they tried to mimic the detailed art of the era's comics. The designs are straight out of the 1990s comics particularly those drawn by artist Jim Lee, maintaining lots of shadows and contrast with lighting effects, clothing folds and skin creases painstakingly drawn frame by frame. The level of detail is almost on par with direct to video Japanese Anime of that era, no simple feat coming from Korean studies AKOM. Unfortunately the quality of the animation leaves much to be desired. There is a stilted look to many scenes particularly in the more crowded action sequences. Backgrounds seem unfinished at times and the occasion animation error can be quite jarring. Close up shot fare better only because there is less to animate and the detailed art more than makes up for the mediocre animation.
The stories are very close adaptations of tales straight out of the comic books, particularly the best works by Chris Claremont and Fabian Niceza. Overarching story lines spanning multiple episodes give each season a grander more epic feel. Stand outs include the Phoenix Saga, the Cable and Apocalypse conflict, and of course Magneto's Insurgency. There is a good mixed of "event" episodes and more intimate character Centred ones where there is less emphasis on action, more on drama and development.
Initially both scripts and actors fell into the trappings of typical Saturday morning cartoon fluff: overacting, juvenile dialogue. Come season two and the script took on a more mature tone (again a result of adapting lines directly from the comics). Characters die and relationships get broken then healed as the episodes tackle themes of discrimination, extremism, illegal experimentation, and even some existential philosophy. The status quo continually changes unlike many other cartoons which always revert to status quo by the end of the episode.
Slowly but surely the voice actors eased into their roles and by season 3 they were emoting like experts; subtle, nuanced, perfect. Many of the voices like Iona Morris' extra dramatic Storm, Norm Spencer's heroic leader Cyclops and Cathal Dodd's scowling Wolverine have gone down in history as being THE iconic voices of the characters that comic readers hear in their heads whenever they flip through their Favourite books.
It is easy to see why the series garnered such a wide appeal, pleasing both casual viewers and Long time comic readers alike. It's faithfulness to the source material and visual aesthetics of the comics are tampered with necessary tweaks to make the continuity less convoluted. Having read the comic, I dare say that some of the changes are actually an improvement over the original stories. The cartoon's biggest asset is its willingness to show the more mature subject matter of the comics without dumbing stuff down for kids. The artwork is beautiful in all its rich detail, a cut above other cartoons of that era but sadly let down by sub par animation. Though it takes it's time to find good footing, X-MEN THE ANIMATED SERIES is right up there among the best of 1990s cartoons. Not perfect, and definitely not aged well when compared to shows of today, but excellent nonetheless.
Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)
More Mad Max with Zombies than Resident Evil
The word "extinction" points to an end, the dying out of a species, the final full stop after a long story, usually coming after a series of disasters that drive home the finality of the situation. And what better way to do that to a movie franchise based on a video game than to totally disregard anything to do with the source material in favour of a clichéd mish mash of other well loved movies. We are in familiar post apocalyptic territory as the events of the previous RESIDENT EVIL APOCALYPSE has led to a global T-Virus outbreak which is implied to have caused lakes and rivers to dry out and the land itself to die, turning the whole continent into a barren desert. Las Vegas is covered to its buildings' rooftops in sand, zombies roam the land, cannibal gangs lie in wait for unsuspecting victims, survivors form convoys to stay alive and on the movie. Good golly, it's MAD MAX all over again and every other post apocalyptic movie ever.
Some time has passed since the end of RESIDENT EVIL APOCALYPSE and the virus has spread, slowly killing the world and mutating its population. Alice, now cursed with psychic powers, wanders the desert of central USA searching for survivors. A convenient twist of fate puts her back together with former allies Carlos Olivera and L.J, along with new companion Claire Radfield and her convoy of survivors heading toward the ruins of Las Vegas. Meanwhile, the Umbrella Corporation is desperate to replicate the special powers that manifested in Alice, creating clones and putting them through conditions that replicated the events of the first RESIDENT EVIL movie. Another series of convenient twists put Alicia back on Umbrella's radar and head scientist Dr Issacs will stop at nothing to recapture his lost Super weapon.
Ties to the video game are nearly non-existent here as we are throw into a rather generic post apocalyptic wasteland type of tale. The cast does their best with the material they were given but they never go beyond generic archetypes. It is hard to distinctly describe each character only because they are so bland. Newcomer Ali Carter barely resembles Claire Radfield from the video games. This is a major disappointment after how Sienna Miller perfectly portrayed the video games' Jill Valentine in live action. Which brings me to my other pet peeve: where's Jill? Where's the little girl from the previous movie? All this is never explained. Instead we are treated to a half hearted attempt at a character arc with Alice feeling more disconnected with her human feelings thanks to her growing powers. Some form of digital correction seems to have been applied to Milla Jovovich's face, giving this slightly off focus effect. Maybe it was meant to make her seem less human but it just serves to emphasise her lack of emotional range, keeping her stern stare and neutral expression looking even more artificial than usual.
