The Boys: Season One

boys1This was great. An eight-part series based on a comic book that I’d never even heard of written by Garth Ennis, the same guy behind Preacher (a comic book which I read several years ago via the graphic novel reprints, and which was also turned into a tv series on Amazon). The Boys comic book was published between 20o6 and 2012, so as far as comic geeks are concerned, its ancient history already, but it’s interesting to note its ‘age’ because it possibly informs its approach. Basically it’s a superhero book that is consciously the opposite of all the standard comic book tropes of traditional Marvel/DC superheroes. It takes the premise of Alan Moore’s Watchmen, in postulating that superheroes are real and living in our real world, and what they and the world would be like- basically, what would the world be like if Superman was real? In Watchmen, Superman is Dr Manhattan, a scientist of the Cold War transformed into a being with Godlike powers, who grows increasingly withdrawn and distant from human affairs that unravel in his wake during the cold-war 1980s. In The Boys, Superman is Highlander, a complete and utter self-centered dangerous asshole who feels he is above the law- possibly above any authority in the world. Indeed, the superheroes here are as unaccountable as real-life celebrities appear to be in our world, using their power and wealth to manipulate the media in their favour (no, I don’t like celebrity culture).

Basically, in The Boys all the superheroes have gone Corporate, they are celebrities whose brands are used to sell anything from beers to cereals, and whose popularity and powers have generally corrupted them so that they become reckless and self-centered and endanger the safety of the public and the world at large. The title of both comic and tv show refers to “The Boys”, a clandestine group of ordinary people who are at odds with the superheroes, intent on breaking through the lies and abuse of their powers, uncovering the truth about them, revealing their wrongs and hunting them down… and blowing them up if necessary (or putting a power drill to the test).

boys3Even for someone like me who loves the Watchmen graphic novel and movie (and hopefully the HBO spin-off series incoming this Autumn), The Boys is like a breath of fresh air. It deliberately sets out to undermine the traditions of the genre, full of gratuitous violence, sex and swearing and sending up most every standard trope that is celebrated in most any Marvel or DC superhero movie. We like to imagine that most anyone given superpowers would be like Captain America or Spider Man or Ant Man, you know, basically good and decent and set on ‘doing the right thing’ but the truth is, people aren’t inherently noble, are not generally incorruptible- people are usually greedy and selfish and self-centered, and most people given super powers would as likely be jerks abusing those powers as they would becoming noble, selfless heroes.

These guys lie and kill with wild abandon, and with no supervillains to keep them in check or validate their existence they run amok abusing their powers/position and manipulate public opinion through corporate videos and events. We can recognise the manipulation of social media and celebrity culture and it all looks pretty realistic.

The Boys benefits from coming out of nowhere, I think, as it constantly surprises. I gather many things are changed from the original comic book (some characters have changed sex and race, for instance) but part of the fun remains spotting the representations of familiar superheroes like Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and Aquaman, and how The Boys variants are shown as horrible jerks and twisted shadows of the DC counterparts. It can run fast and loose and isn’t at all weighed down by, say, seventy years of comics mythology that weighs down the traditional superhero characters- and as it deliberately intends to shock and surprise it just gets wilder and funnier and, yes, quite disturbing at times. The wanton gory human collateral of the superheroics is a brutal reminder of what the traditional genre movies rather forget- you cannot destroy skyscrapers or cities etc without killing dozens or hundreds of regular innocents, and watching HIghlander gorily cut apart dozens of ‘terrorists’ because they are not American, or leave a plane of civilians to die because he messed up the rescue, can be very sobering indeed. He could be a hero like Superman, but instead he’s an asshole, because he’s only human, afterall. And the Boys need to take him down.

Yeah, great stuff, and very well done. Its gory and violent and funny and quite a surreal commentary on the celebrity-obsessed, social media culture we are living in. The cast and the production design and scripts are terrific and I really can’t fault it at all. I look forward to season two next year.

Last Week: This Matrix may have a score to settle

matrix1Well, Warners are bringing The Matrix back. Its been rumoured before, but the announcement this week seems more official: Lana Wachowski (one half of the Wachowski, ahem, sisters who brought us the original trilogy) is signed up, as is Keanu Reeves and (somehow) Carrie-Anne Moss. Presumably shooting next year for a 2022 release, who knows, there’s still plenty of time for it to fall apart. Keanu is, as the Hollywood parlance goes,  rather ‘hot’ at the moment, with his John Wick films doing so well, which likely explains why Matrix 4 is finally happening. The Wachowski’s have struggled post-Matrix (although I did really enjoy Cloud Atlas) so in some ways it’s a little surprising that Lana is even attached to the project, but I guess it keeps the fans onboard. Speaking as a fan of all three Matrix movies (I actually have a sneaky adoration of the second one in particular, as freakish as that may seem) I’m intrigued to say the least at seeing what might happen next. At their very worst, the Matrix trilogy is odd and confounding and subversive and full of good (and bad) ideas, and I’ll take that over the generic fodder we seem to get lately. I just hope they bring the Architect back.

