Tag Archives: comic book movie

Fantastic Four (2015)

Fantastic Four posterDespite being Marvel’s pioneering super team it’s always seemed that the Fantastic Four have struggled when it comes to screen adaptations. While Iron Man, The Avengers, Spider-Man, The X-Men and more have all had some success, no outings for Reed Richards (Miles Teller), Sue (Kate Mara) & Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) Storm and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) have felt entirely satisfactory.

While the early 2000s version was throwaway fun it’s sequel fell flat and the story of the unreleased version that came around the time of the straight to video Captain America is infamous.

So, we come to Josh Trank’s attempt at bringing the team to the screen in 2015.

At the time of its release it was panned from pretty much all quarters which was hard to ignore but, I thought coming to it after some time had passed might help me have a more balanced view.

Starting off in sort of flashback things doesn’t quite sit right away as we meet Reed and Ben in school where Reed is inexplicably building a teleporter in his garage.

Miles Teller as Reed Richards in Fantastic Four

Teller as Richards

Ok, so that I can go with, this is after all a comic book sci-fi movie, but it didn’t take long to realise that all the characters, be they the leads or the bit parts like the teachers, are all poorly sketched stereotypes with no real thought or emotion behind anything they do or say.

This gives the whole film a cheap feel, despite the fancy special effects, where nothing anyone does has any weight of any kind as they all talk in what feels like cliche or exposition.

As the film goes on its clear things aren’t going to get much better as the tone is desperately uneven, apparently unsure if it wants to be comparatively light-hearted sci-fi fun with hints of the family friendly like of Star Wars or something more akin to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight movies, but without the style or inventiveness of either.

Michael B Jordan as Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four

Jordan as Storm in Human Torch mode

Once the origin story of the heroes is finally done with the long telegraphed villain plays his hand, though it makes little sense and as there’s only 10 minutes of the film left it never amounts to much despite the usual high level disaster movie effects.

Trank has done his utmost to distance himself from the final product (as I assume would anyone else who was involved) but that doesn’t change the fact that even given the varied output of the main Marvel Studios films over the years this is probably the worst of the batch, even falling below the misguided X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 posterWhen James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy was released in 2014 it was a breath of fresh air in a rapidly expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe that was already beginning to grow somewhat stale.

Now, three years later, its sequel has appeared with far more anticipation and again the hope that it would help add something new to the now apparently inescapable MCU juggernaut.

From the start Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is very much more of the same as Gunn, once again in the director’s chair, subverts standard action movie expectations as a big action scene takes place as the background to a dance sequence from Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) accompanied by yet another nostalgia heavy musical choice.

While this is all fine and entertaining it sets up something that becomes a bit of a frustration, particularly in the first half of the film. The use of vintage pop songs and irreverent punchlines was a highlight of the first movie but here they often seem a bit too forced and it almost as if nothing can happen without a joke being thrown in at the end.

guardians of the galaxy vol 2 - baby groot

Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel)

Some of these are great but some miss the mark and it starts to feel like Gunn is feeling the need to live up what was most notable about the first film (something that looks to have spread to not only the new Thor film Ragnarok but also the upcoming DC superhero mash-up Justice League, judging by the trailers).

Because of this the first half of the film does drag somewhat, despite a few perfectly serviceable action sequences, as it takes a while for the story to really get going as we are reintroduced to the Guardians and their particular corner of the galaxy, along with a vague maguffin about stolen batteries.

Once Ego arrives though things do pick up.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 - Kurt Russell - Ego 2

Ego, The Living Planet (Kurt Russell)

Played by Kurt Russell in a way that is at once one of the film’s biggest 80s nostalgia trips and a genuinely effective character, Ego is something of a rare thing in Marvel’s films of feeling like something a bit different.

Known as ‘The Living Planet’ he expands on the more sci-fi end of the MCU in both visual and character terms and there are some genuinely impressive moments focussing on him that do a great job of translating comic book ‘splash page’ style imagery onto the big screen.

While this leads to a big smash bang action sequence as is the Marvel standard, the connections between the characters, old and new, give this something a little different to keep it interesting enough, if not truly ground breaking.

Much like the first film one of its strong points is in the design of the MCU extraterrestrial world.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 - Chris Pratt

Peter Quill, aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt)

With ships clearly strongly influenced by artist Chris Foss and a somewhat psychedelic sense to its space-scapes it builds in what was set up first time round as well as in the Thor and Doctor Strange films and suggests the upcoming Avengers films that it would seem will focus on Thanos have the chance of some epic visuals.