What makes up for all these short comings is the amazing production design and the action sequences. The costumes, vehicles and facilities are uniquely crafted and just screams "badass". And this movie sports some of the best looking action sequences courtesy of director Russel Mulcahy (of Highlander fame). His wide crane shots and sweeping cinematography make the otherwise generic fight scenes look a lot better than they should.
With connection to the games all but severed, we could call this movie "Alice in Zombie Land" or "Fight of the Limping Dead" instead of "Resident evil". It is the best looking entry in the series with the best fight choreography and camera-work but Character development and motivations take a back seat to sweeping action pieces and one too many convenient twists.
Resident Evil (2002)
Who the heck is Alice?
Resident evil 2002 review
Hello. This is the resident evil movie franchise. And this is its story. The start of its story. It was conceptualised as an adaptation of the "Biohazard" horror genre video game, renamed "Resident Evil" for the global market. Paul Ws Anderson, director of the successful Mortal Kombat movie, was chosen to spearhead the project. But something seemed wrong. The characters were different from the game. Changed. Unrecognisable. It seemed as if he read the synopsis at the back of the video game box then tossed it out in favour of his own script. A script. Consisting of dialogue as silted as the first paragraph of this review.
Considering that the games were never well liked for their characters' flowery discourse or Shakespearean soliloquy, the creators of the movie cut and pasted elements from other movies in Paul Ws Anderson's DVD collection then give it some cosmetic do-over to resemble the video games. Special force team sent to deal with an unknown threat in a cavernous facility? Aliens (which Anderson is unabashedly a fan of). The facility is "alive" and trying to kill you? Event horizon (also directed by Anderson). Actress Milla Jovovich in a skimpy red dress, combat boots, scenes teasing near nudity and doing all sorts of nimble kung fu to show off her lithe hot body? Straight out of Anderson's wet dreams. Jovovich plays Alice. Who the heck is Alice? We do not know as she's got amnesia. But clues to who she is are sprinkled throughout the film and it is fun to piece it all together by the end. What can I say? Other than that, Alice is a blank slate audience surrogate. The ultimate escapism protagonist titilating the men and allowing women to feel empowered by how she maintains her stunning beauty while fending off shameless groping perv.....I mean, shambling groups of zombies which only appear more than halfway through the movie.
For much of the first half we are treated to a whole sequence of a special forces team breaking into a dark scary mansion to find Alice and another guy named Matt. The mansion is a cover for a hidden entrance to The Hive, a massive underground facility that had been had been mysteriously sealed. The artificial intelligence Programme dubbed "red queen" had killed all personnel in the hive and it was up to this special team to find out why. This is essentially a modernised haunted house story with the "house" being the hive and the red queen springing traps to kill the intruders. Though lacking in actual zombies, the film maintains a brisk pace and an increasing sense of dread as we descend further. The appearance of another amnesia named Spence compounds the mystery when they learn the lockdown was initiated by a virus outbreak and the red queen was merely acting to contain the virus.
When the action kicks in, it is fantastic. Sure the characters do some silly things that fly in the face of common sense but the fight scenes are well shot with tight angles and claustrophobic feel which heighten the sense of panic when facing the zombie hordes with no escape.
The mystery story is well plotted and shot but the experience is dampened by some of the corniest special effects even for a movie of its age. Near the end, they have a run in with a Super powered Monster rendered in the worst cgi ever. Why they decided to use rudimentary computer graphics instead of practical effects, puppetry and make up astounds me. The creature never blends with the rest of the footage and the disappointment is that it could easily have been done with a stuntman in a suit or animatronics.
With an eventual resolution leaving more questions than answers, RESIDENT EVIL is undoubtedly a fun guilty pleasure. It does not follow the story but retains the tone of the games. A shallow superficial plot is at least held up by consistent tension and decent pulse pounding action. Once you can forgive all the familiar elements borrowed from other movies, RESIDENT EVIL proves itself to be a decent start to a Long running science fiction horror franchise.