It will be in some company, what with future Marvel, DC, Star Wars and Avatar movies in the offing over the next decade- it rather makes me wonder where they’ll all fit in on the release schedules. Where will ‘ordinary’ non-genre movies fit in, I wonder?

Mentioning Star Wars, it has likely not escaped anyones attention that the trailer for The Mandalorian, Disney’s new flagship show headlining its November Disney+ launch, was revealed this week. Of course it’s impossible to judge anything from its trailer, but it at least looks ‘Star Wars’. To be honest, I thought it looked like a neat idea for a proper Star Wars standalone movie, like Rogue One, and that its almost a pity its a mini-series rather than a movie. It could be great, but here in the UK we don’t know when we are getting Disney+ anyway, so it becomes something of a moot point.  Sign o’ the times indeed. People get used to downloading/streaming torrents, they aren’t going to be inclined to subscribe when it eventually arrives, especially if its been seen ‘by other means’, but Disney may have a situation in the UK with Sky having rights to so much Disney content. Actually makes me wonder, if Disney pulls all that content, what on Earth will Sky have to actually air?

Not that Sky are unique in that situation, but they are particularly open to some damage there. Content is king, afterall, and as streaming avenues open up and content becomes tied to particular streaming channels, a whole new world opens up and the old content providers, whether it be Sky or Virgin Media, whoever, could be in trouble.

Funnily enough, I’m reminded of when Battlestar Galactica‘s two-part pilot was edited into a theatrical release over here in the UK,  and wonder if Disney would consider launching The Mandalorian over here in cinemas this Autumn if its first episode/s could work as a standalone item. Afterall, it’s all just digital files on hard drives these days, there’s no expense making prints like back then. Might keep the hype train rolling and divert people from those torrents.

So anyway, this week real-life issues got in the way somewhat regards writing posts here. I did manage to watch some stuff though – other than the execrable mother!, or Hunter Killer and Aquaman (three things that I did manage to post about), I did complete Season Three of Glow (which was fine) and watched a few episodes of The Boys (which is pretty great). Also my copy of the Ghost Story expanded soundtrack from Quartet Records arrived, but I haven’t really had proper opportunity to listen to it yet. Its a big, lush, romantic score, quite complex in orchestration and unlike the scores we get these days (it dates, of course, to 1981).

On the subject of scores, as I didn’t mention it in my Aquaman review, I feel the moment is right to point out that Rupert Gregson-Williams Aquaman score was, like the film itself, all over the place tonally. Sometimes symphonic and grand, sometimes it was all ‘Daft Punk’ channeling Tron Legacy, at others it was all Bear McCreary BSG. I suspect we hear the temp track revealing itself. But the source music used was something else entirely… did I hear the most horrible mutilation of Toto’s Africa that has ever been inflicted upon Western Civilization? I actually looked on Amazon and they even included it on the official soundtrack album. Ye gods. I’ve listened to the track (Oceans to Oceans) on Youtube and still cannot quite believe it exists. Isn’t Donald Trump being President enough of a cross for us to bear?

Shazam! 4K UHD

shazam1When I saw the first teaser/trailer for Shazam! some time ago, it certainly looked different- it was either going to be a blast or another Distinguished Calamity (see what I did there? I’ll go get my coat…), it was hard to tell which, but it was clear that this was no typical, formulaic superhero movie. Except of course it was, really.

But, I have to say, and much to my surprise, Shazam! is an absolute blast. Its great. It doesn’t really shake up superhero movies in anything like the same way as Deadpool pretended to (that film’s last third really just falling into standard genre tropes) but it’s genuinely great fun. I thoroughly enjoyed it and its easily the best DC film I’ve yet seen. Indeed, it’s so much better than the lackluster and confused Captain Marvel.

Shaking off the darkness of the Dark Knight films or Man of Steel etc, this nonetheless finds what actually turns out to be a very surprising middle ground – sure, its as light as Spider Man: Homecoming or the Ant Man films, but somehow it also manages to have some genuine darkness in the mix. Its a story of two boys (Billy Baxter and Thaddeus Sivana), one of whom is an orphan, while the other might as well be as he is ridiculed and rejected by his father and elder brother. Both boys are summoned by ancient wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) who has spent years searching for someone pure of heart to take his place and protect the world from the Seven Deadly Sins. Thaddeus, tempted by the Deadly Sins, is deemed unworthy, and by the time Billy is tested years later, the Sins are on the loose (freed by a now-adult Thaddeus, played by Mark Strong) and Shazam, nearing death, is so weakened he has no choice but to pass on his powers and hope Billy will measure up. Billy is no boy pure of heart, living a rough life in and out of foster care whilst vainly searching for the mother who he lost (and actually deliberately deserted him, in another dark twist). Will Billy learn to control and use his powers for Good before Thaddeus, equally empowered by the monstrous Deadly Sins, hunts Billy down and claims the power of Shazam in order for the Sins to wreak havoc on the world?

shazam2Well you can guess how it goes, but the beauty of Shazam! is how it gets there. While young Billy is played very well by (Asher Angel) in a sympathetic and warm performance that grounds the character, his Shazam alter-ego, dressed in an oddly charming retro spandex suit complete with a very strange cape, is played brilliantly by Zachary Levi, who I thought was incredibly good in the tv series Chuck. Levi’s performance is like Tom Hanks in Big, here playing a kid in an adult superhero body and getting great comedy out of it, but genuine pathos too. In many ways he is a vulnerable innocent in just the same way as Tom Holland’s Spider-Man in recent Marvel outings, and perhaps to a lesser extent Christopher Reeve’s 1978 Superman. Shazam spends most of his time with his foster home buddy Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) who, thanks to a fascination with superheroes, acts as Shazam’s advisor. Its two outsider kids against the world, sort of, in a rather intimate and personal superhero film with considerable heart.