Laced through with cameos and a strong sense of 1980s nostalgia Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 may be not feel as fresh as its predecessor and be hampered by trying to live up to its own hype, but is entertaining and really picks up in the second half to be one of the better films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I think this is helped by still being totally separate to the ongoing Avengers saga it seems destined to collide with sooner rather than later and having a solid directorial vision from Gunn (who has already been announced as directing the third Guardians film) rather than the often slightly too homogenised feel of the rest of the series.

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Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For

Sin-City-A-Dame-to-Kill-For-teaser-posterThe best part of a decade ago Robert Rodriquez and Frank Miller joined forces to bring Miller’s comic-noir vision, Sin City, to life. They did so using, then groundbreaking, special effect techniques and a huge cast of A-listers which made for something fresh and exciting.

Nine years later they reunited to bring another set of Miller’s stories to the big screen with a similar set of special effects and a similar cast, but unfortunately something seems to be missing.

While Sin City is a noir fever dream of almost-superheroes and almost-supervillians set in the hyper-stylised Basin City, A Dame To Kill For feels, for the most part, like they’ve taken that dream and turned it into some hellish nightmare version of the same source.

While the violence and general dubious gender politics exist in both films there is much more in the second that feels genuinely nasty. While in the first, the evil Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) was a shadowy background figure, here he is the overarching villain for two of the three threads and is one of the most charismatic characters in the movie.

Powers Boothe as Senator Roark

Powers Boothe as Senator Roark

This sets the balance between the good guys and bad guys on the wrong side from the start and isn’t helped by the fact that the new good guys don’t really have the necessary motive they did in the first film to really make us root for them.

The titular story is the most coherent with Eva Green standing out as Ava Lord, chewing through the virtually scenery and clearly having a lot of fun hamming up her extreme femme fatale in fine style.

In contrast her beau, Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin), a chronologically earlier incarnation of the character played by Clive Owen in the first film, is unfortunately bland, much like McCarthy was compared to Marv (Mickey Rourke) and Hartigan (Bruce Willis) in the first movie and he isn’t enough of a hero to carry the plot.

Eva Green as Ava Lord

Eva Green as Ava Lord

That said, neither are Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s underdeveloped Johnny or Jessica Alba’s damaged Nancy.

Crucially, what seems to be missing is a sense of experimental innocence and a joie de vivre that made the first movie barrel along but now feels like Rodriquez going through the motions of this being the sort of thing he does, particularly following the hyper-silliness of the Machete movies. While he has become very slick at this, Rodriquez’s style has lost something that made the original, and much of his earlier work, much more enjoyable.

On top of this it seems Frank Miller is trying to rekindle what it was that made the original run of the comics such great stories. He too though seems to have lost this view of Sin City, making the new stories feel like pastiches of his past work that try too hard to be brutal noir and just end up a bit too bland and a bit too nasty.

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Thor: The Dark World

Thor: The Dark World posterHave Marvel Studios jumped the shark?

Unfortunately, despite the general success (both commercially and in terms of enjoyment) of their so-called Phase One films, if Thor: The Dark World (aka Thor 2) is anything to go by, then they might just have.

Where their previous films had been entertaining romps with good stand alone stories all with enough moments to link together into the superhero mash-up The Avengers (which admittedly hasn’t stood up well to repeat viewings), Iron Man 3 even started their post Avengers series in fine style, but unfortunately Thor seems to have taken a step away from fun and lost almost everything that made the past films what they were.

The plot, what there is of it, involves the return of dark elf Malakith (a pointlessly underused Christopher Eccleston) attempting to take his revenge on Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins) and Asgard and get his hands on a super weapon while Thor (Chris Hemsworth) wrestles with loyalty to his life in Asgard and his love of Midgard (Earth) and, more specifically, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) all while Loki (Tom Hiddleston) acts like a petulant teenager, but seems to have most of the fun.

Tom Hiddleston as Loki

Tom Hiddleston as Loki

The main problem the film seems to have is trying to, at once, cater to fans who’ve been through the whole Marvel Universe saga to date, as well as more casual viewers who will be coming to this as a stand alone story and this gives the whole thing an oddly unbalanced feeling.

That is combined with a story that feels simply meaningless as Malekith never really seems to be as bad as Odin tries to make out (though I was left with impression Hopkins didn’t really even understand most of his dialogue) so there isn’t really any point where there is a real, effective, antagonist as the best in the series so far, Loki, spends most of the film locked in a box brooding.

Hiddleston and Hemsworth

Hiddleston and Hemsworth

That said, Tom Hiddleston’s performance stands head and shoulders above the rest as he genuinely seems to be actually acting, rather than just turning up making the actions and saying the words, and you get a sense of the mischief that is the very nature of Loki. While the rest of the film features some fine actors, particularly Portman, Hopkins and Stellan Skarsgard, none show their worth as, for the most part, their roles are simply underdeveloped stereotypes (even more so than in past) and, more so, none really seem to care about being there.