Kong: The Animated Series (2000)
Fit for a kid, not for a king
KONG THE ANIMATED SERIES is what you get when you take an iconic giant movie Monster and turn him into a Saturday morning cartoon to cater to the pokemon generation. Created in 2000 as a competitor to the then successful GODZILLA THE ANIMATED SERIES, KONG purportedly takes place Long after a loose retelling of the original movie. Unlike its reptilian kaiju counterpart which still maintains a plausible continuity within the world of the movie, KONG goes right off the wacky end with kooky technology, ancient artifacts, demons, cloning, and more feeling less like a King Kong show and more like a mash up of DIGIMON and 90s era Saturday morning cartoons.
In this series, King Kong dies but a scientist Dr Lorna Jenkins clones Kong using DNA of King Kong and her grandson Jason. Many years later, Jason gets invited to his grandmother's secret lab on "Kong island" (because "Skull Island" may be too frightening for little kids) along with his Friend Eric Tannenbaum and university professor Ramone De La Porta. Dr Jenkins has apparently been researching magical primal stones and created the cyberlink technology which allows users to merge with creatures turning giving them a power boost and turning them into humanoid giant Mutants. Lo and behold De La Porta turns out to be a bad guy and his cronies steal the primal stones and some cyberlink headsets. This causes some demon to slowly awaken. The race is now on to retrieve the stones from De La Porta before the demon Chrios awakens.
The digimon influence is readily apparent in the character of Kong himself. He is an animal Friend/Guardian who can power up to a stronger form in times of need. He and Jason share a loyal sibling type relationship with a few charming moments. With the , You have a scantily clad shaman girl Lua that serves as romantic foil to the protagonist, the comic relief sidekick Tennenbaum, the mentor type in dr Jenkins, all of these staples of old Saturday morning cartoons. Yes they are just as bland as those old cartoons but special thanks goes to the voice actors who lend much needed energy to otherwise insipid scripts.
Fans of anime would be able to recognise voice acting veterans like Kirby Morrow, Saffron Henderson and many others infusing their characters with distinct personalities while sharing good chemistry with each other. David Kaye and Scott McNeil are the stand out performances here with Kaye portraying De La Porta as a smooth cunning criminal with a fancy foreign accent (which tends to slip now and then between Spanish and French accent) and McNeil doing a range of voices from the comedic Tennenbaum, to one of De La Porta's African henchmen, to Kong himself.
The futuristic tech and unexplained magic, also staples of such cartoons, are effective hand waves for the inconsistent sizes of the giant monsters; one moment Kong can fit in a warehouse and the next he's towering over the same warehouse. Or we could just chalk that up to lousy animation courtesy of the Philippine Animation Studio inc. The studio's claim to fame were the horrible last season of the 90s X-men cartoon and some of the worst animated episodes of Animaniacs. In this series, the animation is serviceable. There are moments of Super smooth movements that stand out among the sometimes choppy and other times overdone character motions. For some reason, characters tend to gesture a lot when they talk in this cartoon and sometimes it turns out corny like something out of a stage play. As mentioned, such gesturing alternates between awkward and excessively expressive. The gaudy neon bright Colours and simplistic art work really do not help matters, which is a real shame especially when it comes to the giant Monster fights.
While the plots for the episodes are varied enough not to fall into a set formula, the overall story does meander a lot often losing track of the core story of retrieving the primal stones to stop the demon from awakening. The scripts are simplistic and borderline juvenile at times, betraying the magnificent performances of the voice cast. It's mediocrity from both a technical and artistic standpoint, along with its cliché ridden premise, only does a disservice to the legacy of King Kong as a timeless character.
Kong: Skull Island (2017)
The King reigns again
He's big, he's loud, hairy and proud. He is King Kong! This giant ape is to Hollywood what Godzilla is to Japan, having undergone multiple remakes ever since the classic movie from 1933. From the cheesy but fun 1976 version to the fairy tale-like period piece by Peter Jackson of LORD OF THE RINGS fame, to being borrowed by Japan for a couple of movies and facing off against Godzilla himself. Not to mention the deluge of imitators cashing in on the giant ape Monster concept.
Unlike previous attempts by Hollywood, KONG: SKULL ISLAND is not a remake of the classic tragedy. The original movie and its remakes were centred around a tragic "damsel and Monster" pseudo romance: people go to a mysterious island, Kong saves damsel in distress, falls for her, gets brought back to America, runs amok, captures damsel, gets killed by aeroplanes. This 2017 movie eschews that tired storyline for an original one set during the closing chapters of the Vietnam war.