Sure its not perfect, but it’s really quite close. It doesn’t degenerate into a huge CGI spectacle, there is a sense of reality to it in spite of its daftness, and all the characters are well-written and defined. There is a warmth and sense of fun to the film which is really refreshing, especially for a DC film. It doesn’t take itself at all too seriously, and yet maintains some real tension and drama. Its a great balancing act.

Better still, in 4K UHD, the film looks and sounds phenomenal. Its surprisingly reference material, with absolutely perfect use of HDR giving a sense of detail and depth that can be astonishing at times. The film mostly takes place near Christmas, with lots of seasonal lights outside and inside of homes that really pop, and a finale that takes place at a Winter Carnival that is just jaw-droppingly gorgeous throughout. This is a great Christmas movie (I didn’t see that coming). The CGI is more restrained than recent superhero ‘epics’ and is really photo-realistic in 4K, really benefiting from the HDR and wider colour gamut.

So yeah, thats me quite shocked, to be honest. I really didn’t think I would enjoy this anywhere near as much as I did. It certainly augurs well for the future direction of DC movies- well, I hope so, anyway. There’s plenty of room, surely, for both light and dark approaches to these costumed capers. After the deplorable Justice League I had absolutely zero interest in watching any further DC films, but this one has me turned around. Maybe I’ll have to get to Aquaman afterall.

A surprisingly bland Captain Marvel

cm1There’s something wrong with the structure of Captain Marvel. As origin movies go, its fairly dysfunctional- there’s zero opportunity for growth or what would qualify as  traditional narrative arc for a film such as this. While some might argue thats a good thing, perhaps even a breath of fresh air, in my mind it leaves this film feeling oddly broken- it doesn’t really work.

Maybe they tried fixing it in post- maybe this state of affairs is a result of that ‘fix’ not working, it’s certainly a curio. Mind, looking at those credits, it has two directors, five writers, eight producers, is it any wonder it turns out such a mess? If ever there were an argument for the single-vision of auteurs like Zack Snyder, Captain Marvel may be it.

Sorry, I’m a little sore. I bought this movie. Anyway, lets begin.

Let’s compare Captain Marvel to pretty much any other Marvel hero in their first movie. Vers (Brie Larson) awakens on the planet Kree, a member of her planets Starforce, a military that defends Kree from the evil shape-shifting Skrulls. She’s a self-confident and accomplished warrior with fighting skills and (some) superpowers, right from the start. She is troubled by strange dreams and a loss of memory of anything prior to being brought to Kree as a young adult of eighteen years, but other than that, she is strong and confident. Complete with a sharp-looking rubber superhero costume right off the bat, she’s unfortunately got zero personality under that costume and little room for any growth; she’s a kick-ass warrior maiden, what’s left?

Most other introductory Marvel hero tales start with their alter-ego. Peter Parker as a shy, introverted student, Steve Rogers as a skinny kid who’s deemed unfit for military duty, Bruce Banner who’s a driven scientist, Tony Stark a self-obsessed playboy billionaire. You give them their superpower and the drama is how much it changes them, how they cope with those powers and inherent responsibility. How they grow.

Now, lets try an alternative structure. Let’s show Vers as her original identity of Carol Danvers on Earth, growing up, a young girl struggling to compete and prove herself in a mans world. She tries, she fails, but she always gets up and tries again until she succeeds. Well, there’s your personality and character. She’s driven and stubborn enough to struggle past adversity. I can see the title sequence right there, a period rock song, vignettes of her growing up. Post credits, we open proceedings with her as a young woman, she has a few close freinds, has managed to work her way into the airforce, when in a characteristic act of stepping up to the plate to prove herself, she is caught in a bizarre air battle and ‘dies’ in a crash.

And then she wakes up on Kree, ignorant of her real past. The mystery is how she got there and why, and why she can’t recall her past on Earth- or is this some twin? The plot then drives her back towards Earth and for her to uncover the truth, her true self, and ultimately the true scope of her superpowers. Presto, entertaining movie. Hardly rocket science.