As ever with a big budget blockbuster the special effects do generally look impressive but, in the battle scenes, there are points where the nearest comparisons I could make were Michael Bay’s Transformers and Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel as the characters become totally lost in a pointless, nonsensical, spectacle that loses what little emotional momentum the movie might have had.

With Marvel Phase Two rolling on with Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: Winter Soldier in the near future I hope Thor: The Dark World is merely a blip in an otherwise largely admirable series, but it has knocked my previous confidence and excitement in the studio.

Ben Kingsley

Ben Kingsley

The Blu-ray release of Thor: The Dark World does feature one major saving grace in the form of the ‘One Shot’ short film All Hail The King featuring the return of Ben Kingsley in his role from Iron Man 3, this has wit, charm, fun and adventure far surpassing that of the main feature, despite all being set two or three rooms in a prison, and hints at some interesting developments to come for the Marvel Universe – I just hope this is more representative of what is to come from the studio than the over blown, underplayed turkey on the front of the box.

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The Wolverine (Unleashed Cut)

The Wolverine - posterHaving missed it in the cinema I thought I’d delve into The Wolverine by the extended ‘Unleashed’ cut of the movie that comes with the Blu-ray package. I’m not sure how much is different or added, but it seems the main gist of the changes is that Logan (Hugh Jackman) drops a few more ‘f-bombs’ and there’s a bit more graphic stuff in the fight scenes.

Anyway, The Wolverine tells us a new story about Logan and, thankfully, drops a lot of the over the top sci-fi comic book stuff of X-Men Origins: Wolverine and replaces with something that, at times, borders on feeling a bit James Bond as it takes Logan out of the world we’ve previously seen in the X-Men movies (though this is clearly still the same canon) as we go to Japan and find out about another part of the, essentially immortal, character’s story.

Hugh Jackman in The WolverineClearly inspired by the work of Frank Miller (the man who brought us 300 and Sin City) we are in a more serious world for The Wolverine, especially as we see Logan with his powers (sort of) removed for much of the film and, while it never quite reaches realistic territory, it does give Jackman something different to do with the character and attempts to introduce a bit more peril than there might otherwise have been.

Unfortunately, like most of the current crop of comic book movies, this sense of peril never quite gets to where we need it to. Much like Man of Steel or The Avengers, heading into this movie we already know the hero makes it through and, while it would be easy to assume that of any such movie, having the knowledge that a direct sequel was already in the works (and in the case here already being shot) does lose something in suspension of disbelief, so throughout there really is no feeling that Logan might not make it through no matter how dire the straits might appear.

Yukio in The WolverineFor a fair amount of the movie this is reasonably well dealt with as we get some pretty well executed action sequences that do some interesting things and so distract us, particularly earlier in the movie. A highlight of these is a sequence on the bullet train that mixes wirework with special effects to create something interesting and genuinely exciting.

These action scenes do have a slightly odd feel though as, while we may be used to Captain America or Iron Man knocking bad guys out before going on their way, Wolverine’s mutation of huge metal claws means he ends up inevitably killing a lot of the people he faces so the body count here is heading into Commando territory but without really paying it any notice. While in the era of Commando this was standard, in today’s style of action blockbuster it feels a bit strange as heroes killing people is generally frowned upon, though it does fit better with Logan than if he didn’t use the claws.

The Viper and LoganAs the film continues we get a bit more of Logan’s backstory, although emotionally speaking it doesn’t add much that we haven’t seen in any of the other X-Men films, and a bit more of the James Bond kind of feel, particularly reminiscent of You Only Live Twice, just without the hugely inappropriate make up work on the lead, this soon though gives way to more action, which again is well mounted with samurai swords vs claws being a major motif.

Unfortunately, for the films climactic scenes, we get back into the standard territory laid out in pretty much every Marvel movie of the recent run as a big robot-like thing turns up to have a fight with the lead and, while this does a much better job of it than Iron Man did with Iron Monger, it still doesn’t quite sit with the tone of the rest of the movie and feels very much like it had to be included to make it fit the ‘comic book movie’ style.

Silver Samurai and WolverineWhile Jackman clearly still loves playing Logan, and is excellent in the part, few other characters here stand a chance of being fully rounded leaving something of a lack of an emotional centre, despite the attempt to include a love interest storyline, everyone remains 2D, no matter what glasses you might be wearing.

While not a ‘bad’ film The Wolverine is also far from a particularly good one and, while far superior to X-Men Origins: Wolverine of X-Men: The Last Stand, it feels fairly imbalanced and is certainly over long at two and a bit hours, though waiting through it does lead to a ‘post’ credits scene that almost steals the show and sets up things to come in X-Men: Days of Future Past

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