Out to prove the existence of ancient mega-sized monsters, Bill Randa and Houston Brooks of the MONARCH organisation tag along with an expedition to a recently discovered island shrouded in storm clouds. With them are photojournalist Mason Weaver, biologist San Li, survivalist Conrad as their guide, Scientists from LANDSAT on a geological survey and a team of soldiers as escort. I loved the pacing of the set up and the plot evokes a sense of nostalgia. It is an exploration into the unknown, a little like Jurassic park with a team of unlikely heroes sent to a mysterious island, tragedy happens and they pull together to survive. The strange colossal creatures are revealed and portrayed in a way similar to the appearance of the first dinosaur in the classic Steven Spielberg movie, with that sense of awe and majesty.
Unlike Jurassic Park however, Kong is not a peaceful herbivore but a fierce protector guarding a dark secret beneath the island. The awe turns to horror as The humans' actions have awoken an ancient menace, angering Kong who decimates the helicopters and scatters the group. Conrad leads half of the group toward an evacuation site while Colonel Packard gathers what remains of men to strike back at Kong for killing his comrades. But the island holds many fearsome secrets and their only hope for defeating a blood thirsty race of predators is Kong.
Right from the get go, the all star cast nails it! Spot on delivery and portrayal of every character, their motivations and quirks completely fleshed out. They are not particularly complex, many of the soldiers fall into the "typical squad" mold that we have seen in many other movies featuring squads of soldiers, but the main characters are great. Tom Hiddleston's Conrad oozes badass charm and undergoes an arc that brings him from aloof loner out for himself to someone who puts the date of his teammates before himself. Samuel L Jackson's Packard is my favourite character. His quest for revenge against Kong and his slow descent into madness feels like something out of Apocalypse Now. It is a natural progression of his arc and the best part is that it does not feel contrived. His reasons are noble, having failed his men before and not wanting to fail them again. His relationship wit Kong becomes a sort of Ahab/Moby Dick dynamic which leads to a powerful pro-environmental message about humanity's tendency to destroy what they do not understand or cannot control.
The main attraction however are the giant monsters rendered in CGI using motion capture. The effects are magnificent, rendered primarily by Industrial Lights and Magic (ILM) the studio behind the effects of Transformers and Star Wars. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts brings clear camera-work with wide angles and sweeping shots allowing the action to be beheld in full. The cinematography by Larry Fong is astounding in itself, imbuing Skull Island with a rich atmosphere of unrestrained beauty. The shot near the opening of Kong rising against a setting sun is just one example of the many breathtaking sequences. My only gripe was how Kong's fur was rendered. There seems to be an unexplainable stiffness to the fur which at times looks less natural than 2005's rendition by Weta Digital.
By all counts, KONG: SKULL ISLAND is a rip roaring adventure with a sense of nostalgia accompanied by magnificent visuals, and clear action scenes pushing the boundaries of the giant Monster movie genre. It gives equal focus to both human characters and its titular titan, never getting bogged down in either element. The icing on the cake? KONG: SKULL ISLAND sets up a shared Monster universe, a "Monsterverse", and a sequel where the King will face off against a God.
Suicide Squad (2016)
Amazing cast can't save this movie from horrid studio interference
Villains get the spotlight in SUICIDE SQUAD, a movie which is in as much of a dismal situation as its protagonists with an almost bipolar personality caused by an indecision on a proper tone or themes. What could have been a gripping ensemble piece about camaraderie among unlikely companions forged in the fires of conflict becomes yet another loud, messy, superficial blockbuster affair. A movie about second chances and an exploration of the minds behind the monsters that are these supervillains dials back on all this potential depth in the name of making itself more "fun".
From the get go, SUICIDE SQUAD had a tall order to tackle. It had to introduce not one, not two, but a whopping 9 characters into this cinematic universe called the DC Extended Universe or DCEU. Not only that, they had to go from bad guy to good guy and settle their individual character arcs within the span of 2 hours. This is a team movie but we had barely known the team members. In a flurry of disjointed flashbacks and flash forwards, we are brought up to speed on the history of our characters leading up to their current situation as patsies recruited by the ruthless Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) to be a black ops task force in the service of the government. Marksman Deadshot (Will Smith), mutated strongman Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), self-blaming pyrokinetic gangster El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), master of ropes Slipknot (Adam Beach), crazy Aussie with a pony obsession (it makes sense in context) Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), crazier little psychopath Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), all led by the stern no-nonsense Captain Rick Flagg and his sword wielding assistant Katana.
Immediately apparent is the tremendous chemistry among the cast. Each role is masterfully played and feel exactly like the comic book brought to life. Of particular note are Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and veteran Will Smith's Deadshot. The respective actors nail the various facets of these complex characters perfectly, portraying them as layered individuals hiding their inner brokenness behind a façade of bravado and false smiles. That being said, only Deadshot and Harley get any decent development. The others are relegated to being a supporting cast with barely an arc much less any character depth. A pity though, seeing as how colourful a cast it was, and how intriguing their backstories from the comics were.