The trouble is, we never really get to know Carol Danvers, the girl behind the costume and the superpowers. By the time the big effects/action spectacle kicks in, we don’t really care. Compare that to the magnificent Superman: The Movie, in which we always care about the title character, always empathise with him, and love Clark Kent, because we know who he is and why he is. Captain Marvel is one big glowing visual effect, and they don’t even think to write her some kryptonite to instil some danger or drama. Maybe that comes in the inevitable second movie, but as origin adventures go, this is one of the worst I can remember. She flies through space, destroying alien juggernauts and beating up alien bad guys, but it’s uninvolving, almost boring. We’ve seen all this CGI spectacle before, and modern film-makers really must try harder, do more. The eye-candy isn’t enough on its own anymore.

cm2Brie Larson, so good in Kong: Skull Island is merely adequate here: she looks beautiful and steps up to the physical challenge, but she’s really hampered by the strange structure of the film that leaves her character hopelessly bland.

I think some have denounced such criticism as sexual politics and maybe the fanboy backlash post-The Last Jedi deserves some of that, but I honestly think its well-founded to some extent. For one thing, the film really doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Its never competently explained what Annette Bening’s Kree-in-hiding character was doing researching technologies on Earth for the US Government, or competently explains why one minute its a galactic Kree/Skrull war with the Skrull as omnipotent invaders and then suddenly the Skrull are just misunderstood ragtag survivors looking for a new home and sanctuary from the suddenly nasty Kree- is all the lie simply set up for Vers’ benefit for some odd reason, in which case, are all the Kree in on it? I mean, what’s she even doing on Kree? What purpose does it serve having her think she is a Starforce operative named Vers? We are offered sideways explanations in passing, usually via dialogue, which we are not meant to consider or examine. The whole thing feels broken, a deck of cards ready to fall on closer inspection, completely undermining any of the actors attempts to make it work. Jude Law is almost hysterically bad as Vers’ mentor Yon-Rogg, initially a good-guy with a shady demeanor and then suddenly in a twist so badly executed I thought it was actually a bluff, he’s actually the main villain. He looks great in the part physically but its woefully underwritten and everytime he opens his mouth to speak the film goes clunk.  If your bad guy is such a non-entity, you’re in trouble: they almost absent-mindedly drag in that Ronan character from Guardians of the Galaxy (so forgettable in that movie I just had to look it up to check) for villian support, and that fails, too, unless it’s just to throw in those spaceships for our hero to smash.

On the plus side, it has a nice Stan Lee tribute at the beginning- although if you’re a fan of Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby and at all familiar with the real history of Marvel, that is just as likely to set your teeth on edge right from the start. With all due respect to Lee, he’s up there with Gene Roddenberry in the curated myths department. But hey ho, that’s the reality we’re living in, it’s easier to attribute talent/genius to one than in it is to a dozen.

 

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

end1A crushing disappointment. I’ll get that out of the way right now. While I didn’t believe Avengers: Infinity War was the slam dunk classic that some, or even the majority of, fans did, I did have hopes that my reservations with that film would be addressed by the second film, that things that troubled me would make sense in hindsight. Alas, the simple truth of Endgame is that it doesn’t – indeed, it just throws more wood into the fire and causes even more consternation.

One caveat here- while I have read loads of Marvel comics from the 1960s/early 1970s era, I know nothing about the original Thanos material in the comics that, presumably, led to an Infinity War saga that crossed over several of the Marvel comics lines. So I have no way of knowing if my issues with it all stems chiefly from the comics themselves and the films being faithful to them. I suppose the film-makers are caught in no-mans land, somewhat, if they are beholden to those comics and keeping faith with them.

But if so, then oh boy, I wish they had gone the other way and trod some other path. Time travel? Alternate timelines, ignoring time paradoxes with some kind of casual “nah, that’s just movies” remark and just doing whatever they please?

Let’s get this right: at the end, for some unfathomable reason they just don’t make clear, while they have dismissed the inherent paradoxes of time travel as nonsense. they maintain that somebody has to go back and return the Power Stones to where they came from in the several desperate time-zones and locations. So Captain America elects to do this, and they send him back – presumably he has some kind of Time Machine Wristwatch so that once he delivers one Power Stone he can then dial up another location/time and deliver the next one and so on, which suggests that perhaps they should have done this in the first place when they originally went back for them- all the heroes together to each Power Stone and then move on to the next, etc. But anyway, conveniently bypassing that particular plot hole, Captain America goes back and delivers each Power Stone, presumably fixing any temporal issues we were earlier told were not an issue. Then he decides to go back to 1940s America and his lost love Peggy Carter and spends his life with her, presumably spending his life in some alternate timeline thus created- and yet ends up on the park bench in the current (?) timeline as an old man. Surely he should be in some other universe/timeline in which he stayed with Peggy, not the one in which he fought in the various Avengers/Captain America movies and Peggy married someone else and…

Its just noise. I know that all it is. Its all nonsense, trying to make sense of it and it’s only a comic book superhero caper, its grown men (and women) dressed up in silly costumes with silly powers that defeat all laws of physics. But surely it could do without all that noise of plot holes and paradoxes and sensical conflicts and fan service?  That first section of Endgame, in which our heroes traumatised by the finale of Infinity Wars unite to track down Thanos and undo the Snap that took out 50% of all life in the universe- surely that should have just been the entire Endgame movie? Just spread it out into some huge interplanetary adventure figuring out where Thanos is and figuring out a way to defeat him and use the Gauntlet to fix everything? I mean, ultimately, it would do without all the Time Travel theatrics, which don’t ultimately really fix everything (we don’t get Gamora back, or the Vision etc) and just give me headaches every time I think about it.

end2.jpgTime travel is real: okay, so we go back and kill Thanos before the events of Infinity War. We’ve established it won’t create any Time Paradox because Back to the Future is just, hey, a movie. We go back, nuke Thanos or flush him out an airlock or decapitate him and presto, everybody’s back, because Thanos didn’t live to get all the Power Stones. Or, let’s go back to every previous Marvel movie that featured a Power Stone and steal it and destroy it before Thanos could get it. Presto, everyone’s back, and there’s no Power Stones or Gauntlet that could ever snap them away. No, instead, let’s go back, steal those Power Stones, then use it to do our own snap (without the Gauntlet?)… er..

Yeah, only the Gauntlet can harness and control the powers of those Power Stones, I think that was established earlier, so what the frak does Iron Man do at the end of Endgame? When he and Thanos are having that wrestling contest, Iron Man somehow comes out of it with the Power Stones without Thanos sussing what he’s done in a split second of wrestling masterclass brilliance, and no, I don’t remember if he’s actually wearing the Gauntlet having somehow undressed Thanos of it like some kind of party trick Paul Daniels would be proud of, he’s just in his Iron Man suit and somehow he performs a Counter-Snap anyway? WTF? The grand conclusion of the saga has me scratching my head about what the hell actually happened- a clever twist or terrible storytelling?

I realise they filmed both Infinity War and Endgame together, back to back, but it really feels as though they shot and released Infinity War, and then had to figure some way out of it with Endgame, to fix it all back. “How do you fix the problem of Infinity War?” seems to be a question they didn’t already have an answer to, which for me feels weird, because presumably they had all this mapped out before they even started shooting any of Infinity War, nevermind what Endgame became. I mean, they did, obviously, because this is how they made the two films but it doesn’t feel like it, it doesn’t feel inherently sound or whole. Which is what disturbed me the most about Endgame.

Repeat viewings may answer some of my concerns and may make more sense of it all, but I rather doubt it. I think Endgame (and it’s a bit of a shame, but that also includes Infinity War before it), is rather a miss-step for Marvel. The box-office seems to be beyond spectacular so I’m likely in the minority as usual, but hey, box-office billions in no way reflects upon actual quality. It just possibly reflects upon the gullibility of fan-boys and a general public clamoring for the next big Event Movie. From my one current viewing, I’m of the opinion that Endgame was pretty poor and a crushing disappointment.

And next week I’m watching the grand conclusion of season eight of Game of Thrones, another saga that threatens to collapse under the weight of fan expectations and several years of build up and hype and popular-culture hysterics. I sense a pattern emerging and its not particularly pretty…

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

verse1Some have described this as the best Spider-Man film yet. I’m not so sure about that- I suppose that really depends upon your own history with the character, which has been in print now for over fifty years. For myself, well I read the run from 1963 through to the late ‘seventies, from the Ditko years through to the Romita and Andru years and all had their own pros and cons. For myself, the definitive Spider-Man would be one set during the 1960s, like an episode of Mad Men sprinkled with Ditko’s noir-ish sensibilities, full of period songs and stylish fashion and design. Something like the Batman tv show but done all adult and serious. Clearly, thats never likely to happen, and Spider-Man films are made for today’s readers carrying all the baggage of the 1980s run to the present, which I’m utterly ignorant of (hence my rather clueless bemusement of the Venom film and a strange distance from much of what goes on in recent Spider-Man films- a young ‘hot’ Aunt May? Wtf?).

But you never know- if there’s one thing that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse demonstrates, anything can happen.  Quite a few times while watching the film I had to ask myself if this thing was real, where it had possibly come from. Its an exciting, exhilarating, breathlessly entertaining and imaginative slice of comic-book joy. Its an absolute blast. Back when the film was announced, I wondered what the hell they were thinking of (maybe my thoughts were shadowed by memories of that awful cheesy Spider-Man animated show of the 1960s) but this thing… well, it’s quite gorgeous, and it has a witty script… its great, a real treat. Its a slice of genius really, how it manages to press some kind of ‘reset’ button on everything that’s come before it, and make everything seem so new again- it does make me wonder, infact, where the live-action Spidey movies go without seeming old-fashioned and almost redundant. I’m quite ignorant of the character of Miles Morales having his own comic-book series but I gather he does, no doubt part of all the mythology in the comic I’ve missed since I stopped reading it decades ago. I have the feeling that I had the Spider-Man of my generation, that we deserved back then, and it’s somebody else’s now. I’m fine with that, and while I’d not really be interested in reading the current comics, it’s fun to watch something like this and get a glimpse.

I’d also love to read a Spider-Man Noir book (at last Nicolas Cage is brilliant again, who’d have guessed his true destiny was self-deprecating voice casting? His career could be revitalised for years). This guy deserves a spin-off movie… but then so does Spider-Gwen; it’s part of the genius of this film, how it can appeal to so many different groups of people not naturally ‘into’ the usual Spider-Man.