For their first mission, the squad is sent into Midway City to investigate an apparent terrorist attack. Instead what they find is a supernatural invasion like something out of Ghostbusters. Faceless humanoid zombie things roam the streets while special effects mumbo jumbo continually pours out of a peculiar train station. Slowly it is revealed that there is more to this attack than meets the eye which seems to have a personal connection to one of the squad. But first, they would have to fight their way across the city in some of the messiest, uninspired fight sequences filmed in recent years all set to a bland generic score and shot in a haphazard manner with each frame saturated in garish purple, oily blacks and acid green.
Oh and the Joker (Jared Leto) is in this movie somewhere, appearing occasionally throughout the movie like a wheezing Wiley Coyote intent on saving his lost love Harley. We really do not get much about him other than he is a mob boss, kills people, and has a disturbing as heck chuckle. SUICIDE SQUAD is muddled by erratic pacing for the most part, brought about by the sloppy editing that looks more like a music video and less like a movie. Perhaps that was the point when they packed the film full of pop songs from likes of Eminem, Rick James and Skrillex; it is a feature length compilation of music videos in which the characters actually stop for an intermission to get a drink right in the middle of a war.
Here is a movie that is unable to decide on its identity, no doubt brought about by the executive meddling that plagued its production. It feels like it was originally a much darker, sombre, character centred movie. Such a film would have been more in line with Director David Ayers' style, having done the brutal war movie Fury. Instead, it is pumped full of dark humour which, though well executed, takes away any complexity or meaningful themes that the movie could have incorporated. It is so superficial that even the camaraderie comes out of nowhere. One moment they are complete strangers, and all of a sudden they are best friends. A character claims that the squad is his new family but nowhere do we see them truly bond.
SUICIDE SQUAD is saved mainly by the amazing actors and actresses, bringing our favourite comic book villains to life in a way that makes us want to know more about them, their histories, and their stories. They bring a tremendous energy to the screen and snippets of the characters' development and how the varying personalities play off each other are sprinkled throughout the film. Perhaps if it was not mercilessly butchered by editors, SUICIDE SQUAD had potential to be a great ensemble piece digging deep into an exploration of the criminal psyche and a tragic tale of loss and redemption. Instead it was re-cut into a shallow comedy filled mess with bland directing, murky production design, and ended up with the trailers being better than the movie itself.
The Anderson Family's Fan Fiction Franchise comes to its overdue end
Paul WS Anderson's fan fiction family film borrowing a video game title comes to its overdue end. The previous movie RESIDENT EVIL RETRIBUTION ended just as a massive battle against Monster our hordes of undead and mutants was about to begin right at The White House. Epic right? Well we never get to see that as our Mary Sue protagonist Alice awakens in rubble after the battle. Mimicking the video game experience, she gets a Mission to return to Raccoon City, the place where it all began, to try and find a new cure for the global zombie virus outbreak. With her special powers (supposedly returned to her in the last movie) now gone, Alice must rally the last survivors on earth, which conveniently include a few familiar faces, to storm the Hive, umbrella corporation's secret underground lair from the first movie.
Make no mistake, Resident Evil as a movie franchise has Long since severed ties with the video games it is based on. It is now essentially multi million dollar fan fiction which uses some of the creatures from the games, some homages and supporting characters that do happen to share their names with the main characters from the games. The movies craft their own lore apart from the games and it was fairly intriguing with the twists and revelations, the cloning sub plot, the mystery of who Alice really is, the virus granting special powers, all of it. That is until they went and retconned stuff on a whim. The revelation that there was a cure to the virus? There was already a cure in the first movie. Funny how everyone forgot that. The revelation of the virus' true creator? Contradicts RESIDENT EVIL APOCALYPSE. The retellings of the origins of the outbreak? contradicts the first movie. It is almost as if this second trilogy (Afterlife, Retribution, Final chapter) is a reboot of the franchise or a wholly separate franchise from the first trilogy (RE, Apocalypse and Extinction).
The story wraps itself up nicely bringing multiple sub plots to a satisfactory end but the execution is disappointing and the journey is almost laughable. Alice as a character is as devoid of personality as a raw chicken wing. Her delivery of dialogue alters between bored angry, bored upset and bored surprise as if actress Milla Jovovich is tired of all the narrative loopholes that the franchise has dug for itself. Every line from her can be punctuated with a sarcastic "seriously?" and it would not feel out of place. Despite having no special powers, she still kicks a lot of Monster butt while maintaining her ageless good looks.