Did I say it was gorgeous? Its like one of those old Motion Comics (remember them? I tried watching the Watchmen one and retired to the original book in confusion), but on steroids. Its breathtaking really, riddled with all sorts of clever touches, whether it be squiggles or comic panels and lettering, different styles, as if somehow a comic-book drawn by different artists was brought to animated life by some kind of Frankenstein cine-sorcery. I’m sure having only seen it once there’s all sorts of touches/details/geek easter-eggs (I spotted a few) that I’ll pick up on repeated viewings. Its wild and nuts and beautiful.

Its funny, DC could have done something like this with its Batman series- have the old matinee-serial b&w Batman meet up with the Adam West Batman and the Michael Keaton Batman etc. Its a funny thing how even the movie mythologies of these comic-book characters are as convoluted as the original comic ones are. I guess it’s all those years, decades going by.

Into the Spider-Verse almost makes all those reboots and remakes make sense. Maybe it’s making some kind of commentary on the industry and how all these franchises twist and turn in an effort to keep themselves relevant and topical, and, er, make lots of money. I suppose a sequel would be almost an afront, like selling-out almost..

 

Venom (2018)

venom1I liked it. I think. Well, it was that old chestnut of ‘reduced expectations’ again- I gather from when the film originally came out at the cinema that the critics were not at all impressed, nor some of the comic book fans, really. Regards the fans, I can’t really comment, as I know nothing of the original comics, so I’m likely not best suited to comment on the film anyway. Although I’m a huge Spider Man fan, having grown up in the 1970s reading the weekly UK reprints of all the 1960s/1970s American comic books (from the Steve Ditko era through John Romita and to the Ross Andru years- I guess that’ll only mean anything to older comics readers, so hey ho) I’m not familiar with anything of the 1980s onwards. Venom, I gather, is a huge fan-favourite Spider Man spin-off but I have no idea how faithful this film is or how many liberties it has taken.

I gather it got some flack from fans for not being an R-rated picture, as the original comic book would apparently lean more towards more of a Deadpool-type adaptation- seriously violent and graphic and foul-mouthed. This is clearly not that kind of movie, and while it’s not a PG Deadpool kind of situation, I think that it strangely disturbs even more. This film is surprisingly violent and even drops at least one F-bomb, but to manage the more kiddie-friendly certificate (it landed with a 15 rating) it seems to show the violent acts but not the results. Venom is seen throwing a SWAT team through walls and in the air etc which likely leaves the guys crippled and dying painful deaths but we don’t see those consequences of Venoms actions- I think he bites heads off at times but without hardly any gore etc. I don’t know why, but that actually makes the film seem worse than Deadpool in some ways, as if its unintentionally showing the action in some kind of painless videogame kind of context which does more harm than good.  Which makes me wonder, are comic book films such as this more of a danger to kids watching them (lets face it, now it’s in the home domain this film will be watched by 8-year olds or younger still) precisely because its showing violence as entertainment and even as something funny but without showing the outcome of that violence?

I’m likely just ignoring/misremembering how violent most comic-book films are in general, but something just feels off about Venom.

Maybe that’s another discussion. I just mention it because I had to look at the certificate of the film as I was watching it. The violence doesn’t feel as intense as, say, it did back in Blade Runner even back in 1982 but I can imagine an extended, rawer cut being released showing all that gore and battered twisted body parts and the film being a different beast entirely, but also maybe that would be more honest? At any rate, the film made a fortune at the box-office in spite of critics panning it so the film-makers succeeded in what they were attempting, financially anyway.

To me, the film was some strange, daft comic book flick possibly leaning more towards the campiness of 1960s Batman than the usual Marvel film does – I suspect that was a way to dilute the darkness of the character but it does make the whole feel odd, really. I did enjoy Tom Hardy, he brought an awful lot to the character he played and is a huge part of the film’s success- I certainly doubt I would have enjoyed the film at all with someone else starring in it. I wonder what the film might have been like with a big brash pop score like Queen’s Flash Gordon, for instance (“Venom! Ahhh-ahhh! He’s come to devour us!”) – that would have been wild.

Oh well. I kind of enjoyed Venom– certainly well worth a £1.99 rental. Which is likely deservedly damning it with faint praise, but there you go…

Reboot Fatigue

Well, its not just reboots, I guess sequels/prequels and other spin-offs could all be lumped into the same category, as they are all pretty much the same thing. As I wearily suffered the further death-throes of the Predator franchise this weekend, I was reminded of just how many of the movies I saw in my childhood continue to linger around in some shape or other. We’ve had Alien films, Predator films, far too many variations of web-slingers and caped crusaders. Warner Bros continue to struggle with bringing back The Matrix. No doubt we are due another incarnation of the Batman. We have seen yet another Halloween (well, I haven’t yet but I guess I will see it eventually), there’s a new Top Gun in the works, more Godzilla and King Kong, more Avatar, another West Side Story, more Bad Boys, more MIB, another Terminator timeline, and even (perhaps unlikeliest of all) a Passion of the Christ sequel, which goes to show those folks that own the rights to Spartacus that even a crucifixion needn’t spell the end of any franchise.