The look of RE: THE FINAL CHAPTER lacks the visual polish of the previous native 3D movie. This one is shot in traditional 2D replacing the surreal slow motion with close up frantic camera-work and flat, dingy cinematography that reminds me of a direct to video movie. Surprisingly this actually works in the movie's favour, bringing it back to the grittier aesthetic which attracted me to the first 3 movies. It is grim, it is claustrophobic, it is perfect for a horror action movie. My only gripe is that the director falls back on way too many cuts during action scenes giving that choppy jittery feel that too many modern blockbusters are known for.
I am torn when it comes to this franchise. It is cheap guilty pleasure of a shallow 80s action movie which this film makes no excuses for. But on the other hand it has so much potential to be a little smarter and tackle themes a little deeper. The cloning subplot could give rise to a plot thread exploring individuality and the nature vs nurture debate. The Umbrella Corporation had potential to be a compelling protagonist with the amount of resources and influence we had seen in past films, but alas they are no better than something out of a 1990s anime, all "wipe out the world and recreate in our image" and stuff. Any compelling motive? No, just because they are the villain and must be evil.
As a movie franchise, RESIDENT EVIL had overstayed its welcome by 3 movies. Its needlessly convoluted story which literally hits the reset button at the start of every movie does little justice to its simplistic narrative, cheap thrills and shallow themes. If it is any consolation, the franchise is consistent in that regard so we only have the action, special effects and camera-work to fall back on. Sadly even those aspects, whole an improvement over past installments, are still mediocre, leaving this final RESIDENT EVIL movie as neither the best Nor the worst of the bunch.
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.
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.
Terminator Genisys (2015)
Terminator: The Deleted Scenes
"An unknown future rolls towards us". This was a quote from the award winning classic science fiction movie TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY. But if poor Sarah Connor could only look further into the future, maybe she might not be facing it with a sense of hope. In THE TERMINATOR (the first movie), we end off the ominous quote "There's a storm coming"; an insanely accurate self-prophesy about the multimedia franchise that Terminator would become. A storm of half baked sequels, cliché ridden comic books, meandering novels, and a TV series cut down in its prime. Come 2015, the latest downpour in this storm rears its noisy head: TERMINATOR GENISYS.
With TERMINATOR GENISYS, the franchise goes back to basics. You know the drill: The future war ends in victory, the defeated machines send a killer back through time, good guys send a protector, killer and protector die while young protagonist accepts destiny and prepares to fight the future. But wait, there is a twist! That twist begins with this wooden piece of man named Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese, the guy destined to be sent back through time to protect Sarah Connor. Courtney, looking bored and buff, lacking all sense of intensity and nuance that Michael Biehn had, tumbles into 1984 with mysterious new memories more unexpected twists. He is pursued by a shapeshifting liquid metal creature in the form of some Korean dude and is saved by......Sarah Connor and her pet robot Arnold Schwarzenegger.
I want a robot Arnold Schwarzenegger too, just not one that looks like a grandfather and grins like a moron. This is not your grandfather's Terminator. This craps all over your grandfather's Terminator. GENISYS shows us that James Cameron's first two films could have ended in a fraction of their run time. It does this by having our protagonists dispatch the terminators, who for the longest time were the epitome of "unstoppable killing machines", within this movie's first act.
Does that make this a bad movie? Not exactly. It is genuinely enjoyable, both for new fans and for followers of the franchise. For the latter, you have more references and homages to all past Terminator media, in some form or another. I admit, picking out all those homages was part of the fun of watching this. Adding to that is how this movie finally brings to the big screen scenes and concepts that were left on the cutting room floor in the past movies. Think of this as "Terminator: The Deleted Scenes". We get to see the final future battle with humanity capturing Skynet's time machine (cut from Terminator 1), we get to see two Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminators duke it out (original concept for Terminator 2), we get to see a terminator made out of cybernetic nano particles (a "gaseous" terminator which was a planned concept for T3 to continue the theme of "solid" in T1 and "liquid" in T2). And even if you never knew all this useless trivia (now you do) the spectacular special effects would leave you stunned.
Emilia Clarke and Schwarzenegger shine here. They share good chemistry between a joyless Sarah Connor resigned to her fate and an increasingly human Terminator cyborg dubbed "Pops". Kudos to the writer for continuing the strong theme of "family" that James Cameron had in his movies. Pops is the over-protective dad, Sarah is the rebellious teen daughter and Kyle Reese is the new boy who is destined to date and bed daddy's little girl. That chemistry between the cast gives their characters' relationship a good deal of weight and lends itself to some genuinely humorous scenes. The same can't be said for the wooden Jai Courtney or Jason Clarke's hammy over-the-top John Connor who looks like his face met the wrong end of a rake.
Story-wise, the whole "alternate universe" thing is such a cop-out, ripped from JJ Abram's STAR TREK. Yes it invalidates T3 and T:Salvation, but it also invalidates T1 and T2: Judgement Day. The direction by Alan Tylor is a bit of a mess here. Action gets a little hard to follow and the erratically paced plot never maintains its sense of tension. Unlike previous films, you don't really feel like our protagonists are in any real peril. In the past films, the protector is barely able to knock down the killer, and gets nearly killed each time they go one-on-one. The obsolete "old" Pops seems able to hold his own perfectly well against the new deadlier killer cyborg.(which thanks to a retarded advertising campaign, everyone knows is John Connor himself).
Where the director does nothing special with the camera, the writers at least try to continue the theme of blurring the line between man and machine. This theme is actualised in the new John Connor cyborg himself; a machine who is 100% the human it is designed to mimic. Then you have Pops. The most inhuman, rigid, machine-like cyborg who can't even mimic a proper smile. Slowly but surely, his knowledge of humanity grows right up to a simple but emotionally powerful climax where you realise that a machine, a Terminator, could finally learn to love.
I would rank this just ahead of Terminator Salvation and right behind TERMINATOR THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES. It is by no means as groundbreaking as the first two movies, but it is not as insipid as the third nor does it deviate from established themes like the fourth. It's good entertainment for sure. Just not groundbreaking entertainment. And perhaps the fans were expecting just that.
Batman and Pals exercise animal cruelty
Review batman unlimited
Remember those 1970s and 80s cartoons that were created just to con kids into buying toys? Well the trend is back, and Batman is jumping on the bandwagon. Sporting a brighter coloured new suit, a colourful supporting cast and equally multi coloured villains, BATMAN UNLIMITED: ANIMAL INSTINCT is based on the recent colourful toy line by Mattel. So colourful.
You all know the drill: hero team vs villain team. In this case, heroic Batman and pals vs the evil "Animalitia" in a citywide caper that sets the "kindness to animals" campaign back by a decade or so. The Penguin, Silverback, Cheetah, Manbat and KillerCroc are evil and want to.......no cheating now, that would be a spoiler. They want to do crime, so enter Batman N Pals Nightwing, Robin, Green Arrow and the Flash. Each one sporting a sharp pointy new look with "cool" spiked hair and diamond sharp chins. Not exactly a kid friendly toy design but.........kids seem to like this sort of thing.
A lighter tone and story for Batman can work if done well (see BRAVE AND THE BOLD). Unfortunately this is not done well. Whether intentional or not, the script sounds like it fits right in with the worst episodes of the 80s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sans the pizza. They might as well have left the pizza in though because the script is cheesy as heck. Jokes aren't funny, humour feels out of place, but the excellent cast do a fantastic job with the sub par material at hand.
Roger Craig Smith reprises his role of Batman after having played the character in some of the "Arkham" series of video games. I like his batman voice. Almost like a young Kevin Conroy. What I did not like was the horrible character design of Batman (or most of the characters for that matter).
Looking like some bad Gatchaman cosplay made with Power Ranger pyjamas, this new batman design is hilarious! The supporting cast ain't any better either; Everyone looks "stretched" and I already mentioned the silly hair. Everyone gets a cool weapon or gadget and the "money shot moment" where they get to show it off, while daddy gets another toy to add to junior's "Christmas wish list". Maybe it's not the production team's fault for the silly designs. Blame Mattel.
It is the production team's fault for the sub standard art and animation. Characters barely have any shadowing or shading on them except in the extreme close-ups, just lazy flat colouring otherwise. The backgrounds have this techy futuristic vibe that reminds me of BATMAN BEYOND but they are equally flat and look worse off than Batman Beyond's lower quality episodes. The animation is barely better with its inconsistent nature. You have scenes that are smooth moving, an easy feat thanks to the simplistic artwork. But you have a good number of scenes that look like a flash animated internet browser game. Robot animals don't transform much less "melt" from animal to motorbike. And i absolutely hate that cheapskate tactic of blurring key frames to create the illusion of movement! Some parts seem to be drawing from the worst excesses of Japanese anime with the speed lines and freeze frames, just more lazy animation at work.