I’m told that a remake of Jacobs Ladder has been shot. That’s just so wrong, I just hope it’s some kind of social media filmnut modern myth, or that its as bad as I fear and that it languishes in a film vault somewhere, so bad that even Netflix refuse to bail it’s studio out.

Name any Disney animated classic and I’d say its a safe bet it’s getting a live-action remake soon (anyone else see a blue Will Smith playing the genie in Aladdin and freak out a little? There ain’t nothing someone won’t do to make some money).

And the Marvel films continue to storm the box office, so there’s no end in sight for the comic-book/superhero genre. Must confess I reckoned on that particular bubble having burst by now, more fool me. Not that I think those films are bad, they are wholly entertaining for the most part, but they are hanging an uncomfortable shadow over film-making in general. Mimicry is the sincerest form of flattery in tinseltown, and you can see studios trying to shape their own properties in the Marvel mould all the time- no film gets made now without an eye on the five that could follow it.

Of course I’ve moaned about this kind of thing before here, in many posts over the years. And nothing I write will be anything new or cause any change, but the last few days have had me in a pretty dark mood.

I love movies. Have done most of my life, probably even before Star Wars blew me away back in 1978, but I generally mark that film as the cause of all those many thousands of hours watching films since. There is considerable truth in the argument that Star Wars saved the film industry (back then, cinemas were going the same direction that pubs are going now) but there is also some truth to the argument that Star Wars was the start of films becoming more business than art. Well, thats a sweeping generalisation, as films have always been business, whatever Hollywood historians may say, and the Oscar never did mean anything beyond Hollywood politics. But the quality of American Cinema of the 1970s and what amounts to American Cinema is today is telling. Where is our next Taxi Driver? Our next Godfather or Apocalypse Now? Our next Three Days of the Condor? There’s probably more chance of them turning up on HBO or Netflix than there is them turning up at the local cineplex.

(So no, Mr Spielberg, I love most of your films but I think you may be wrong trying to keep Netflix away from the Oscars, as if those ‘awards’ really mean anything anymore).

The deep irony is that the film I am most looking forward to, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, is not just one film but two, and is a (sideways) remake of not just a 1984 film but two mini-series that followed it. At least it’s not a remake of a classic film like 2001: A Space Odyssey, instead it returning to a property that merits another attempt, as the Lynch film was horribly flawed. I suppose you could correctly argue its based on the book, not the Lynch film, but as the makers of the Dredd film found, it’s always hard to break the shackles of earlier film attempts.

Hopefully Dune will be great. But I am certain that there are many other fine science fiction books, old classics and new ones unknown to me, that would make fantastic movies, if only some studio had the nerve to take a punt on one. Unfortunately, it would be easier if it was already a comic or a tv show or old movie that somebody already knew.

Instead, more sequels, more reboots, more remakes. Mind, in a world where so many ‘new’ properties crash and burn, its inevitable I suppose. I remain curious regards Mortal Engines (disc pre-ordered), as it at least looked pretty different, but maybe it was too different, as it managed a paltry $83 million worldwide on a purported $100+ million cost ($250 million to just break even?). Films, I think, cost too much money today, and I imagine that’s where the real problem lies. BR2049 managed nearly $260 million worldwide, a respectable figure for an adult, cerebral  sci-fi film based on a 1980s flop- but it unfortunately cost $150 million to make, muddying the prospects of any future films.

(I adore BR2049 but even I would contend it would be just as fine had its ambitions had been reined in a little bit into a $100 million film- but then again, it’s just what these films cost now, the scales are enormous, just the cast alone. And who’s going to go out and watch a film with a cast of unknowns, is that even a thing anymore?).

I am curious regards box-office though. I’d love to see home video sales/digital rentals/downloads added to a films initial box office, as I suspect that might be quite illuminating, but we never see those figures, don’t know why (or maybe I’m not looking in the right places).

Anyway, how did we get here? I’m off on some weird tangent again. Oh yes, reboots etc.

Mark Wahlberg is going to be The Six Billion Dollar Man, apparently. I think I’ll stop right there, and rest my case. Be assured however, this Reboot Fatigue post will no doubt get a sequel all of its own, or maybe a genuine reboot. Its sadly inevitable, just like I Spit On Your Grave: Deja Vu (I nearly choked on my toast when I saw that trailer, who the hell thinks up this garbage?).

 

 

 

The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

legtarazanCaught this on Netflix last night. At least it didn’t cost me anything (Netflix subscription notwithstanding, at least it wasn’t a rental or disc purchase). What a woeful, ill-judged film this was. Ignoring the shambolic script, the actual presentation, with sweeping circular camera moves that always irritate me and excessive use of painterly (unconvincing) CGI landscapes and characters, was really pretty poor. As for that script… well, let’s be fair, it’s hardly a finished script- it feels like a rough draft and it may be a fault of the editing that it seems so bad, or maybe the editing looks bad because it’s trying to fix the script problems in post.