Just because kids don't mind doesn't mean you give them animation on the cheap. If JLA TRAPPED IN TIME was the new millennium's "Superfriends", then BATMAN UNLIMITED is this decade's rehash of the 1970s "adventures of Batman with Robin the Boy Wonder". With production values of a TV series episode, perhaps this movie would be more suited as a pilot for a Saturday morning cartoon. Compared to other direct-to-video animation, this is ignorant fun for kids and a Cheesy, sub-par curiosity for adults who yearn for the nostalgic days of cartoons that sell toys.
Jurassic World (2015)
I miss Spielberg......
Jurassic World. The culmination of a dream that began with the ill fated Jurassic Park. Technology has allowed scientists to extract DNA and clone the once extinct thunder lizards. Where Jurassic Park was an old school safari, Jurassic world is the highly commercialised Disneyland with Dinosaurs, where paying customers could kayak down a river of feeding Brontosaurs, ride a gyro-sphere among the Triceratops, pay a fortune for a cola, and just bask in the awe of these great creatures. But test audience did not want raptors the size of a turkey or T-rex with feathers so in cam frog DNA to make them look like how they do in the books and minds of people. People did not just want to "bask in awe" so the dinosaurs were turned into sideshow freaks and made to entertain with their babies being molested in petting zoos, their basic mealtimes making the Facebook page of a hundred gawking audience members. Heck, some even tried training them to do tricks but even that is not enough. Enter the Indominus Rex, a genetically spliced mutant dinosaur.
What we have here is something that would split the audience. Some would call it an abomination, others would call it awesome. It is bigger, louder, fiercer, faster, yet it feels hollow and incomplete; all style and less substance. It's got teeth, its got a ferocious roar, but it lacks bite. A creature whose traits were dictated by focus groups and market research instead of a respect for the originals. A creature made of borrowed elements from the originals yet the guys who made it forgot what it was that made the originals so great and memorable.
I am talking about the movie here. The very movie which the Indominus Rex acts like a parody of. No one are impressed with old school animatronic effects the same way people in the movie are not too impressed with the old school Tyrannosaurus Rex. So in came modern technology, in the movie's case in came 3D CGI, and the creators went wild with it. Some say they went overboard with it the same way scientists went overboard with the predatory trails of the Indominus Rex.
Someone is making a point here it seems. Very clever. Whether it was intended or not, Jurassic World is exactly the kind of blockbuster movie that the indominus Rex was meant to parody. It is bigger in scale, with CGI special effects used to portray the fully functioning theme park and creatures within. It is fiercer, with more on screen deaths, there is more gore to push the PG13 rating and we finally get to see what would happen when soldiers fight dinosaurs. It is definitely faster; though clocking in at 124 minutes, I felt that the movie just flew by like Pterodactyl.
Somewhere in there there is this kid and his teenage brother. Their aunt runs Jurassic World and starts off as an obnoxious "corporate adult too busy for the kids" type. There's is this funny Indian billionaire who loves flying helicopters, and then there is Star-Lord! Look it's Peter "StarLord" Quill and he's training Velociraptors instead of hanging out with a talking racoon and his alien tree. Wait.......he's not Star Lord? Owen Grady, you say? But he is the exact same Star Lord character, right down to the mannerisms, the body language, except that instead of a laser gun, "Owen" here has a hunting rifle. You're not fooling anyone Star- Lord.
Simple statement: If I can't even remember your characters names, then those characters are not at all interesting.
Sadly the rest of what made Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park great gets lost in messy frantic CGI action. Spielberg allowed the camera to linger on the dinosaurs, keeping things out of frame to ramp up the tension then delivering full on, clear and steady dino fighting action. Colin Trevorrow, on the other hand, seems to have taken reference from Michael Bay and JJ Abrams. Frantic camera shots neuter the dinosaur action, wide shots are so wide that you can't make out much detail, and keeping the dinos out of frame just feel like those old low budget cheats to save on the special effects budget. You even have wholly unnecessary lens flare on jeep headlights.
Not that the CGI was perfect, it is not. Industral Lights and Magic (ILM) does great effects for technology (see Star Wars, Transformers, Iron Man etc) but when it comes to creatures, they fall short from the standards set by studios like WETA or MPC. It shows in the overly saturated shots of dinosaurs in the daytime. For example, the initial appearance of the velociraptors seemed a tad unfinished with the raptors looking a little out of focus from the rest of the scene.
I give this thumbs up for the music, the acting and jab at the state of modern blockbusters. The family theme was good though underdeveloped and that CGI could use some work. Re-watching Jurassic Park immediately after this only brought a sense of disappointment to my heart. Even judged by modern standards, Jurassic Park stands the test of time. While Jurassic World may never achieve that timeless classic standard, it entertains it jolts, and it gives the modern blockbuster audience exactly what they want. Sadly.