The Legend of Tarzan seems to want it both ways- retelling and retooling the familiar origin story in awkward flashbacks whilst setting itself ten years after Tarzan has returned to England as Lord Greystoke, thus enabling a sort of post-modern revisionism of the story/legend in much the same way as Spielberg tried (and failed) with Peter Pan in his movie Hook. Unfortunately, it makes the film feel as much Marvel as it does Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Its hard to measure the cynicism of the piece, from the casting of Samuel L.Jackson to give the film the uncomfortable feel of a buddy picture while making it also ‘hip’ and trendy,  to the awful waste of Christoph Waltz as the utterly one-dimensional chief bad guy and nemesis for Tarzan. As for Tarzan himself, Alexander Skarsgård acquits himself pretty well but is hamstrung with the stodgy script that fails to serve the character at all. There were a few times that I thought that the guy was a pretty good Tarzan but wasted in the wrong movie- I felt quite embarrassed for him.

legtarazan2The film seems too concious about retooling Tarzan for a modern audience more accustomed to the heroics of Marvel and DC superheroes than the heroics of old, with Tarzan’s swinging through the jungle CGI-hysterics looking too much like Spiderman swinging through the canyons of New York, and some of the one-on-one fighting looking pretty much like any other modern costumed caper. I’m left with the suspicion that the whole project is really a case of it being made simply to be ‘Tarzan for the CGI generation’ as if the film-making techniques (such as the rendering of CGi apes and other animals etc) of today are the sole reason to retell Tarzan’s adventures.

When the film finally closes and the credits start to the accompaniment of a pretty awful ‘pop’ song, the ugly cynicism is complete: this is a film that is all about product, and franchise, and making money. Maybe I’m being naive, I guess all films are about making money, but somehow the film-makers managed to sink $180 million into this – and it looks like all of $80 million managed to get onscreen, an indication of waste perhaps reinforced by the bewildering number of producers credited. Its so terribly knowing and cynical, it doesn’t seem to be anything about a decent story being told as efficiently as possible but rather the usual noise and spectacle that is inevitably ill-judged. By becoming calculatedly epic (the grand finale is a horror of all the usual bad CGI habits, with thousands of digital thespians and dodgy cartoon landscapes serving no good at all) and ignoring the intimate (the chemistry between Tarzan and Jane (a free-spirited Margot Robbie that perhaps feels a little too Lara Croft) never really convinces, despite, or perhaps because of, Skarsgård sulkily mooning over her all the time. When Jane is captured by the dastardly Christoph Waltz and Tarzan stoutly chases after her, it’s all very Last of the Mohicans but without the passion or tension. The predictable ending is inevitable.

 

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

ant1.jpgSomething that struck me while watching this highly entertaining film- the sheer logistics of making a film like this just boggles the mind. Nowadays we sort of brush off stuff such as what this film throws on the screen with a dismissive “nice CGI” comment, as if it’s all the product of a box of tricks on auto. But there is so much more to it. The fight scenes for example, during which our two titular characters flip between normal size to miniature or even giant, must have been filmed in live-action multiple times to ensure continuity with lots of stop-starts and seperate camera set-ups (bad guy swats at non-existent tiny wasp then boom she switches to full-size and punches him, or focus suddenly pulls from life-size punching bad guy to miniature heroine that is placed into shot in suddenly sharp focus reacting to him before leaping into counter-action). Just the organisational side of it (camera angles/lenses/lighting/props/continuity etc) must have been laborious to the extreme, and yet edited together it looks so great and natural. Take the car chases in the film and the vehicles being miniature one moment, life-size the next,  adding a level of complexity to an otherwise pedestrian stunt sequence.

We take it so much for granted. I recall many years ago a visual effects guy remarking that if the audience ‘spots’ his effects work then he has failed, and while there was some irony to the guys comment back then (a dinosaur is a dinosaur, for crying out loud, and likewise a spaceship is, well, a spaceship when all is said and done, so most effects work can’t help but scream its own name), these days I have to wonder. I think part of the problem is how widespread and numerous these big effects films are these days. In the old days, a Star Wars film was still pretty much unique to itself each year or two, and while some other blockbusters would come out, few ever really came close to a Star Wars film in quality or scope. These days you see stuff in television productions that can equal film effects in quality if not in scale/number of shots, and certainly, several big effects films can be released in a single season, nevermind year.

So anyway, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a genuine marvel to me, effects-wise, and the story and the cast are no slouches either. Indeed, while general consensus appears to be that its one of the minor Marvel entries, for me I’d say it’s one of the strongest, certainly superior to the over-hyped Black Panther. I really did enjoy this film more- the finale was genuinely interesting and involving, thanks mainly to the great characters, their warmth and the humour that permeated the film in general. Here is a comic-book movie that remembers to be fun and it’s a great antidote to the almost Biblical seriousness of stuff like Avengers: Infinity War.

Sure, I suppose in a few years it will be films like the upcoming Captain Marvel and the epic Avengers films that people may look back on as classic iconic films of their genre, but I rather think that something like Ant-Man and the Wasp merits the same consideration.  The cast are great, the action scenes are great, the film can be funny and dramatic, it’s a great film.  Maybe it could have been a bit bolder in some artistic choices (it may have benefited from a jazzier, more un-Marvel music score, just to shake things up a little) but on the whole it really surprised me how good this film was.